Canadian Democracy in Disarray
There is mounting alarm and opposition across Canada, even among many conservatives, about the Harper government’s omnibus budget bill, Bill C-38. Yesterday Parlliamentary Speaker Andrew Scheer (a Conservative MP from Saskatchewan) denied Elizabeth May’s well argued Point of Order re: allowing Omnibus Budget Bill C-38 as a legitimate omnibus budget bill will bring our institutions into greater disrepute. I’m sure Mr. Scheer wasn’t at all swayed in his decision by his party’s leader, who is well known for not allowing any dissent within his ranks.
Some of the changes to the over 60 existing federal statutes included in this “budget” bill (a better name for it would be “Harper remaking Canada into his neocon image bill”) are:
- The Canadian Environmental Assessment Act is repealed, and a weaker version is introduced, without a single day of hearings before the parliamentary environment committee.
- The Species At Risk Act is amended, as well as the Navigable Waters Protection Act. This removes protection of endangered species and their habitat when approving pipeline projects. (Hmmm – I wonder why the Harper government would be interested in this change?!)
- The Fisheries Act is gutted by removing provisions for habitat protection.
- Parks Canada Agency Act is trimmed and staff are cut. Reporting requirements will be reduced, including the annual report. 638 of the nearly 3,000 Parks Canada workers will be cut. Environmental monitoring and ecological restoration in the Gulf Islands National Park are being cut.
- Canadian Oil and Gas Operations Act is made more industry-friendly. It will be changed to promote seismic testing, allowing increased off-shore drilling.
- Nuclear Safety Control Act undermined. Environmental assessments will be moved to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, which is a licensing body not an assessing body, so there is built-in conflict.
- Canada Seeds Act inspections are privatized. This is being revamped so the job of inspecting seed crops is transferred from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency inspectors to “authorized service providers” (the private sector). Monsanto, here we come!
- Agriculture is affected. Under the Prairie Farm Rehabiliation Act, publicly-owned grasslands have acted as community pastures under federal management, leasing grazing rights to farmers so they could devote their good land to crops, not livestock. This will end. Also, the Centre for Plant Health in Sidney, B.C., an important site for quarantine and virus-testing on plants strategically located on Vancouver Island to protect B.C.’s primary agricultural regions, will be moved to the heart of B.C.’s fruit and wine country.
- National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy is killed. NRTEE brought industry leaders, environmentalists, First Nations, labour, and policy makers together to provide nonpartisan research and advice on federal policies. Its demise will leave a policy vacuum in relation to Canada’s economic development (despite Minister Kent’s assertions in the House of Commons that such information is widely available on the internet!).
- More attacks on environmental groups are funded. The charities section now precludes gifts which may result in political activity, and $8 million in new money is given to the Canadian Revenue Agency to harass charities. Yep, our tax dollars hard at work!
- Water programs are cut. Environment Canada is cutting several water-related programs and other will be cut severely, including some aimed at promoting or monitoring water-use efficiency. The Municipal Water and Wastewater Survey, the only national study of water consumption habits, is being cut after being in place since 1983. Also cut is monitoring effluent: Environment Canada’s Environmental Effects Monitoring Program, a systematic method for measuring the quality of effluent discharge, including from mines and pulp mills, will be cut by 20 percent.
- The Fair Wages Act is repealed.
Bill c-38 hits home in my region in a particular way by ending the funding of the Environmental Lakes Area. Since being established in 1968, the ELA (located near Dryden Ontario) has been a world-class research facility where the secrets of algae blooms, acid rain, mercury pollution, and the impacts of aquaculture have been unlocked. The Harper government is planning to shut the ELA down in Bill C-38.
It’s clear that Stephen Harper has a disdain for science in general, and environmental science, which tells us about the world we live in and human (particularly industry) impacts on it, in particular. Here a child weighs in on Bill C-38. See the links below the video to take action.