Blog Posts | Pembina Institute

It’s time to speak out for nature and democracy

Blog - May 16, 2012 - By Ed Whittingham

Grassroots campaigning is not something that comes naturally to us here at the Pembina Institute. As a leading Canadian think-and-do tank working to make our energy systems cleaner and more sustainable, we’re known for our high-calibre policy research, our facts-based advocacy and our innovative consulting work. Pembina’s engineers, scientists and policy analysts are most comfortable working behind-the-scenes to ensure Canada has the best policy and technological expertise to draw on when making decisions about our energy future.

We prefer research over rhetoric, and pragmatic policy solutions over posturing and political theatre. But the level of public discourse over energy issues and environmental protection in this country has sunk so low over the past few months — with accusations, counter-accusations, slander, hyperbole and hysteria often taking the place of reasoned debate — that even Canadians who are well informed about energy issues have just cause to wonder who to believe.

Why we’re speaking out

The Harper government’s ongoing campaign to discredit environmental groups and charities shows it’s going to take a significant and united effort to return to a constructive and much-needed public discussion around Canada’s energy future.

Recently the Pembina Institute joined forces with many of Canada’s top environmental organizations to launch Black Out Speak Out (or Silence, On Parle in French). Between now and June 4, we invite Canadians concerned about the Harper government’s efforts to weaken environmental laws and block public participation in decisions that put our land, air, water and climate at risk to join us in speaking out in defence of nature and democracy. 

While the government has downplayed the significance of its plans to weaken Canada’s environmental laws, a close reading of Bill C-38 (the federal budget implementation bill that contains the proposed changes) tells a different story.

Through Bill 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, fast-track environmental reviews to speed up approvals of infrastructure projects and dramatically narrow the definition of ‘environmental effects’ to be considered in environmental reviews.

The net result is weaker standards for environmental review across the country and a reliance on a patchwork of less comprehensive provincial assessment laws. In other words: a huge setback for environmental protection. 

Athabasca riverIt doesn’t stop there. Changes to the federal Fisheries Act would severely undermine protection for fish and the waters they live in. Not only do the changes narrow protection to fish licensed in commercial, recreational or aboriginal fisheries — leaving many lakes, rivers and streams vulnerable — they also give the minister of fisheries and oceans (or any person or entity delegated by the federal government, including industry, developers and the provinces) expanded authority to allow harm to fish habitat.

The bill also changes the definition of what constitutes serious harm to fish; the proposed changes would only prohibit permanent alteration or destruction of fish habitat, whereas the current law protects against any “harmful alteration or destruction” of habitat.

Through Bill C-38, the Harper government has introduced measures that could limit citizen groups and research organizations like the Pembina Institute from participating in environmental reviews and could restrict the funding and activities of charities that advocate for better laws and policies. The proposed bill also eliminates the independent government agency analyzing solutions to meet our international commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and strips accountability and transparency from federal climate policies.

The absurdity of the Harper government’s heavy-handed approach

An oilsands mineGiven the breadth and scope of the proposed changes, the Harper government is clearly doing more than simply cutting unnecessary red tape — it’s doing its utmost to accelerate Western Canada’s mining and energy industries, and in particular Alberta’s oilsands development. 

This is absurd for three reasons: one, Canada’s energy industry is already operating on overdrive, short of labour and infrastructure and having a tough time keeping up with the current pace of development. Two, while Ottawa says it’s making these changes to move important infrastructure projects like oilsands pipelines ahead, it risks undoing any progress Alberta and the energy sector has made in improving the energy sector’s tarnished reputation by taking such a heavy-handed approach on the environment. Finally, the government’s aggressive attacks on environmental advocates may very well erode the public’s trust in government and large companies seeking a social license to operate, at a time when — as with the Northern Gateway pipeline — social license does not come easily.

The Pembina Institute thinks that the time has come for Canadians everywhere who are concerned about our natural environment and the state of our democracy to speak out. Please join us and spread the word among your friends, family and colleagues and in your communities.

On this one folks, silence is not an option

Ed Whittingham

Ed is the Executive Director of the Pembina Institute. He has served in an advisory capacity to companies, industry associations, government bodies and research networks on sustainable energy solutions.

