Harper Government

Wed, 2012-11-14 21:04Carol Linnitt
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Toxic Tar Sands: Scientists Document Spread of Pollution, Water Contamination, Effects on Fish

Today federal scientists from Environment Canada presented research at an international toxicology conference in the U.S. that indicates contaminants from the Alberta tar sands are polluting the landscape on a scale much larger than previously thought.

A team lead by federal scientist Jane Kirk discovered contaminants in lakes as far as 100 kilometers away from tar sands operations. The federal research confirms and expands upon the hotly contested findings of aquatic scientist David Schindler who, in 2010, found pollution from the tar sands accumulating on the landscape up to 50 kilometers away.

“That means the footprint is four times bigger than we found,” Schindler told Postmedia News.

Senior scientist Derek Muir, who presented some of the findings at Wednesday's conference, said the contaminated region is “potentially larger than we might have anticipated.” The 'legacy' of chemicals in lake sediment gives evidence that tar sands pollution has been traveling long distances for decades. Samples show the build up of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, known to cause cancer in humans and to be toxic to aquatic animals, in 6 remote and undisturbed lakes up to 100 kilometers away from tar sands operations.

The pollutants are “petrogenic” in nature, meaning they are petroleum derived, and have steadily and dramatically increased since the 1970s, showing the contaminant levels “seem to parallel the development of the oilsands industry,” Muir said.

Fri, 2012-11-09 09:01Carol Linnitt
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Heavy is the Head That Wears the Crown: Tar Sands Expansion May Violate Crown's Legal Obligation to First Nations

Today the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) will argue in the Alberta Court of Appeal that Shell Canada’s proposed Jackpine Mine expansion is in violation of their Constitutional rights and represents a failure on behalf of the federal government to uphold their legal duty to consult (DTC). The First Nation, which originally made this argument in a joint federal/provincial hearing on October 1, was told the panel did not have jurisdiction to hear constitutional questions.

When the ACFN applied for an adjournment, in that case, their request was denied. In response the First Nation is claiming they have “no other option but to file legal arguments for the protection of their constitutionally protected rights through the Alberta Court of Appeal.” 
 
The government’s refusal to consider the ACFN’s best defense against the megaproject, which will increase Shell’s tar sands bitumen mining capacity in this one project alone by 100,000 barrels per day, appears out of step with the federal government’s own admission that they must accommodate the rights of First Nations when considering industrial projects that entail irreversible impacts.
 
First Nations rights, especially as defined in the 1982 Constitution and subsequent court decisions, must be accommodated, according to an internal federal discussion paper, released to Greenpeace Canada’s climate and energy campaigner Keith Stewart through access to information legislation.
Fri, 2012-11-02 15:45Carol Linnitt
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Defend Our Coast Rallies Demonstrate Diversity of Public Opposition to Tar Sands Export and FIPA

Standing within the throng of demonstrators at last month's Defend Our Coast rally it became clear to me that a palpable shift in the collective expectations of Canadians had taken place. 

It is evident we expect positive action on climate change; we expect steps to be taken towards clean energy alternatives; we expect those alternatives to be made available to us, not by corporations, but by the individuals we've selected as our leaders; we expect those leaders to respect the rights of First Nations; we expect limits to be placed on the corporate exercise of power; and we expect abuses of that power to be met with swift and strict accountability.
 
Such expectations, however, appear increasingly out of step with our current political and economic regime, showing just how backwards Canada's bitumen bottom line obsession has become.
 
Under the current Harper government, scientists have been intimidated and silenced, production of oil and gas has accelerated at an unprecedented and unhealthy rate, massive budget cuts have gutted environmental legislation which would slow the pace and scale of bitumen production and its export, and those voices calling for balance, for sobriety, in the way we manage our resources have been blacklisted as foreign-funded radicals trying to “hijack” Canada.
 
Adding to the fury, the Harper government is now trying to undemocratically strong-arm a powerful international trade deal called FIPA through the House of Commons even though it's been called unconstitutional and a threat to Canadian sovereignty.
 
But if anything, the growing and diverse chorus of public opposition - as seen at the Defend Our Coast rallies - demonstrates just how bold the Canadian populace is prepared to be in the midst of an increasingly hostile battle to preserve our rights and democracy. 
Wed, 2012-10-31 15:52Carol Linnitt
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Rush to Ratify: FIPA May Violate Constitutional Protection of First Nations Rights

The Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA) may be ratified as soon as tomorrow, November 1. This despite a massive demonstration of Canadian opposition to the investment trade deal that will lock the federal government into a dangerously undemocratic agreement with China and Chinese investors for 31 years

The proposed agreement, signed by Stephen Harper in Russia on September 9 and kept secret until September 26, is being strong-armed through the house of commons after the required 21-day session in Parliament. Political action and environmental groups, opposition party leaders and experts in the field of international trade law are urging the Harper government to reconsider the agreement's immediate ratification, demanding an open parliamentary debate before the trade deal's future is decided.
 
