Opinion

Hello, CSIS!

This post originally appeared on the Dogwood Initiative blog.

I should confess: I talk to lamp fixtures.

I wink at ceiling vents, sing to the dashboard in my car, apologize to the people eavesdropping on my phone calls for how boring my conversations are.

I can’t pinpoint when this running joke began, but it was sometime after I left television journalism and began to publicly criticize the government. Now that I work at Dogwood Initiative — where we’ve actually been the target of homeland surveillance — the joke is less funny.

Last week Dogwood organizers testified at a secret hearing of the Security Intelligence Review Committee — the “watchdog” tasked with keeping CSIS on a leash. We allege not only that Canada’s spy service broke the law by gathering information on peaceful civilians inside Canada, but that government spying has put a chill on democratic participation.

Do you know that feeling, that you’re being watched? It’s like when you park your vehicle in a bad spot and have to walk there after dark. Or you come home after a trip and the door is unlocked. Or you peer into the webcam on your phone or computer and wonder, is anyone there?

Cue Collective Eye Roll: Harper Appoints Kinder Morgan Consultant to Pipeline Regulator

The purpose of the National Energy Board, like any regulator, is to be unprofitable. They perform unprofitable environmental assessments to make sure we have access to unprofitable clean drinking water and preserve unprofitable nature for unprofitable future generations. That’s because citizens value things beyond profits, and the National Energy Board represents citizens. In theory… 

One of the last things the Harper government did before it launched the federal election was to appoint Steven Kelly, who is a consultant for Kinder Morgan, to the National Energy Board. This guy was paid to convince the government to approve the expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline. And now he’ll be part of the team that helps to decide if his own argument was convincing. If the pipeline review process was a cutest baby competition, we just hired the baby’s mom.

Federal Leaders Have Never Been Asked About Science Policy in an Election Debate. Ever.

This is a guest post by Katie Gibbs, PhD, a biologist and the Executive Director of Evidence for Democracy and Alana Westwood, a PhD Candidate at Dalhousie University and research coordinator for Evidence for Democracy. Evidence for Democracy is a not-for-profit organization promoting the transparent use of evidence in government decision-making in Canada.

Science, unquestionably, improves our everyday lives.

The work of scientists is everywhere; their efforts are reflected in everything from the cleanliness of our water to the success of medical treatments to the smartphones glued to our hands.

Stephen Harper Forgets Stephen Harper’s Pledge to End Fossil Fuels

If the recent frufrah over NDP candidate Linda McQuaig’s comment that “a lot of the oilsands oil may have to stay in the ground” is indicative of anything, it’s that Canada’s election cycle is in full spin. May all reasonableness and sensible dialogue and accountability be damned.

Perhaps that’s the blunt and singular reason behind the Conservative Party and Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s outrage at McQuaig’s entirely non-contentious assertion that, because of our international commitments to curtail global climate change, Canada won’t exploit the entirety of its oil reserves.

Harper accused the NDP of having a “not-so hidden agenda,” saying the party “is consistently against the development of our resources and our economy.”

That’s why they…would wreck this economy if they ever got in, and why they must never get into power in this country.”

But Harper’s reaction seems conspicuously overwrought given the Prime Minister’s own pledge, along with the other G7 nations, to phase out the use of fossil fuels by 2100.

At the time of signing — a whole two months ago — Harper said the plan would “require a transformation in our energy sectors.”

David Suzuki: Premiers' Energy Strategy Falls Short

This is a guest post by David Suzuki.

On July 15, a state-of-the-art new pipeline near Fort McMurray, Alberta, ruptured, spilling five million litres of bitumen, sand and waste water over 16,000 square metres — one of the largest pipeline oil spills in Canadian history. Two days later, a train carrying crude oil from North Dakota derailed in Montana, spilling 160,000 litres and forcing evacuation of nearby homes.

At the same time, while forest fires raged across large swathes of Western Canada — thanks to hotter, dryer conditions and longer fire seasons driven in part by climate change — Canadian premiers met in St. John’s, Newfoundland, to release their national energy strategy.

The premiers’ Canadian Energy Strategy focuses on energy conservation and efficiency, clean energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions to combat climate change. But details are vague and there’s no sense of urgency. We need a response like the U.S. reaction to Pearl Harbor or the Soviet Sputnik launch!

