Opinion

Sun, 2012-12-09 12:00Guest
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Are We Trading Away Our Rights and Environment?

Written by David Suzuki with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Communications Manager Ian Hanington.

Global trade has advantages. For starters, it allows those of us who live through winter to eat fresh produce year-round. And it provides economic benefits to farmers who grow that food. That could change as oil, the world’s main transport fuel, becomes increasingly scarce, hard to obtain and costly, but we’ll be trading with other nations for the foreseeable future.

Because countries often have differing political and economic systems, agreements are needed to protect those invested in trade. Canada has signed numerous deals, from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to several Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements (FIPA), and is subject to the rules of global trade bodies, such as the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Treaties, agreements and organizations to help settle disputes may be necessary, but they often favour the interests of business over citizens. With Canada set to sign a 31-year trade deal with China, a repressive and undemocratic country with state-owned corporations, we need to be cautious.

Should we sign agreements if they subject our workers to unfair competition from lower-paid employees from investor nations, hinder our ability to protect the environment or give foreign companies and governments excessive control over local policies and valuable resources? Under some agreements, basics like protecting the air, water and land we all need for survival can become difficult and expensive.

Fri, 2012-12-07 14:48Jeff Gailus
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Little Black Lie: Canada is “Doing Its Part”

It’s difficult to know where to start when asked to write a regular column on the little black lies that plague the debate over energy and climate policy in Canada, but for the sake of convenience and timeliness, let’s begin with one that’s close at hand: Environment Minister Peter Kent’s characterization of our attempt to turn back the tide on climate change at the 2012 UN Climate Change Conference that just concluded today in Doha, Qatar.

I am proud to be here representing Canada in these important negotiations towards a new, more effective, international climate change agreement,” Kent said as he launched into his Dec. 5 speech at Doha. “As an Arctic nation, we profoundly understand the impacts of climate change…. The Government of Canada is committed to working with our partners to find global solutions to the global climate change problem. In fact, Canada is taking action on all fronts—domestic, continental and international—to address the challenges of climate change.”

The next day, as Kent began feeling the heat about Canada’s inadequate action on climate change, he bragged in a press release from Doha that Canada's GHG emissions were “historically low.” Data, he said, show that Canada’s “GHG emissions decreased between [2005 and 2010] by 6.5% despite an economic growth of 6.3%. These numbers demonstrate that the Canadian economy can grow without increasing GHG emissions levels.”

We are doing our part,” he said, after boasting that Canada was halfway to meeting its United Nations commitments under the Copenhagen Accord — a 17 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from 2005 levels by 2020 (which is a far cry from Canada’s original commitments under the Kyoto Protocol – six per cent below 1990 levels.)

It would be churlish to quibble; still, let’s.

Tue, 2012-12-04 17:46Carol Linnitt
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"Big Oil's Oily Grasp": Polaris Institute Documents Harper Government Entanglement with Tar Sands Lobby

Oil industry lobbyists in Canada have taken the country by the reins. At least, that's the implication of the Polaris Institute's new report released today. The report, “Big Oil's Oily Grasp - The Making of Canada as a Petro-State and How Oil Money is Corrupting Canadian Politics,” (pdf) documents 2,733 meetings held between the oil industry and federal government officials since 2008. That figure outstrips meetings with environmental organizations by a whopping 463 percent. 

“Canada's increasing dependence on the export of bitumen to the United States has, in effect, served to redefine this nation in the form of a petro-state,” the report opens. Lobbying activities in Ottawa may help explain why “the Canadian government has increasingly watered down or withdrawn its role and responsibilities to regulate the economic, environmental and social impacts of the tar sands industry.”
 
The report highlights the spike in lobbying activities - of six major Big Oil players including Enbridge and TransCanada - in the period between September 2011 and September 2012, right when the industry-friendly omnibus budget Bill C-38 made its infamous debut. In that same period of time, the federal government met once with Greenpeace. 
 
Since 2008, oil and gas industry groups held meetings with officials 367 percent more than the two major automotive associations in Canada, and 78 percent more than the top two mining associations. 
 
“The amount of face time the oil industry gets in Ottawa in personal meetings and other correspondence greatly exceeds the time afforded other major industries in Canada,” says the report's co-author Daniel Cayley-Daoust. “No one doubts the hold the oil industry has on this current government, but it is important Canadians are aware that such a high rater of lobbying to federal ministers has strong policy implications.”
 
Fri, 2012-10-26 17:20Franke James

The Scary Canada-China Trade Deal That Will Haunt Us for 31 Years

Illustration FIPA Harper by Franke James

hat's the scariest thing happening just after Halloween? Is it the stomachaches our children will have from eating too many sweet treats? No, it’s the Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA), which will automatically come into force on November 2nd, binding Canada for 31 years to come.

Shockingly, the most significant trade agreement since NAFTA is set to automatically go into effect – without a single debate or vote in Parliament. Our political representatives have not even had the chance to say “Boo”.
 
The deal was signed in secret by the Harper Government on September 9th, and quietly tabled in the House of Commons on Sept.26th. No press release to the Canadian media. No briefing to our MPs to announce the details. Just a clock ticking off the 21 sitting days until FIPA comes into force on Nov.2.
 
But surely the Harper Government has protected Canada’s interests? Unfortunately, no.
 
