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A Bad Week for the Environment

The Canadian Flag posted outside Nelson City Hall says it all about what's happening to the environment. — The Nelson Daily photo

“We prove what we want to prove, and the real difficulty is to know what we want to prove.”   - Emile Chartier
 

There is no doubt what Christy Clark and Stephen Harper were trying to prove with their announcements over the past 10 days.

The environment – and anyone who stands up for it – is not just taking a back seat to economic growth, but the environment and environmentalists are not even allowed in the car.

Analysts say the general public will consent to put aside environmental concerns in the quest for economic growth, but the BC and Canadian governments are only boosting one type of economic growth – resource development.

Canadians are being told we have to give away the country in pursuit of the almighty dollar.

Christy Clark’s government started the giveaway with a March 20 news conference in Victoria announcing the approval of the Master Development Agreement for the controversial Jumbo Glacier Resort. The agreement means the proponent must have "substantial work" underway by 2014.

Jumbo would have an area of 5,965 hectares and just over 6,200 accommodation units once full build-out is achieved.  Proponents, who have yet to secure all their financing, expect up to 700,000 skier visits per year – if that many rich Europeans and North Americans can be persuaded that year-round glacier skiing in a far-flung part of the East Kootenay that is already saturated with ski resorts is worth the trip.

The resort still faces another hurdle in the form of a possible judicial review of the decision. The Ktunaxa Nation remains opposed to the development of the resort, saying the area is considered to be sacred. The area is also prime grizzly bear habitat and biologists say the bear population could be decimated by the resort’s impacts.

Last February, the Ktunaxa questioned the economic benefits of the proposed resort, saying it would be a net negative for the region.

“Even government’s premise that this will create jobs for families is simply wrong and misinformed," said Kathryn Teneese, Ktunaxa Nation Chair.

"Last November we released an economic report by Dr. Marvin Schaffer which showed that this resort is likely to have zero net economic benefit for the people B.C. The report indicated that any job gains at the new resort will likely be offset by losses at other resorts or tourism businesses, particularly as there has been overall decline in the ski tourism market since 2004.”

“It will only provide minimum wage jobs,” said Teneese. “The local businesses are already having a hard time filling those. This project will provide very few jobs for families to survive on.”

Jobs were also on the mind of the Stephen Harper government March 29 but the emphasis was on cutting them not creating them.

Environment Canada will suffer a $20 million cut in fiscal 2012-13 rising to $88 million in 2014-15 (an 8% cut). Parks Canada gets a $6 million cut this year, rising to $29 million in 2014-15.

The Canadian Labour Congress says each $1 billion of cuts to spending represents about 10,000 lost jobs, about evenly divided between direct federal government jobs and private and not-for-profit sector jobs supported by federal government purchases of goods and services.

So, the overall negative impact of the Harper budget on jobs will be about 50,000 when the measures are fully implemented.

Program spending cuts of $1.4 billion this year will mean a loss of about 19,000 government jobs, with cuts rising to $3.9 billion next year, to $5.3 billion in 2014-15. In total, the reduction from 2011 to 2014-15 will be 34,000 positions.  That is only in the public service.

Also on the government’s chopping block is the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy – the government’s independent advisory body on sustainability and one of the voices urging the government to take action to avoid the dangers of climate change.

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) is in line for a 40 per cent cut in the new budget year.

Non-profit environmental groups could face severe cutbacks as the government has ordered the Canada Revenue Agency to increase monitoring of environmental charities that engage in political advocacy.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said he was responding to complaints that environmental groups may be abusing their charitable status, in part by accepting foreign donations for campaigns that oppose pipeline construction and oil sands development.

This sounds more like an attempt to stifle opposition to the giveaway of Canada.    

While the price of oil remains above $100 a barrel on the world market for light sweet crude, Canada’s heavy oil that is more difficult to refine is fetching only $75 a barrel.

The sooner this heavy oil finds its way to Asian markets, the sooner it will fetch a higher price.

In a bid to ramp up the profits of oil companies, the Harper Government has eased the rules governing environmental reviews into resource development projects. The government is now saying panel hearings for such projects should take no longer than 24 months.

They’ve even changed the rules for the current Northern Gateway pipeline hearings which are not scheduled to conclude until the fall of 2013. Neither Flaherty nor officials offered details on how the process will be shortened.

What the Harper Government presented March 29 was not even called a “budget”.  It was labelled an economic action plan to support jobs, growth, and prosperity.

But a budget should be about choices and we Canadians should have a voice in those choices.

There are many different ways to grow an economy. A deep energy retrofit program targeting Canadian residential and commercial buildings would generate many more jobs and create much more wealth than the planned Harper initiatives that will assist some 500 resource development projects that will require $500 billion of investment.

The budget does not renew funding for the EcoENERGY energy efficiency program or the EcoENERGY renewable energy program, meaning there are no new funds towards renewable energy development. 

Budget 2012 does give minimal tax support to ‘clean energy’ and energy efficiency, to the tune of $2 million, yet tar sands subsidies remain untouched.  $1.38 billion a year is allocated to the oil and gas sector through subsidies.

Research and development funding and innovation strategies could help Canada become a world leader in areas like green transit technology and food security. These are jobs that cannot be exported across the ocean like our resources.

The question Canadians should be asked is do you choose to dig up the country and send it overseas or do you choose to embrace energy efficiency, renewable energy, strengthened local communities, energy and food self-sufficiency and security?

It essentially boils down to whether we want to return to colonial status or truly become an independent country.
But then Clark and Harper would have to question what they’re trying to prove and to date they haven’t proven to be very deep thinkers.

Michael Jessen is a Nelson eco-writer, the owner of the consultancy Zero Waste Solutions, and the energy critic for the Green Party of BC. He can be reached by email at zerowaste@shaw.ca

RESOURCES – CNN announced March 29th that the world’s oil companies earned $132.9 billion in profits in 2011. (And we’re still giving them subsidies!)

A rally to protest the Northern Gateway pipeline will be held on Earth Day, April 22nd. 

Check the Facebook page of Kootenays for a Pipeline-Free BC for further details.  Keith Wiley says that the group is bringing to Nelson the film “On the Line,” (http://www.onthelinemovie.com/) a documentary that follows an intrepid filmmaker and colleague as they bike, hike and kayak the entire 1,175-km proposed pipeline route.

(The movie will be shown on the CBC documentary channel on April 1 @ 7 p.m. and on April 2 @ 8 p.m.)

The group also hopes to bring some high profile speakers – possibly including Andrew Nikiforuk, author of Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent - to Nelson in May. (An excerpt of his book can be downloaded at http://www.andrewnikiforuk.com)