Facing the Simple but Hard Truths of the Alberta Oilsands

This is a guest post by Tzeporah Berman, Adjunct Professor York University Faculty of Environmental Studies and longtime environmental advocate. A shorter version of this piece originally appeared on the Toronto Star.

The debate over energy, oilsands and pipelines in Canada is at best dysfunctional and at worst a twisted game that is making public relations professionals and consultants on all sides enormous amounts of money.

Documents obtained through Freedom of Information routinely show our own government hiding scientific reports or meeting secretly to craft PR strategies with the companies they are supposed to regulate, while millions of dollars are spent on ads trying to convince Canadians that the oilsands are like peanut butter and that without them our hospitals will close. *(See change notice at end of article.)

On the other side we march, we rally and we point fingers creating a narrative of exclusion and moral high-ground while acting as though a low carbon transition is going to be a walk in the park.

 Enough.

The Canada-China FIPA Restricts Canada's Climate Options

This is a guest post by Gus Van Harten, professor at the Osgoode Hall Law School and author of Sold Down the Yangtze: Canada's Lopsided Investment Deal with China. This post originally appeared on the Globe and Mail.

For years, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government told Canadians that it could not act on climate change until China joined in. Yet, in 2014, the government quietly finalized a 31-year investment treaty that, in essence, gives Chinese oil companies an advance bailout against a range of steps that Canada may need to take on climate change.

Take, for example, the call by more than 100 scientists for limits on oilsands expansion until a serious Canadian plan on climate change is in place. What is a serious plan? The scientists said it would need “to rapidly reduce carbon pollution, safeguard biodiversity, protect human health and respect treaty rights.”

Now, consider Canada’s new Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA) with China. 

Right-wing Circles Angry but Pope's Climate Intervention Makes Complete Sense

This is a guest post by Charles J. Reid Jr., professor of law at the University of St. Thomas.

It is a line repeated with tiresome regularity in right-wing circles: Pope Francis has no business proposing solutions to the crisis of global climate change. He is not a scientist, they say. He should stick to morals and to matters of faith and doctrine.

Pope Francis' defenders point out that climate change is a moral question. If the destruction of the planet's ecological health is not a moral concern, then what is? But while climate change is certainly a moral issue, it is something much larger and more significant than that. It is a threat to the common good of the world.

Hey Canada, You Might Want to Reconsider Being So Polite About Climate Change

In the wake of the NDP’s new majority government in Alberta, Steve Williams, the CEO of Suncor, announced that he believes climate change is happening and the right way to address it is a carbon tax that applies to both producers and consumers.

Well it’s pretty obvious what happened here. Steve Williams read Naomi Klein’s “This Changes Everything” and was so inspired by her vision of a just, sustainable future that he set short-term considerations of profit aside for his deeply held moral convictions, in preparation for his eventual ascension unto heaven. Or maybe there’s something else going on…

Would You Raise Your Hand for Canada's Oil and Gas Industry?

Raise Your Hand Canada Feature Image

After a rough year of collapsing oil prices and the embarrassing dethroning of Alberta’s longtime Progressive Conservative government, the oil and gas industry could use a win. The latest campaign from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) was probably designed to be one.

Alas.

Developed as part of CAPP's ‘Energy Citizens’ movement, the ‘Raise your Hand’ campaign is well-designed and clearly expensive. Online and off, it features smiling multiracial faces with hands raised — overlayed with hand-drawn outlines of patriotic maple leaves. There are cheerful videos, interactive bus shelter ads and an online submission form to stay connected. It even has a hashtag (#ryhcanada), the extremely limited Twitter impact of which must be giving at least one advertising executive an ulcer right now.

As Mark Hume noted in the Globe and Mail this weekend, an ad campaign that attempts to co-opt patriotism for its own ends is hardly something new. NGOs have done it for years. So have McDonalds, Molson's beer and Roots. And yet, as Hume says, “CAPP’s slogan — 'Raise your hand because you are proud of Canada’s oil and natural gas' — doesn’t quite have the same ring as one that urges you to raise your hand against racism, ignorance or disease.”

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