Nature Wise — Harper takes aim at environmentalists

Columnist concerned of attack on environmentalists and environmental laws by Harper government.

I usually write about nature rather than the political side of the environment but I just can’t sit by silently while the Harper government launches an all-out attack on environmentalists and our environmental laws.

It began in earnest early this year when Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said people and organizations who opposed major projects such as the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline were “radicals.”  The minister accused environmental groups of using foreign funding to “hijack our regulatory system.”  I, and many other local people, oppose the pipeline or want to see the strictest controls imposed on the project and I don’t think any of us would fall into the category of radicals.” And I’m positive none of us are the beneficiaries of “foreign money.”  Of course, it turns out that the minister was simply setting the stage for more to come.

The attack picked up with the April budget and bill C-38, the budget implementation bill, which is more than 400 pages long and proposes significant changes to almost every environmental law in Canada.  You would think that changing the way we assess major projects in this country, gutting the Fisheries Act (first passed in 1976) and altering the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, amongst other significant changes, might require some public input and parliamentary hearings but not so with Mr. Harper at the helm even though none of these things were even mentioned in last year’s federal election.

That such significant changes to our longstanding environmental protection laws should be enacted virtually overnight with no public hearings is absolutely outrageous.  Canadians should be up in arms about this.  Even republican president George W. Bush did not attempt such an attack on America’s environmental laws.

It is rather ironic that just as I am writing this column about the federal government cutting back on environmental oversight of such projects, Canada’s environment commissioner released his 2012 report, in which he says, “When you look at the legacy of contaminated sites (mostly mining sites) right across this country, this is a legacy that Canadians will be paying for – not for decades; they’ll be paying for it literally for centuries.” He further states that these sites are the result of lax regulations in the past.   Furthermore, the Royal Society of Canada’s recent review of environmental management in the Alberta oilsands concludes: “The current visibility of relevant provincial and federal agencies, in particular in dealing with the major environmental challenges is low, and is generally not in line with those challenges.”  That’s the polite way of saying the government agencies are overwhelmed and haven’t got a clue as to what is happening. So while everyone in Canada — except the oil companies — are saying we need stricter regulations and more oversight, Mr. Harper’s government is ramming through an omnibus bill that will dramatically change the way we assess and manage environmental issues in this country and will reduce the oversight that’s so badly needed.  And if you dare oppose a project you are a “radical.”

Naturalist Club meeting

The South Okanagan Naturalist’s Club meets again on May 24 when geologist-naturalist Robert Handfield will present a talk on the geology behind the scenery — a look at some the famous national parks of the western U.S.  Meetings are held in the basement of the Penticton United Church at 7:30 p.m.  There is no charge and everyone is welcome.  Find out more at www.southokanagannature.com.

Bob Handfield is a member of the South Okanagan Naturalist Club. Views expressed here are his own and not necessarily those of the club.