Tue, 2012-06-05 05:54Jeff Gailus
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Time to Audit the Fraser Institute

On March 25, 2012, the Compliance Division of the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) received a letter from Jensen Shawa Solomon Duguid Hawkes LLP (aka JSS Barristers). In 11 detailed pages, JSS Barristers lodged a complaint against Environmental Defence, a charity registered with the CRA, on behalf of Ezra Levant’s brainchild, the Ethical Oil Institute. A month later, on April 24, the JSS-Ethical Oil team sent the CRA a second, similar letter, this one a 44-page imputation that the David Suzuki Foundation, like Environmental Defence, was “in contravention of the CRA rules surrounding registered charities and political activity.”

According to the CRA, and as echoed in the Ethical Oil Institute’s complaints against Environmental Defence and the Suzuki Foundation, a charity may not be created for a political purpose, and it can't “take part in an illegal activity or a partisan political activity.” Specifically, the CRA states that charitable organizations must devote “substantially all” (i.e. 90%) of their resources to charitable activities, and that any political activity is “subordinate” to its stated purpose.

That's not to say that charities can't promote their work and educate the public about issues that have political implications. But in doing so they must ensure that public awareness campaigns aren't their “primary activity, and their information must be “well-reasoned.” It goes without saying that they don't connect their views to specific political parties or candidates.

As an example, the CRA states that “a purpose such as improving the environment by reducing the sulphur content of gasoline would very likely require changes in government regulations. Generally, any purpose that suggests convincing or needing people to act in a certain way and which is contingent upon a change to law or government policy (e.g., “the abolition of” or “the total suppression of animal experimentation”) is a political purpose.”

Given all of this, and given the Ethical Oil Institute’s obvious concern about registered charities flouting CRA rules — namely, engaging in partisan political activity, or spending too much time and money influencing public opinion about laws, policies, or government decisions — it’s surprising that Ethical Oil didn’t send a third letter complaining about perhaps the most politically partisan of all Canadian charities — the infamous Fraser Institute.

Thu, 2012-05-31 09:37Guest
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What is Harper Afraid Of?

Wed, 2012-01-18 06:51Jim Hoggan
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Unaccountable Oil: Is Enbridge Already Polluting the Canadian (Political) Environment?

Henrik Lehnerer

If the pipeline giant Enbridge Inc. is content to cower behind a 20-something blog manager rather than acknowledge its role in the recent attack on the patriotism of Canadian environmentalists, what hope have we that the company would ever stand accountable for the accidents that will occur – inevitably – if Northern Gateway ever gets built?

That’s a rhetorical question, but a pressing one, given the environmental time-bomb that Enbridge proposes to lay out between the Canadian tar sands and the pristine B.C. coastline.

We actually don’t know for sure that Enbridge is behind the so-called Ethical Oil Institute, a phony grassroots organization that was established by Ezra Levant and run for most of its first year by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s current Director of Planning, Alykhan Velshi. But you might come to your own conclusions by watching this clip or reading the transcript below.

It comes from an interview on the CBC show Power and Politics, in which the host, Evan Solomon, asks current EthicalOil.org manager Kathryn Marshall a question she just can’t bring herself to answer:

Sun, 2012-01-15 10:48Evan Leeson
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Ethical Oil, the Sub-Prime Mortgage Scandal and The Next Great Generation

We are living in difficult times. The ongoing economic crisis started by the 2008 Sub-Prime Mortgage Scandal has all of us thinking about our future. We are vulnerable to unethical appeals to our anxiety in the form of quick fixes and easy profits. The promise of “Ethical Oil” is the worst of these appeals. We have to resist. Even more, we have to take decisive actions that the current leadership will not. To quote a famous man, we have an ordeal before us of the most grievous kind and we need a new generation of leadership to tackle it. We need the next Great Generation.

In 2008, world financial markets collapsed in dramatic fashion due to unethical investment practices, particularly in the previous five years. Toxic subprime mortgages had been injected like a virus into securities like Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDOs). Investment banks around the world were in on this scam and kept pushing it far beyond the point where it was obvious something had to give. Last year, the U.S. Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission concluded:

“the crisis was avoidable and was caused by: Widespread failures in financial regulation, including the Federal Reserve’s failure to stem the tide of toxic mortgages; Dramatic breakdowns in corporate governance including too many financial firms acting recklessly and taking on too much risk; An explosive mix of excessive borrowing and risk by households and Wall Street that put the financial system on a collision course with crisis; Key policy makers ill prepared for the crisis, lacking a full understanding of the financial system they oversaw; and systemic breaches in accountability and ethics at all levels.“

Wed, 2011-09-07 07:15Emma Pullman
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Open Letter to Oprah Winfrey on 'Ethical Oil' Ads

Dear Oprah,

I just don't know where to begin. 

I can't find my words because I respect you so much. You're a woman pioneer who has done much to advance the status of women globally. You've donated millions of dollars to various organizations, and have used your talk show to raise the profile of women's issues. Your philanthropy has funded projects like The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa, and Women for Women International. You've also used your celebrity to raise awareness of environmental causes, notably the efforts to rebuild the Gulf. 

That's why I'm so stumped right now by your choice to feature ads from EthicalOil.org on your television network. 

I'm all about the work that you do, but the logic of promoting tar sands oil by appealing to our desire for women's liberation, our desire to help protect women in despotic regimes like Saudi Arabia, is deeply flawed and misguided. 

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