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Apparently, We Can Put a Price on Democracy

Posted: 10/24/2012 12:05 pm

Why, when so many people oppose the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline project, would government and industry resort to such extreme measures to push it through?

The problems with the plan to run pipelines from the Alberta tar sands across northern B.C. to load unrefined, diluted bitumen onto supertankers for export to China and elsewhere are well-known: threats to streams, rivers, lakes and land from pipeline leaks; the danger of contaminated ocean ecosystems from tanker spills; rapid expansion of the tar sands; and the climate change implications of continued wasteful use of fossil fuels.

The benefits aren't as apparent. Some short-term and fewer long-term jobs, possibly for foreign workers, and increased profits for the oil industry -- including state-owned Chinese companies -- are all we're being offered in exchange for giving up our resources, interests and future, putting ecosystems at risk, and forfeiting due democratic process.

Our government is ramming through another omnibus budget bill, and is set to sign a deal with China, both of which seem aimed at facilitating the pipeline and other resource-extraction projects. Its first budget bill gutted environmental protection laws, especially those that might obstruct pipeline plans. It also limited input from the public and charitable organizations, and included measures to crack down on charities that engage in political advocacy.

The recent 457-page omnibus budget bill goes even further. Among other changes, it revises the Navigable Waters Protection Act (renamed the Navigation Protection Act) to substantially reduce waterways that must be considered for protection and exempt pipelines from regulations.

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  • The Conservative government has introduced Bill C-45, the second omnibus budget implementation bill. Here's a brief look at what's inside the 450-page document. <em>With files from CBC</em>

  • MP And Public Service Pensions

    <strong>UPDATE</strong>: <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/10/19/mp-pension-changes-passed-bill-c-45_n_1987522.html">MP Pensions have been hived off from the omnibus bill and passed without further debate in a surprise deal between the government and opposition parties</a>. Starting as early as January 2013, public servants and MPs will have to contribute 50 per cent of the payments into their pensions. MPs will also have to wait until age 65 to start collecting their pensions, or be penalized if they start at age 55. The precise date for MP pension changes is Jan. 1, 2016. There will be no change to the current eligibility for MP pensions of six years of service.

  • Unemployment Insurance

    The Canada Employment Insurance Financing Board will be dissolved, and an interim means of establishing premium rates set up to replace its work. The Crown Corporation is currently run by a seven-member board. This move continues employment insurance changes started with the first omnibus budget bill, as cabinet gradually receives more authority to reform EI.

  • Changes To The Indian Act

    The bill makes what could be controversial changes to the Indian Act, amending it to change the rules around what kind of meetings or referenda are required to lease or otherwise grant an interest in designated reserve lands. The aboriginal affairs minister would also be given the authority to call a band meeting or referendum for the purpose of considering an absolute surrender of the band's territory.

  • Environmental Assessment Act Tweaks

    Last spring's changes to the Environmental Assessment Act are tweaked further in this omnibus bill.

  • Hiring Tax Credit

    The bill will extend a popular small business hiring credit.

  • New Bridge To U.S.

    C-45 also facilitates the construction of a new bridge across the Detroit River at Windsor, announced by Prime Minister Stephen Harper last summer. Certain legislation will be changed and other legislation won't apply to this bridge. Three federal bodies will cease to exist with the passage of this legislation.

  • Grain Act Amended

    The bill also amends the Canada Grain Act, simplifying the way it classifies grain terminals, repealing grain appeal tribunals, and ending several other requirements of the current Act, giving the Canadian Grains Commission more power to regulate the grain industry. These changes follow the end of the Canadian Wheat Board's monopoly over wheat and barley sales in Western Canada, which take effect for this year's harvest.

  • Hazardous Materials Under Health

    All the work of the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission will be transferred to the health minister.

  • Merchant Seamen Board Under Labour

    The Merchant Seamen Compensation Board will see its authority transferred to the Minister of Labour. The three-person board currently hears and decides benefit claims for merchant seamen who are injured or disabled as a result of their work and are not currently covered by provincial workers' compensation benefits.

Meanwhile, the government is set to sign a 31-year deal on October 31 that will give China's government significant control over Canada's resources and even over Canadians' rights to question projects like Northern Gateway. The Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement would allow China to sue Canada, outside of our borders and behind closed doors, if the pipeline deal were blocked or China's interests in our resource industry hindered; for example, if the B.C. government were to stop Northern Gateway. It also gives the Chinese state-owned companies "the right to full protection and security from public opposition", as well as the right to use Chinese labour and materials on projects in which it has invested.

According to author and investigative journalist Andrew Nikiforuk, writing for the Tyee, "The deal does not require provincial consent. It comes without any risk-benefit analysis. And it can be ratified into law without parliamentary debate."

