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Opinion

Elizabeth May Takes on Joe Oliver

Green leader responds to resource minister's 'open letter' slamming 'environmentalists and other radicals.'

By Elizabeth May 10 Jan 2012 | TheTyee.ca

Elizabeth May is Member of Parliament for Saanich-Gulf Islands and leader of the Green Party of Canada.

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'Protect your good name': Green Leader May to Natural Resources Minister Oliver.

"Unfortunately, there are environmental and other radical groups that would seek to block this opportunity to diversify our trade. Their goal is to stop any major project no matter what the cost to Canadian families in lost jobs and economic growth.

"No forestry. No mining. No oil. No gas. No more hydro-electric dams.

"These groups threaten to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda. They seek to exploit any loophole they can find, stacking public hearings with bodies to ensure that delays kill good projects. They use funding from foreign special interest groups to undermine Canada's national economic interest."

-- From your open letter of today's date, Jan. 9, 2012.

Dear Joe,

Your letter caught my attention. I respect you and like you a lot as a colleague in the House. Unfortunately, I think your role as Minister of Natural Resources has been hijacked by the PMO spin machine. The PMO is, in turn, hijacked by the foreign oil lobby. You are, as Minister of Natural Resources, in a decision-making, judge-like role. You should not have signed such a hyperbolic rant.

I have reproduced a short section of your letter. The idea that First Nations, conservation groups, and individuals opposed to the Northern Gateway pipeline are opposed to all forestry, mining, hydro-electric and gas is not supported by the facts. I am one of those opposed to the Northern Gateway pipeline. I do not oppose all development; neither does the Green Party; neither do environmental NGOS; neither do First Nations.

I oppose the Northern Gateway pipeline for a number of reasons, beginning with the fact that the project requires over-turning the current moratorium on oil tanker traffic on the British Columbia coastline. The federal-provincial oil tanker moratorium has been in place for decades. As former Industry Canada deputy minister Harry Swain pointed out in today's Globe and Mail, moving oil tankers through 300 kilometres of perilous navigation in highly energetic tidal conditions is a bad choice. In Dec. 2010, the government's own Commissioner for the Environment, within the Office of the Auditor General, reported that Canada lacked the tools to respond to an oil spill. These are legitimate concerns.

Furthermore, running a pipeline through British Columbia's northern wilderness, particularly globally significant areas such as the Great Bear Rainforest, is a bad idea. Nearly 1,200 kilometres of pipeline through wilderness and First Nations territory is not something that can be fast-tracked.

Most fundamentally, shipping unprocessed bitumen crude out of Canada has been attacked by the biggest of Canada's energy labour unions, the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada, as a bad idea. The CEP estimates it means exporting 40,000 jobs out of Canada (figure based on jobs lost through the Keystone Pipeline). They prefer refining the crude here in Canada. (The CEP is also not a group to which your allegation that opponents of Gateway also oppose all forestry, mining, oil, gas, etc. is anything but absurd.)

The repeated attacks on environmental review by your government merit mention. The federal law for environmental review was first introduced under the Mulroney government. Your government has dealt repeated blows to the process, both through legislative changes, shoved through in the 2010 omnibus budget bill, and through budget cuts. In today's letter, you essentially ridicule the process through a misleading example. Your citation of "a temporary ice arena on a frozen pond in Banff" requiring federal review was clearly intended to create the impression that the scope of federal review had reached absurd levels. You neglected to mention that the arena was within the National Park. That is the only reason the federal government was involved. It was required by the National Parks Act. The fact that the arena approval took only two months shows the system works quite well.

Perhaps most disturbing in the letter is the description of opposition to the Northern Gateway pipeline as coming from "environmental and other radical groups." Nowhere in your letter do you mention First Nations. (I notice you mention "Aboriginal communities," but First Nations require the appropriate respect that they represent a level of government, not merely individuals within communities.) 

The federal government has a constitutional responsibility to respect First Nations sovereignty and protect their interests. It is a nation to nation relationship. To denigrate their opposition to the project by lumping it in with what you describe (twice) as "radical" groups is as unhelpful to those relationships as it is inaccurate.

"Radical" is defined as "relating to or affecting the fundamental nature of something; far-reaching or thorough." (Merriam Webster.)

By that definition, it is not First Nations, conservation groups or individual opponents that are radical. They seek to protect the fundamental nature of the wilderness of northern British Columbia, the ecological health of British Columbia coastal eco-systems, and the integrity of impartial environmental review. It is your government that is radical by proposing quite radical alteration of those values.

Your government has failed to present an energy strategy to Canada. We have no energy policy. We are still importing more than half of the oil we use. Further, we have no plan to reduce dependency on fossil fuels, even as we sign on to global statements about the need to keep greenhouse gases from rising above 450 ppm in the atmosphere to keep global average temperatures from exceeding a growth of 2 degrees C. The climate crisis imperils our future -- including our economic future -- in fundamental ways which your government ignores.

By characterizing this issue as environmental radicals versus Canada's future prosperity you have done a grave disservice to the development of sensible public policy. There are other ways to diversify Canada's energy markets. There are other routes, other projects, and most fundamentally other forms of energy.

I urge you to protect your good name and refuse to sign such unworthy and inaccurate missives in the future.

Sincerely,

Elizabeth May, O.C.

 Member of Parliament

 Saanich-Gulf Islands

Leader

 Green Party of Canada  [Tyee]

Read more: Energy, Politics, Environment

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