Q & A

Sun, 2013-01-20 19:12Carol Linnitt
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4000 Reasons Not to Build the Northern Gateway Pipeline

The Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline Community Hearings are nearly complete, with two remaining sessions scheduled in Kelowna and Vancouver at the end of this month. Come February, the Joint Review Panel will move into the “Questioning Phase” of the final hearing, scheduled to end in May of this year. 

The hearings have provided an opportunity for the pipeline's opposition to state their concerns with the $6 billion project. Thousands of individuals applied to participate in the hearings as official 'intervenors,' to the chagrin of the federal ministries appointed to carry the process out. At this time last year federal Minister of Natural Resources, Joe Oliver, accused 'radical' environmentalists and 'extremists' of intentionally over-burdening the hearings. 

Yet many of those who live along the proposed pipeline route feel their concerns are legitimate and deserve to be heard, whether inside or outside the scheduled sessions. 

Some of the creative opposition British Columbians have expressed is captured in the short video 4000 Reasons, featured below. Created by the conservation group, Driftwood Foundation, 4000 Reasons shows that for every intervenor, you'll find another reason not to build the pipeline. 

4000 Reasons from Incite Media on Vimeo.

DeSmog asked Driftwood Foundation director, Wes Giesbrecht, to explain the inspiration behind the film and the festival it highlights.

Fri, 2013-01-18 07:00Carol Linnitt
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Retreat from Science: Interview with Federal Scientist Peter Ross Part 1 of 2

When the Harper government announced deep funding cuts to science programs across the country, the Institute of Ocean Sciences, one of Canada's largest marine institutes located in Sidney, B.C., was among those research outfits hurt as a result. Lead research scientist Peter Ross is one of more than one thousand Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) employees who discovered their position had been terminated.

Thu, 2012-12-13 11:05Carol Linnitt
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Van Harten: Canada "Recklessly" Entering Trans-Pacific Partnership, FIPA

Last week Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada announced Canada had “officially joined the latest round of Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade negotiations” after more than two and a half years of talks by previously engaged nations. The 15th round of talks, involving Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the U.S. and Vietnam, wrapped up yesterday in Auckland. 

The TPP has already been the cause of significant concern in the U.S. where citizen groups and elected leaders have argued the agreement is shrouded in secrecy, leaving the American public to speculate about its consequences. This summer, after members of Congress complained corporate access to the trade documents superseded their own, leaked portions of the agreement began to circulate online. 
 
At the time Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, said, “the outrageous stuff in this leaked text may well be why U.S. trade officials have been so extremely secretive about these past two years of [trade] negotiations.”
 
During those two years, while Canada was vying for a seat at the TPP table, America made arguments that seemed to anticipate the furor Canadians would soon feel after the announcement of the Canada-China Foreign Investment Protection and Promotion Agreement, or FIPA
 
Much like FIPA, the TPP grants unprecedented power to corporate entities with access to international tribunals that have the authority to overrule Canadian decisions regarding domestic policies that may apply to environmental regulation or reform, finance and labour policies and First Nations rights.
 
International investment lawyer and trade agreement expert, Gus Van Harten told DeSmog that Canada is currently on track to become “the most locked in developed country in the world in investor-state arbitration.” He added, Canada is “proceeding recklessly” into this enfeebling agreement which will give “almost all foreign corporations in the country exceptional leverage to pressure governments behind closed doors.”
 
The Harper government is selling out Canada's long term sovereignty and prosperity in what appears as a thoughtless gamble, without so much as a financial risk assessment. As Van Harten puts it below, “We do not intend to slip on the sidewalk in winter, but we still check for ice.”
 
I asked Professor Van Harten 5 questions about the TPP and its relation to the politically-contentious FIPA
Thu, 2012-11-22 05:00Carol Linnitt
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Dr. David Schindler: Tar Sands Science "Shoddy," "Must Change"

If you ask an Environment Canada media spokesperson about contamination resulting from tar sands operations, they will not tell you the federal government has failed to adequately monitor the mega-project's effects on water.

They most certainly will not say outright that the federal government has failed to monitor the long term or cumulative environmental effects of the world's largest industrial project. They won't say it, but not because it isn't the case. 

The tar sands are contaminating hundreds of kilometres of land in northern Alberta with cancer-causing contaminants and neurotoxins.

And although federal scientists have confirmed this, they are prevented from sharing information about their research with the media. 

In fact, if a journalist wants to approach a public servant scientist these days, he or she is required to follow the federal ministry's media relations protocol, one which strictly limits the media's access to scientists, sees scientists media trained by communications professionals who coach them on their answers, determine beforehand which questions can be asked or answered, and monitor the interaction to ensure federal employees stay within the preordained parameters.

The result is an overly-monitored process that causes burdensome delays in media-scientist interactions. The overwhelming consequence is that the media has stopped talking to the country's national scientists.
 
