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Corporations' Fearsome Hold on Government

There was a time when BC's politicians had the nerve to say no.

Rafe Mair 30 Apr

Rafe Mair writes a column for The Tyee every second Monday. Read his previous columns here. He is also a founding contributor to The Common Sense Canadian. Rafe's new book, The Home Stretch, can be downloaded onto your computer, iPad, Kobo or Kindle from or for $9.99. 

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Bill Bennett's Socreds were pro-business, but corporations had far less sway in cabinet than now.

Political times have changed mightily since I left the legislature 32 years ago.

Of course one would expect change over such a long period, but I'm not talking about the coming and goings of leaders and such. I speak of a sea change. The challenge now has become the corporatization of our government and thus the corporatization of us as citizens.

We are seeing our social and political takeover by unelected faceless private bureaucracies.

In 1980, premier Bill Bennett was able to prevent a sale of what was then our industrial icon, MacMillan-Bloedel, saying that "British Columbia is not for sale." He was able to do this because the government controlled the timber licenses. That's all gone, for a number of reasons -- one of which is the internationalization of capital and the ability to transfer it in nano econds. When Mac and Blo was sold to Weyerhaeuser, many were astonished to learn that the majority of shareholders were offshore.

Free trade -- which I supported but in hindsight am not so sure I should have -- placed corporations above the law that used to bind them and annoy them. I did not foresee as others did that our water could become privatized in favour of American companies. One must remember this important point. The judgement of these matters has nothing to do with any concern the people of Canada may have -- the appeal process deals only with rights under NAFTA as they affect corporations. The only question weighed is whether or not it is fair to the company by NAFTA standards.

When we stood up corporate interests

Here's one example from the past which tells the story of how private interests were trumped by public health concerns.

In 1979, a year in which a provincial election occurred, uranium became a big issue in many places including Clearwater, which was in my constituency. A medical doctor in the area, Bob Woollard, was raising a lot of medical issues which I dismissed as nonsense, calling Dr. Woollard as "red as a baboon's ass."

Brilliant! It turned out that the red was on my face as it was clear that I had spoken before I was informed. The upshot was I held a general meeting in Clearwater and apologized to all and sundry.

It transpired that I wasn't alone and my colleague Jim Hewitt had a problem and so, indeed, did premier Bill Bennett, the latter of which ensured that the issue wound up in cabinet.

As environment minister, instructed by cabinet to do so, I put a moratorium on all uranium mining and exploration. Which brings me to the point. We were able to do that because we didn't have corporations in our cabinet room as there are today. (Incidentally, the moratorium, albeit revised, exists today.)

The corporate power today defies belief by old farts like me. Of course we had political pressure from corporations on our back -- they felt that they had paid for our seats in cabinet and that when they wanted to do something they didn't expect to have problems with health or the environment to cause anything more than a bit of public fan dancing before they got their licenses and permits. We could and did say no. Our successors can't.

The NDP had the same problems with unions and other left-wing organizations. The irony is that premier Dave Barrett called the 1975 election to teach the unions in a general strike that the government, not they, ran the province. He lost.

Corporations are not people

What must be understood is that corporations might be "people" in the eyes of the law, but in fact corporations are social atheists who have no moral code and only care for people to the extent the government forces them to do so.

With this in mind, look at three areas where governments, having been bought and paid for, have yielded to corporate desire to profit from potentially appalling environmental crimes: fish farms; private power corporations in control of our rivers; and pipelines to take the tar sands gunk to Kitimat and then send it abroad on huge tankers sailing down the most dangerous and bountiful coast in the world.

The corporate world has challenged the people through their elected representatives and won.

Now the federal government will no longer protect fish habitat because that slows down "progress." Environmental hearings will be castrated by corporate demands, accepted by governments to "fast track" development projects.

It is time, truly, to weep. Bad enough that we have bad political decisions. But at least we could get at the politicians at election time.

Now the corporations and their bankers make decisions behind closed doors and there is absolutely nothing we can do about it.

[Tags: Politics, Environment.]  [Tyee]

Read more: Politics, Environment

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