So far all requests to throw out the deal, host a national debate, investigate the deal in emergency Parliamentary discussions, or indefinitely delay the deal's ratification, have gone unheeded by the Harper government.
 
Under FIPA the federal government is obliged to protect investor rights and profits, even to compensate for lost profits. That means when it comes to disputes involving Chinese investors, like the one over the future of Enbridge's Northern Gateway Pipeline, the Canadian government will have a duty to protect investor profits and not necessarily the jurisdictional rights of the British Columbian government, people or First Nations. 
Mon, 2012-10-29 12:25Carol Linnitt
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Conference Board of Canada: Economic Benefits of Tar Sands Hinge On Climate Inaction

By 2035 operators in Alberta's tar sands expect to produce 5 million barrels of the world's most environmentally dirty and energy intensive oil per day. Current daily production hovers around 2 million barrels. According to a recent Conference Board of Canada report, projected expansion of the tar sands will require roughly $364 billion in investment over the next 25 years and will create significant economic benefits for both Canada and the US.

However, the report, commissioned by the Canadian federal and Alberta provincial governments, acknowledges that the economic benefits of oil production in the tar sands hinges on continued global climate inaction.
 
Based on the 'New Policies Scenario' from the International Energy Agency (IEA), the Conference Board report, “Fuel for Thought: The Economic Benefits of Oil Sands Investment for Canada's Regions,” anticipates Canada and other participating countries will not achieve their 2009 Copenhagen Accord goal to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius. Projected growth in the tar sands is consistent with at least 3.5 degrees of warming.
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:

Thu, 2012-10-11 10:45Carol Linnitt
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Foreign Funding? So Glad You Asked: Enbridge Renews Attack Against Canadian Environmental Groups

Enbridge recently launched a renewed attack on Canadian environmental organizations, demanding the panel overseeing the Northern Gateway Pipeline hearing squeeze funding information from the project's critics.

In early 2012, a campaign - coordinated by the conservative government, the oil industry and the astroturf Ethical Oil Institute - sought to undermine the credibility of groups opposing the pipeline by suggesting they are “foreign interest groups” that “threaten to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda” as Natural Resource Minister Joe Oliver so forcefully put it.

Now Enbridge is renewing that egregious attack by requesting the panel investigate funding granted to Canadian environmental groups from a number of prominent American foundations renowned for their work in social and environmental equity, including poverty reduction, aboriginal issues, conservation, resource management, international development, and children and peace initiatives.

But Enbridge's ploy to redirect public attention away from tar sands, pipeline and oil spill issues toward the meddling of foreign interests in Canadian affairs is misguided, to say the least. The lion's share of foreign funding that guides the Canadian resource economy does not come in the form of conservation or environmental efforts: it comes through foreign investment in the resource sector.

And in the instance of the tar sands and related pipelines, foreign investments can be a politically, environmentally and socially dangerous affair.

Tue, 2012-07-10 13:34Nathanael Baker
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Scientists Storm Ottawa After Harper Government Cuts Environmental Protections and Research Again

Canadian scientists are taking to the streets in protest of the Harper government's latest cuts to scientific research and its increasingly backward environmental policies.

Over the last several weeks, the government has shut down major research institutions such as the iconic Experimental Lakes Area (ELA), eliminated funding for the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Science, and passed a budget bill which cuts government jobs for scientists and scraps pollution control programs.

The Harper government has made no bones about the energy future it envisions for Canada.  Alberta's oil sands lay at the center of not only the government's energy plan, but also its economic plan.  Now, it is becoming abundantly clear that if environmental protections get in the way of this plan, they wil be removed.  Hence Canada's withdrawl from the Kyoto Accord and its awful record at international negotiations on a new, legally-binding climate pact.

Tue, 2012-06-26 05:00Carol Linnitt
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Maps Show Tar Sands Sprawl in Caribou Habitat: Could Resolve Problem with 1% of Industry Profits, says Scientist

This post is part of DeSmog's investigative series Cry Wolf.

Alberta’s threatened caribou herds will stand a significantly better chance of surviving the province’s development of the Tar Sands, according to a group of scientists, if the oil and gas industry is willing to spare 1 percent of its potential development profits to make it happen.

According to a recent study from the University of Alberta’s Richard Schneider, 50 percent of the caribou habitat threatened by Tar Sands development could be easily preserved if only the industry and government would be more strategic in their land use planning. But ‘strategy’ has had little to do with the way the Tar Sands region has been managed, according to Schneider, who suggests that caribou have become an unintended victim of the government’s thoughtless industrial leasing program.
 
The effort to recover caribou largely relies on securing critical habitat for the species. But habitat has proven difficult to conserve in an area like Fort McMurray where the government has leased the majority of the land to individual companies without any longterm land use strategy. 
 
To understand why caribou recovery is so difficult and why industry is so resistant to habitat protection (see our extensive coverage of this problem here), you have to understand the way oil and gas leases are awarded in Alberta, Schneider told DeSmogBlog. 
 

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