Sabine — Aug 15, 2012 - 06:31 PM MT

Alastair,Thanks for reading as alwyas. I agree in the short term, but I think in both cases the oilsands industry and the green energy industry could suffer. If voters start thinking that green energy alwyas means half as much power for twice as much money then the damage could be just as profound as the cost of dirty oil to the oil sands industry. The difference I find is that if you are speaking up against FIT-type policies, people tend to put you in a box as being either anti-environment or NIMBY-ist. I would not want a wind turbine in my backyard, but I do think there is a growing place for renewable power on the grid and in our energy mix, and so to have people not willing to change their ways of thinking b/c one government over-cooked it a little would be sad.I am not a strategies, but I think that making promises you can't keep can come back to haunt you. Again, the oil sands promises are pertinent here. If the Alberta government really thinks that emissions per barrel will continue to shrink, why are they so worried about low carbon fuel standards? The world's oil mix is not getting less emissions-intensive over time, so we shouldn't have anything to worry about if we are going to keep improving here, right? It's the same for renewable power. If there will be grid parity in 10 years, let's wait 10 years before investing in assets that live for 20 or 30 years, and before locking in to paying 10 times the grid price for the next 30 years.Always appreciate your comments.andrew

Melissa B — Jun 13, 2012 - 02:51 PM MT

I'm becoming ashamed of my own country. That's sad.

Mark Holmes — Jun 11, 2012 - 07:02 AM MT

I completely support Pembina on this; pull out all the stops I say and mount a spirited defense- and get addresses, including mine, from wherever you can.

Kathryn — Jun 10, 2012 - 01:48 PM MT

A heartfelt thank you to Pembina. We cannot allow this bleak future to be thrust on us. Canada is in great danger of losing itself to this heavy handed blinkered approach. Our pride in this magnificent country is being forcefully diminished. I am so ashamed of our government.

Abdelekhalq — Aug 15, 2012 - 03:48 PM MT

For 2 years now I have been campaigning to get lstgelaiion introduced concerning energy savings in the home without I have to admit much success although I have had some interest from DEFRA and newspapers.The point I am making here is this we are all aware that we need to make savings in the home for starters it confuses me then somewhat, that when I approach government departments with my energy saving idea which if implemented will reduce energy consumption quite considerably during cold weather months not just in one home but millions year in year out it is either ignored or pushed to another department.This proposal if implemented would save more energy in the home than all other home energy savings put together.Why is this proposal not acted on or at least put up for serious government consideration?(Please see my 360 for link)Add: = ^_^ = You miss the point entirely(Intentionally?)

Renewable Energy News — Jun 01, 2012 - 10:04 AM MT

This is very informative. Thank you for sharing.

Energy Efficient Lighting — Jun 01, 2012 - 10:03 AM MT

We should have a better understanding of the current market conditions for the lighting industry and why efficient lighting is so important to cutting costs and saving energy.

Johan Stroman — May 24, 2012 - 08:55 AM MT

Excellent work. Harper's Government needs to hear from more Canadians. There is far too much at stake. What our current Federal leadership is doing seems to be unravelling the country we know and love - From Parks funding to key Services - Lighthouses, Marine Rescue, EI - cut. The tone and timbre of the message is more ominous than the cuts themselves. Speak out about what you love and care about - because Harpers Government is making it quite clear they don't share Canadian's values - for environment, community or a Vision of renewable or clean energy sources.

Libby D. — May 21, 2012 - 09:41 AM MT

Thank you to the Pembina Institute for stepping up to lead this fight. I hope they find a way to explain to those who vote for the Conservatives, no matter what actions they take, that the stripping of environmental protections is truly dangerous.

Somehow, the message has to get out to more than those of us who follow politics daily.

Alan Langford — May 17, 2012 - 10:36 AM MT

I find "Get updates and the tools to BLACKOUTSPEAKOUT:" followed by an email capture form on this site to be deeply disturbing. Clearly, the people who built it value the creation of a mailing list more highly than the campaign itself.

It is difficult to find words that adequately describe how badly the priorities are inverted here.

Although I strongly support the principle behind the protest, for this reason alone my sites will not be participating.

I urge you to reconsider your approach.

Stephanie — May 17, 2012 - 05:06 PM MT

I find your comment stunning, really. It is unprecedented for the Pembina Institute to speak out in this way, which makes it glaringly obvious that our country is in great danger. And yet you choose to criticize the BlackOut SpeakOut campaign for sending you an email. By the way, there is an "unsubscribe" option at the bottom of the message, I got one too.

I want to commend the Pembina Institute for articulating the dangers we are currently facing as a country with such care, dignity and respect.

Janet Sutton — May 17, 2012 - 09:52 AM MT

Lets do whatever we can to let the Harper government know that Bill C 38 is not acceptable.

Carolyn — May 17, 2012 - 08:50 AM MT

Way to go Pembina! I'm with you. This bill is bad in so many ways. We need to take a stand. And who decided that "the Harper government" was Harper's? It's our government -- he's just the one trying to take it from us. I prefer "the Harper conservatives," which seems more accurate.

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