An Open Letter to Joe Oliver

On Monday, January 9th, 2012 in Blogs

“Unfortunately, there are environmental and other radical groups that would seek to block this opportunity to diversify our trade. Their goal is to stop any major project no matter what the cost to Canadian families in lost jobs and economic growth.

“No forestry. No mining. No oil. No gas. No more hydro-electric dams.

“These groups threaten to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda. They seek to exploit any loophole they can find, stacking public hearings with bodies to ensure that delays kill good projects. They use funding from foreign special interest groups to undermine Canada’s national economic interest.”

- From your open letter of today’s date, January 9, 2012.

Dear Joe,

Your letter caught my attention.  I respect you and like you a lot as a colleague in the House.  Unfortunately, I think your role as Minister of Natural Resources has been hijacked by the PMO spin machine.  The PMO is, in turn, hijacked by the foreign oil lobby. You are, as Minister of Natural Resources, in a decision-making, judge-like role.  You should not have signed such a hyperbolic rant.

I have reproduced a short section of your letter. The idea that First Nations, conservation groups, and individuals opposed to the Northern Gateway pipeline are opposed to all forestry, mining, hydro-electric and gas is not supported by the facts.  I am one of those opposed to the Northern Gateway pipeline.  I do not oppose all development; neither does the Green Party; neither do environmental NGOS; neither do First Nations.

I oppose the Northern Gateway pipeline for a number of reasons, beginning with the fact that the project requires over-turning the current moratorium on oil tanker traffic on the British Columbia coastline. The federal-provincial oil tanker moratorium has been in place for decades.  As former Industry Canada deputy minister Harry Swain pointed out in today’s Globe and Mail, moving oil tankers through 300 km of perilous navigation in highly energetic tidal conditions is a bad choice. In December 2010, the government’s own Commissioner for the Environment, within the Office of the Auditor General, reported that Canada lacked the tools to respond to an oil spill.  These are legitimate concerns.

Furthermore, running a pipeline through British Columbia’s northern wilderness, particularly globally significant areas such as the Great Bear Rainforest, is a bad idea.  Nearly 1,200 kilometers of pipeline through wilderness and First Nations territory is not something that can be fast-tracked.

Most fundamentally, shipping unprocessed bitumen crude out of Canada has been attacked by the biggest of Canada’s energy labour unions, the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada, as a bad idea. The CEP estimates it means exporting 40,000 jobs out of Canada (figure based on jobs lost through the Keystone Pipeline). They prefer refining the crude here in Canada.  (The CEP is also not a group to which your allegation that opponents of Gateway also oppose all forestry, mining, oil, gas, etc is anything but absurd.)

The repeated attacks on environmental review by your government merit mention.  The federal law for environmental review was first introduced under the Mulroney government.  Your government has dealt repeated blows to the process, both through legislative changes, shoved through in the 2010 omnibus budget bill, and through budget cuts.  In today’s letter, you essentially ridicule the process through a misleading example.  Your citation of “a temporary ice arena on a frozen pond in Banff” requiring federal review was clearly intended to create the impression that the scope of federal review had reached absurd levels.  You neglected to mention that the arena was within the National Park. That is the only reason the federal government was involved.  It was required by the National Parks Act. The fact that the arena approval took only two months shows the system works quite well.

Perhaps most disturbing in the letter is the description of opposition to the Northern Gateway pipeline as coming from “environmental and other radical groups.”  Nowhere in your letter do you mention First Nations.  (I notice you mention “Aboriginal communities,” but First Nations require the appropriate respect that they represent a level of government, not merely individuals within communities.)

The federal government has a constitutional responsibility to respect First Nations sovereignty and protect their interests.  It is a nation to nation relationship.  To denigrate their opposition to the project by lumping it in with what you describe (twice) as “radical” groups is as unhelpful to those relationships as it is inaccurate.

“Radical” is defined as “relating to or affecting the fundamental nature of something; far-reaching or thorough.”  (Merriam Webster).

By that definition, it is not First Nations, conservation groups or individual opponents that are radical.  They seek to protect the fundamental nature of the wilderness of northern British Columbia, the ecological health of British Columbia coastal eco-systems, and the integrity of impartial environmental review.  It is your government that is radical by proposing quite radical alteration of those values.

Your government has failed to present an energy strategy to Canada.  We have no energy policy.  We are still importing more than half of the oil we use.  Further, we have no plan to reduce dependency on fossil fuels, even as we sign on to global statements about the need to keep greenhouse gases from rising above 450 ppm in the atmosphere to keep global average temperatures from exceeding a growth of 2 degrees C.  The climate crisis imperils our future – including our economic future – in fundamental ways which your government ignores.

