There is no shortage of compelling issues to discuss in a Hill Times Environmental Policy briefing. Even listing, without describing, the catalogue of assaults on environmental law and policy by the prime minister in the last 12 months is enough to occupy the whole issue.
Canada undermined global climate negotiations in Durban in December, negotiated in bad faith, and immediately announced intent to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol when the Environment Minister touched down on Canadian soil. Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver kicked off the New Year with an assault on environmentalists and First Nations as “radicals.” The Prime Minister attacked environmental groups for accepting foreign funding, even as he courted Communist Party controlled state operations from China as investors in the oil sands. One Parliamentary Secretary said anyone opposed to pipelines and tankers was “against Canada.” When asked to withdraw the remark as un-parliamentary, she refused.
The legislative juggernaut, C-38, repealed the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, replacing a coherent piece of legislation with a discretionary formula for confusion, conflict and court cases. The gutting of the Fisheries Act raised the ire of four former federal Ministers of Fisheries. Environment Minister Peter Kent insulted the four former ministers, suggesting they had not read the Act. Mulroney era Minister Tom Siddon showed up to testify before the sub-committee on Finance and in short order made it clear he may be the only Minister who has read the act. While Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield tried to claim the new Fisheries Act will improve habitat protection, the assault to habitat is real, underscored by the subsequent lay-off notices to all DFO habitat officers in British Columbia. The National Round Table on the Environment and Economy is scrapped. The Species at Risk Act and Navigable Waters Protection Act amended to allow the National Energy Board to assume jurisdiction of endangered species or navigable waters are in the way of any pipeline.
Basic science and monitoring is being savaged with the end of funding to the Canadian Foundation of Climate and Atmospheric Science, elimination of the Adaptation research group within Environment Canada, the cuts to ozone monitoring, the closure of the Polar Arctic and Environmental Laboratory (PEARL) in Eureka, the sale of the 58 lakes in the globally unique Experimental Lakes Area near Kenora, Ontario, the elimination of the marine contaminants programme within DFO, the loss of scientists in Natural Resources Canada to study ice cores data (and the hope to find a university with a large fridge willing to take the 80,000 year ice core record Canada’s government no longer wants), the end of monitoring smoke stack emissions, cut backs in the Canada Oil and Gas research group in Halifax, and cuts at NSERC (Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada) resulting in the closing of the Yukon Research Lab at Yukon College in Whitehorse.
The thin end of the wedge of privatization has hit National Parks – first Jasper and then the hot springs at Banff, while cuts to ecological staff in the parks compelled former Deputy Minister Jacques Gerin to call on Harper to stop gutting National Parks.
It is a blitzkrieg of bad news as cut-backs and programme cancellation hit the core areas of federal responsibility to protect nature. The multi-faceted assault has the effect of blinding media and the public to the largest threat. In 2012, Canada still has no plan to address the threat of climate change.
While Stephen Harper has succeeded in dramatically reducing the Canadian media coverage of climate science through the muzzling of government scientists, the atmosphere does not seem to have gotten the memo. Around the world, the force and frequency of severe weather events has woken up even the mainstream US media. Fires, floods, tornadoes, heat waves are wreaking havoc on agriculture and running up the bills to the insurance industry. The culprit for much of this year’s strange weather phenomenon is the rapidly warming Arctic. As the Arctic warms the differential in temperature between the Arctic and the Equator becomes less pronounced. That causes the jet stream to lose its straight and fast course. (Francis, Vavrus study, Rutgers/Univ of Wisconsin). Slowing down, it has allowed large low pressure systems and high pressure systems to sit for far longer periods than normal in one place – causing flooding in the low pressure zones and heat waves and fires in the high zones.
Loss of agriculture, losses to floods and fires also cost the economy, as well as human lives. Despite the Prime Minister’s attempts to destroy the collection of data, the evidence of the climate crisis is all around us. We are sabotaging our children’s future – but what does it matter as long as the bitumen flows?
Elizabeth May is the Member of Parliament for Saanich-Gulf Islands and Leader of the Green Party of Canada.
First published in the Hill Times.