But University of Alberta scientist Dr. David Schindler is ready and willing to pick up the slack, especially after Environment Canada federal scientists recently presented findings that vindicated years of Schindler's contentious research exposing the negative effects of tar sands production on local waterways and aquatic species.
 
According to Schindler, the rapid expansion of the tar sands is not based on valid science: “Both background studies and environmental impact assessments have been shoddy, and could not really even be called science. This must change,” he told DeSmog.
Fri, 2012-10-19 11:00Carol Linnitt
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China-Canada Investment "Straitjacket:" Interview with Gus Van Harten Part 3

This is the third and final post in the series China-Canada Investment “Straitjacket:” Exclusive Interview with Gus Van Harten. You can access Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

Canada has already begun the short countdown to the day the China-Canada Investment Deal becomes ratified in the House of Commons, although the nation has been granted no opportunity to clarify or discuss the full economic or environmental significance of the agreement - the most significant in Canada's history since NAFTA.
 
Prime Minister Harper, who signed the agreement in Vladivostok in September, is forcing this deal through with such force and brevity it makes the undemocratic Omnibus budget bill C-38 look like a dress rehearsal. 
 
International investment lawyer and trade agreement expert Gus Van Harten has landed center-stage in the controversy as one of the only figures willing and qualified to speak up against the investment agreement. He told DeSmog that Canada's rush to enter into an investment deal of this sort endangers Canadian democracy, threatens Canadian sovereignty and could fracture the government's loyalty to its people. 
 
In this post, the final segment of our interview with Van Harten, he discusses in more detail just how bad this deal is for Canada economically and how much it threatens to corrupt our way of doing business. 
Thu, 2012-10-18 10:34Carol Linnitt
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China-Canada Investment "Straitjacket:" Interview with Gus Van Harten Part 2

This post is second in a series on the Canada-China Investment “Straitjacket:” Exclusive Interview with Gus Van Harten. You can read Part 1 here and Part 3 here.

Right now Canadians stare down the barrel of a 31-year long legal trade agreement with the Chinese government that did not become public knowledge until September 26, 2012.

The trade treaty, known as the Foreign Investment Protection Agreement or FIPA, has garnered notable opposition in the past three weeks, with NDP trade critic Don Davies calling for public hearings, Green Party MP Elizabeth May calling for an emergency Parliamentary debate, and campaign organizations Leadnow.ca and SumofUs.org gathering over 39,300 opposition signatures (and counting) to deliver in person to Ottawa.

Yesterday, the Canadian Press reported the Harper government's refusal to host public hearings. Elizabeth May's October 1 request was also denied on the grounds that FIPA does not meet the test of emergency.

The trade agreement, or treaty, as it is called, is slated for ratification at the end of this month. The Commons trade committee will be briefed on the document in a one hour hearing.

With a trade deal that threatens Canadian sovereignty looming on the horizon and a government committed to expediting its approval, DeSmog caught up with trade investment lawyer and Osgoode professor Gus Van Harten to talk through some of the details.

Wed, 2012-10-17 14:23Carol Linnitt
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China Investment Treaty "a Straitjacket" for Canada: Exclusive Interview with Trade Investment Expert Gus Van Harten

This post is the first of a series on the Canada-China Investment “Straitjacket:” Exclusive Interview with Gus Van Harten. You can access Part 2 here and Part 3 here.

I recently picked up a copy of Francis Fukuyama's 2011 book, The Origins of Political Order. Sitting on the bedside table at the house I was staying at, the book made for some 'light' bedtime reading. I heaved the enormous tome onto my lap and, opening it to a random page, read this alarming passage: 

There is no rule of law in China today: the Chinese Communist Party does not accept the authority of any other institution in China as superior to it or able to overturn its decisions. Although the People's Republic of China has a constitution, the party makes the constitution rather than the reverse. If the current Chinese government wanted to nationalize all existing foreign investments, or renationalize the holdings of private individuals and return the country to Maoism, there is no legal framework preventing it from doing so (Pg 248)

My concerns with China's treatment of foreign investments arose in light of China's recent bid for Nexen, a Canadian company with large holdings in the Alberta tar sands. Since Canada is having trouble with the management of the tar sands now, what would it look like if we had Chinese state-owned enterprises like the Chinese National Offshore Oil Company (CNOOC) in the mix?

It turns out the problem is of magnitudes greater than I had originally conceived, and concerns not only Canada's management of its resources, but its sovereignty, its democracy, and the protection of the rights and values of its citizens.

Perhaps most strikingly, Canada is embracing this threat, showing telltale signs the real culprit in this dangerous deal isn't China at all.

In order to untangle the web of an international trade deal as complex as the China-Canada Investment Treaty, which establishes the terms of the Nexen deal - the biggest overseas takeover by a Chinese company -  I spoke with Professor Gus Van Harten of Osgoode Law School, an expert on foreign investment deals of this sort.

Below is Part 1 of our interview:

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