Today Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the approval of two major acquisitions of Canadian energy companies by foreign state-owned enterprises. The Chinese National Offshore Oil Company (CNOOC) will commence the $15.1 billion takeover of Nexen Inc., a Canadian company with major holdings in the Alberta tar sands. Malaysia's Petronas will proceed with the purchase of Progress Energy Resources Corp., a Calgary company with considerable shale gas plays in British Columbia, for $5.2 billion. Petronas has plans to construct an $11 billion liquified natural gas plant in Prince Rupert to prepare gas exports for Asia.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: