That was the year that was…2013’s highs and lows

2013I have been over the last few days, like most Canadians, getting the deluge of retrospectives on 2013.  Rob Ford’s name looms large in these reviews, along with Duffy and Wallin, Senate expenses and shenanigans.

This review will not mention those names. The highs and lows of 2013 as I saw them:

The “Lows”

  1. Greenhouse gases in the planet’s atmosphere crossed the 400 parts per million threshold. This dangerous development was marked with headlines around the world, but was hardly mentioned in Canada.  (From press clippings May10-14, 2013: New York Times:Heat-Trapping Gas Passes Milestone, Raising Fears, Guardian: Record 400ppm CO2 milestone ‘feels like we’re moving into another era,’ BBC: Carbon dioxide passes symbolic mark , also Le Monde, Le Figaro and so on.)
  2. Approval by “unanimous consent” of new national park when I was briefly out of the Commons.  Why would I not want to consent to Sable Island National Park?  It is the first time industrial activity has been approved in a national park.  The Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board (CNSOPB) will have control of approving seismic testing for oil and gas within the park or directional drilling under the park.  CNSOPB only has to inform Parks Canada, not obtain permission or even consult.  I mourn that a blow to the integrity of all national parks was achieved by stealth.
  3. Destruction of libraries throughout the federal government.  Whole collections of archives of forestry and fisheries have been trashed, with small residual materials set to other locations. The Tyee covered this yesterday with more shocking details:

    A federal document marked “secret” obtained by Postmedia News indicates the closure or destruction of more than half a dozen world famous science libraries has little if anything to do with digitizing books as claimed by the Harper government.

    In fact, the document, a compendium of cuts to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans that can be read in its entirety at the bottom of this story, mentions only the “culling of materials” as the “main activities” involved as the science libraries are reduced from nine to two. Specifically, it details “culling materials in the closed libraries or shipping them to the two locations and culling materials in the two locations to make room for collections from closed libraries.”In contrast, a government website says the closures are all about digitizing the books and providing greater access to Canadians — a claim federal and retired scientists interviewed by The Tyee say is not true.”

  4. The treatment of Mi’kmaq non-violent protesters in New Brunswick.  I have been shocked that the approval of fracking on unceded territory of the Elsipogtog First Nation has been so ignored nationally.  The burning police cars on the front page of newspapers has created the impression the protest was violent, but the opposition to fracking is widespread in NB and the blockade had been peaceful.  In fact, the protesters were allowing through vehicles on the blockade.  The assault by RCMP and other unidentified security forces occurred before the cars were set on fire.  There are conflicting accounts from eye witnesses, but it is fair to say, there is a dispute about the idea that the camp was responsible for the fires.
  5. The National Energy Board decision to recommend approval of the Enbridge risky pipeline and tanker scheme.  It was not a surprise.  The NEB has never said “no” to a pipeline.  But it was a surprisingly weak report, ignoring a lot of the strong arguments against the project.  Missing was any serious analysis of the claim that the project is in Canada’s economic interest.
  6. Canada’s unexpected withdrawal from the UN convention on desertification.  It was an appalling message to the drought-plagued countries of Africa.  For a small sum, less than $300,000 a year (less than the cost of feeding one panda on loan from China), Canada participated in international science and assistance to countries facing the threat of creeping deserts.  Climate projections for our Prairies in the future suggest we will need that science.
  7. Canada’s foot dragging on another global treaty attracted attention. On the Arms Trade Treaty, Minister Baird has repeatedly said we do not want to disadvantage duck hunters in Canada. Say what?
  8. Bad news on trade deals–  although we still have no text to review, the proposed Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between Canada and Europe looks like a bad deal for Canadians—especially those worried about higher drug prices.  European Greens oppose it as it introduces the Investor-State model into EU trade.  Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement also requires serious watching and detailed review.
  9. Lac Megantic.  The tragic loss of lives, the disaster of the rail crash and the mystery surrounding why crude oil blew up like a fire ball marked a low point for any nation.  As did the serious of other events that cost Canadian lives in extreme weather events – the Calgary and High River flood, Toronto ice storm, and Toronto flooding.  All have in common the price of fossil fuel addiction.
  10. Lastly, the move by the Prime Ministers’ Office, forcing Conservative motions in over 20 committees to remove my rights to put forward amendments to bills in the House itself at Report Stage, by “inviting me to submit amendments to committees.  As I am not a member of any committee (at least until we have 12 MPs) it is not a real opportunity.  But it does mean my amendments can be summarily defeated without allowing a debate in the House itself.  We fought it and will keep fighting it.

The “Highs”

  1. Michael Chong’s introduction of a private members bill to limit leaders’ powers.  The Conservative MP for Wellington-Halton Hills has dealt a real blow for democracy.  Now to get the bill passed!
  2. The bravery and leadership of the Hupacasath First Nation of Vancouver Island.  Thanks to this small First Nation, the Canada-China Investment Treaty is being challenged in the courts.  For all of 2013 the China FIPA was sitting ready for ratification by Cabinet.  Thank goodness it has not been ratified.  It appears the Hupacasath actions have halted ratification.  I also think many Conservatives oppose a treaty giving China’s State Owned Enterprises the right to sue Canada in arbitration for laws they claim unfairly hurt their profits. Keep an eye to block FIPA in 2014.
  3. The federal-provincial environmental review of the Prosperity Mine once again gives a thumbs down.  The company is going to court. Let’s hope Environment Minister Aglukkaq will follow Jim Prentice’s lead and also turn down the mine at Fish Lake.
  4. Shutting down coal fired power plants in Ontario.  Thanks to Premier Wynne for a rare climate win.
  5. Keeping the Experimental Lakes Area open.  But it was at quite a cost. Government scientists are being told they have to choose between research at the ELA and working for the government.  Meanwhile the deal between the Province of Ontario and the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), is still being sorted out.  I was shocked to learn recently that IISD has lost all its core federal government funding.
  6. A good bill became law.  Conservative Larry Miller (Bruce Grey Owen Sound) got a private members bill, C-383, passed.  It bans bulk water exports from transboundary basins!
  7. Lots of democracy going on in Conservative back benches. I was very encouraged by Mark Warawa (CPC MP-Langley BC) pushing back when his right to free speech was denied by his party whip.  So too do I salute Edmonton MP (now Independent and former Conservative) Brent Rathgeber denouncing the extreme levels of party discipline required by the PMO. This all ties in to point 1 – Michael Chong’s bill.  We must push for MPs to be empowered to do their job – representing their constituents and not their political party spin doctors.
  8. And to help make that point – Great news for Greens as Bruce Hyer, Independent MP from Thunder Bay-Superior North joins me as the new, doubled Green Party Caucus.  I am so hopeful that our presence in the House will help raise awareness of how a party caucus should function.  With respect, good debate and the freedom to vote as your constituents would want.
  9. And more high points for Greens.  The May BC election brought in another ground-breaking moment, with the election of BC’s first Green MLA, noted climate scientist, Dr. Andrew Weaver. And a close race for BC Greens’ new interim leader, Adam Olsen.
  10. And while it is hard to describe it as a high point, the publication of the RCMP affidavit about the scandal in the PMO, the payment of $90,000 from Harper’s Chief of Staff to Mike Duffy and the subsequent cover-up, have opened a window on the very closed workings of the PMO.  My prediction is that the more Canadians learn about what goes on in PMO, the stronger the case to limit its budget and powers no matter who is Prime minister.

So Ring in the New Year!!  Let’s hope for more “highs” than “lows” in 2014!