The Harper government is attempting to pressure environmental groups to stop bothering Conservative donors like Big Oil. May be a bit too pointed? However, one of the aspects of government…particularly politicians…politicians are people…well, people can be vindictive.
The recently successful though partly thwarted mobilization of environmental groups to stop both the Keystone Pipeline to the US and the Northern Gateway Pipeline across northern BC has made our government a bit…well….bitchy.
In January, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver issued a public letter – diatribe, more like – denouncing “environmental and other radical groups” who “hijack” regulatory bodies and “use funding from foreign special interest groups to undermine Canada’s national economic interest.”
According to Canada’s charity laws, a charity can only dedicate 10% of its resources to political advocacy. There are exceptions made for ‘exceptional’ events and I quote “For example, an environmental conservation charity may decide to mobilize public support in favour of an international environmental treaty by taking out a full-page advertisement in a national newspaper (thereby devoting more than 10% of its total resources that year to political activities) because it reasonably considers that ratifying the treaty would help the charity achieve its goals.”
This budget includes an additional $8,000,000 for Revenue Canada to ensure charities are being only 10% political. A lot of this money is to perform audits which not only cost the taxpayer money to perform but is also a burden on the charity which must pay for its end of the audit. I don’t think I would mind this so much if it did not seem like such cheap politics.
But then again, maybe it is not cheap politics but political opportunism. The public know this is petty but not part of some grand scheme to weaken our regulator defences? Or is it?
They are eliminating the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, originally established in the 1990s to advise the prime minister, which regularly produced reports that challenged the business and environmental policies of the government, particularly regarding climate change.
Couple this with that absence of federal criticism or even acknowledgment of the millions of dollars corporations are spending to promote their industries…corporations that are almost exclusively foreign owned. When our government goes to treaty talks we have taken up the habit of bringing along industry lobbyist. Most notably during the recent talks to limit the arms trade to troubled regions of the world; we brought a gun lobbyist. Coincidently we also took the stand that selling ‘hunting and sporting’ guns should be unregulated. No foreign influence I am sure.
Add to these the new budget eviscerated the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act as well as it looks like the majority of job cuts due to spending cuts in the budget are targeting scientists who study thinks like the effects of pollutants on the environment.
So, again why should we as skeptics care?
We often will accuse ‘less skeptic’ types of creating boogeymen where this is none. That there is no great conspiracy to take over the world, pollute our water or kill our children.
To make this claim though, we must have a relative confidence in our regulatory system and the machinery of democracy. If the only people allowed to talk in our democracy are the mega-corps…the only ones providing funding to research…we no longer have the certainty that there may not actually be something in the water. We may not be certain that our politicians are, mostly, working for us. We may not be certain that when the government says “this is safe” or “there is no risk to the environment” that we can trust them or even that they need worry about being truthful.
If the machinery for the public to question government…to challenge the power of the corporations…if that machinery is reduced or lost, we all lose. The changes being made to attack environmental groups will not help skepticism but merely fuel a new generation of conspiracy minded fanatics…and sadly we may not be able to honestly say they are wrong.