By characterizing this issue as environmental radicals versus Canada’s future prosperity you have done a grave disservice to the development of sensible public policy.  There are other ways to diversify Canada’s energy markets.  There are other routes, other projects, and most fundamentally other forms of energy.

I urge you to protect your good name and refuse to sign such unworthy and inaccurate missives in the future.



Elizabeth May, O.C.
Member of Parliament
Saanich-Gulf Islands

Green Party of Canada


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  • Dave Vogel

    Alas, how to change the party line of the ‘Temporary Dictator’ and his court?…This is a good example of an opportunity for real democracy…let the people vote directly on this question…and the people will win…

  • theisleofwright

    Thank you Elizabeth … an excellent, thoughful letter that hits on all legitimate points.

  • dhadley

    Your open letter is excellent. Thank you for calling Mr. Oliver to task for his hyperbolic and misleading words. He does his position as Minister of Natural Resources a great disservice with such divisive and inaccurate comments.
    David Hadley MD

  • Deborah Waters

    Thank you for speaking up. I dislike the portrayal of ordinary people expressing themselves as being “radical” and “blocking this opportunity to diversify our trade”. The minister’s words express disrespect of the concerns of ordinary people.

  • leander
  • Pingback: ‘the greens…’ | frequent blurbs

  • robertjb

    Thanks for forwarding your excellent letter. I did not know about the moratorium on tanker traffic. I am including my open letter so that others may read it.

    Open Letter
    Joe Oliver’s Desperate Hour

    Canada’s Minister of Natural resources is running scared. He knows the truth is out there.
    It is human nature that when someone is hiding the truth they often resort to overstating their case. Joe Oliver claims in an open letter to Canadians that our regulatory system is broken. It has been hijacked by radicals and we cannot afford, “slow, complex and cumbersome hearings.”
    But what if Oliver’s real fear is that hearings and the ensuing controversy surrounding the Northern Gateway pipeline might take a different course and reveal the real truth that Canada is not an “energy super power” as the Prime Minister claims and that we can ill-afford to liquidate our energy resources in a reckless manner.
    Oliver would no doubt like to suppress the fact the tar sands are our last major oil reserve. The easily extracted tar sands oil has been cherry-picked and the remaining reserves are subterranean and will be even more expensive to extract.
    Eastern Canada is already heavily dependent on foreign oil imports.
    Canada has exhausted most of our conventional oil reserves.
    What Oliver and a lot of other politicians no doubt fear is that the focus might turn on the even larger and more critical issue. We, like all countries, are rapidly approaching “peak oil” (the point at which all known reserves have been identified and the supply is diminishing.) This will inevitably be followed by the “end of oil.”
    To date our energy crisis has been kept outside the realm of public debate but it has for years been written about, discussed and researched. Politicians by their silence, in collusion with corporations and a corporatized mainstream media, have managed to stall this debate.
    But when it comes to the end of oil we have two choices: Hit the wall or manage the descent. Denialism reigns supreme and it appears we are determined to hit the wall dead on. Managing the descent first of all requires that we face the stark reality the end of oil is coming. Subsequently, we must rigorously manage the remaining reserves which mean cutting consumption as a starting point.
    Oil producing countries list their reserves in billions of barrels. But in a world where global consumption is almost a hundred million barrels a day and demand is increasing a billion barrels does not go far.
    As numerous experts have pointed out there is a lot of dishonesty when countries state their known reserves as it is in their best interests to overstate them. Therefore, we don’t really know just how much oil is left.
    That pipelines leak is not some fatuous claim but a fact of life. As oil becomes scarcer and less accessible the environmental impact of getting it out of the ground and from under the oceans is going to grow dramatically.
    Are we willing to recklessly devastate the environment to extract a resource that is non-renewable and will be scarce by the end of this century?
    There are four thousand interveners scheduled to testify at these hearings. This number testifies to the urgency these interveners feel. Mr. Oliver’s open letter is a scurrilous attempt to vilify the process and the very legitimate concerns of the interveners.
    He is about to be clobbered with some inconvenient truths.
    By his open letter Oliver has been so foolhardy as to undermine his integrity as a minister of the Crown, shown himself to be an insolent corporate toady and unwilling to address Canada’s energy security on a sound and factual basis.
    This is a government trying to out run it critics, the truth, and suppress due deliberation on very urgent issues.
    Robert Billyard
    Mission BC

  • Noli S. Dizon

    good day maam this is Noli S. Dizon the son of Nelly Castro.

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