This week we asked Ed Whittingham, executive director of the Pembina Institute, to be our guest blogger, responding to questions we had about a new campaign promoted by Pembina and other Canadian environmental organizations.
Launched May 7, the Black Out Speak Out initiative is a response to proposed changes to Canada’s environmental laws. It invites supporters to darken their websites June 4 “in defence of nature and democracy.”
We thank Ed for taking time to respond to our questions.
Canadians deserve to have a mature and open conversation about our shared energy future. The thousands of Canadians and more than a hundred organizations participating in the Black Out Speak Out campaign know that going dark for a day may not stop the Harper government’s attacks on charities and environmental groups. But shutting down our websites illustrates what would be lost if our voices were shut out from the discussion over the future of our country.
OSQAR readers may think those participating in Black Out Speak Out are overreacting, but the extent of the changes to key environmental laws included in Bill C-38 is unprecedented and draconian. For example, through C-38 the Harper government will repeal the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, and replace it with a new law that allows cabinet to override the decisions of the supposedly arms-length National Energy Board. The bill also proposes to fast-track environmental reviews for infrastructure projects, dramatically narrow the definition of ‘environmental effects’ to be considered in environmental reviews, and significantly reduce protection of fish and the waters they live in.
The net result will be weaker standards for environmental review across the country, new limits on citizen participation in environmental reviews, and reliance on a patchwork of less comprehensive provincial assessment laws. In other words this is a huge setback for environmental protection.
How do you expect/hope the campaign will move us closer to resolving our shared energy challenges?
Grassroots campaigning is not something that comes naturally to us here at Pembina. We’re more known for our high-calibre policy research, our facts-based advocacy and our innovative consulting work, including for oil sands producers like Suncor. Our engineers, scientists and policy analysts are frankly more comfortable working behind the scenes.
But in order to get back to rational and mature progress on energy and environment challenges and away from the allegations, slander and hyperbole that’s defined the public discourse over energy issues of late, we first need greater public awareness of what Bill C-38 means to responsible development in this country.
Responsible development of the oil sands is achievable, but C-38 takes us in the opposite direction. So too does having federal cabinet ministers make unsubstantiated and criminal accusations against select environmental charities, then hiding from reporters when they ask for the proof, as environment minister Peter Kent did recently with his 'money laundering' charge. I think both acts are not in keeping with Canadian values, so we’re asking Canadians everywhere who are concerned about our natural environment and the state of our democracy to speak out on this one, to send a strong signal to our federal government that we need more productive conversations on energy challenges.