Why would anyone want to sell out our interests, democratic processes and future like this? And why would we put up with it? On the first question, Gus Van Harten, an international investment law professor at Osgoode Hall Law School, told Desmog Blog we must consider the possibility that government and industry know that changes in attitudes about fossil fuel extraction "may lead to new regulations on the oil patch, in that, climate can't just be wished away forever, and that governments might take steps to regulate the oil patch in ways that investors wouldn't like." He continues, "If you bring in a lot of Chinese investments, and you sign the Canada investment deal, you kind of get the Chinese investors to do your dirty work for you."

In other words, as the world recognizes the already extreme and increasing consequences of global warming and shifts from wastefully burning fossil fuels to conservation and renewable energy, tar sands bitumen may soon become uneconomical. The goal is to dig it up, sell it and burn it as quickly as possible while there's still money to be made. It's cynical and suicidal, but it's the kind of thinking that is increasingly common among those who see the economy as the highest priority -- over human health and the air, water, soil and biodiverse ecosystems that keep us alive.

What can we do? Prof. Van Harten has written to provincial governments urging them to ask the federal government to "stop the rushed ratification" of the China deal. We should all demand that our leaders put the interests of Canadians now and into the future ahead of short-sighted and destructive industrial ambitions. The budget bill and trade deal are not democratic in content or implementation. We need to take back democracy.

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

Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.

For more insights from David Suzuki, please read Everything Under the Sun (Greystone Books/David Suzuki Foundation), by David Suzuki and Ian Hanington, now available in bookstores and online.

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  • Top 10 Most Expensive MP Pensions

    Welcome to the $3 million club. The following 10 MPs will each receive an estimated total lifetime pension of more than $3 million if they retire in 2019. All the <a href="http://taxpayer.com/sites/default/files/CTFMP-PensionReport-WEB.pdf" target="_hplink">estimates come from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation</a> and are based on an MP retiring in 2019 and ceasing to receive their pension at age 80. The numbers if the MPs retire in 2015 are also included in the caption to each slide.

  • 10. Michael Chong - $3,124,903

    Conservative MP Michael Chong would receive an estimated lifetime pension of $2,684,816 if he were to retire in 2015.

  • 9. Peter Van Loan - $3,194,114

    Conservative MP Peter Van Loan would receive an estimated lifetime pension of $2,462,029 if he were to retire in 2015. (CP)

  • 8. Rona Ambrose - $3,330,876

    Conservative MP Rona Ambrose would receive an estimated lifetime pension of $2,429,149 if she were to retire in 2015. (CP)

  • 7. Rob Anders - $3,643,873

    Conservative MP Rob Anders would receive an estimated lifetime pension of $3,034,089 if he were to retire in 2015. (Jeff McIntosh/CP)

  • 6. Denis Coderre - $3,701,989

    Liberal MP Denis Coderre would receive an estimated lifetime pension of $3,288,821 if he were to retire in 2015. (Graham Hughes/CP)

  • 5. Scott Brison - $3,723,666

    Liberal MP Scott Brison would receive an estimated lifetime pension of $3,113,881 if he were to retire in 2015.

  • 4. James Moore - $3,795,386

    Conservative MP James Moore would receive an estimated lifetime pension of $2,893,658 if he were to retire in 2015. (Althia Raj)

  • 3. Gerry Byrne - $3,996,498

    Liberal MP Gerry Byrne would receive an estimated lifetime pension of $3,450,711 if he were to retire in 2015.

  • 2. Jason Kenney - $4,318,507

    Conservative MP Jason Kenney would receive an estimated lifetime pension of $3,416,779 if he were to retire in 2015. (CP)

  • 1. Stephen Harper - $5,596,474

    Prime Minister Stephen Harper would receive an estimated lifetime pension of $5,456,109 if he were to retire in 2015. Harper's numbers are based on the PM not buying back into the program for his service as a Reform Party MP between 1993-1997. In order to make a political statement, Harper did not contribute to the pension program during his time as a Reform MP. After returning to Parliament Hill in 2002, Harper could have retroactively contributed to the program for his service from 1993 to 1997. According to the PMO, Harper has not and will not make those contributions. MPs are not obligated to disclose this information. If Harper were to choose to buy back in for those years, his numbers would change. If he were to buy back in and retire in 2019 he would receive an estimated lifetime pension of $6,216,858 and $6,233,568 if he were to retire in 2015. His numbers also include the special allowance he will receive as Prime Minister. An earlier version of this story used the numbers based on Harper buying back in for the 1993 to 1997 period. After being contacted by the PMO with the prime minister's pledge not to do so, the numbers were updated. (CP)

 

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