Chris Hogan likened the grey sky and chill in the air at the St. John’s waterfront to the current state of relations between Canadian environmental groups and the federal government.
Hogan, executive director of the Newfoundland and Labrador Environmental Network — a collective of provincial environmentally conscious organizations — was introducing speakers at a rally this morning at Harbourside Park.
The rally was to both draw attention to and protest impending changes to the Canadian environmental regulatory process — as outlined in the federal budget omnibus bill, C-38 — alongside what organizers claim are “sweeping cuts” to conservation and science programming at the federal level.
In addition, the event was to address what organizers claim is a general lack of respect on the part of the federal government for the grassroots efforts of environmental organizations.
“This government has attacked environmental groups using language that is pretty inflammatory and that’s of grave concern,” Hogan said.
Representing both the Council of Canadians and the Sandy Pond Alliance, Ken Kavanagh raised similar objection to statements made by federal Conservatives, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
“It’s the insidious way ... in which he is dismissing and insulting and demonizing many of us who are ordinary citizens because we want to speak out and because we don’t agree with him,” he told the gathering of about three dozen people.
St. John’s hosted one of five public rallies being held across the country today, aiming to get out the Black Out Speak Out message.
The Black Out Speak Out campaign was launched May 7 in response to what Canadian environmental organizations are calling “concerted smear attacks” on the part of the federal government, as well as changes affecting federal environmental protections, as proposed in federal omnibus budget bill, C-38.
The Black Out Speak Out campaign calls upon “organizations, businesses and citizens” to “darken their websites” today and speak out on their concerns regarding environmental protections within Canada and the changes in the federal budget bill by way of email and social media.
According to organizers, over 500 groups including Oxfam, Amnesty International, the Canadian Labour Congress, faith groups, First Nations and all four opposition parties (NDP, Liberal, Green and Bloc Quebecois) are participating in Black Out Speak Out events.
“Today, hundreds of organizations and individuals — representing millions of citizens — are speaking out in support of two core Canadian values: the protection of nature and democratic discussion,” stated scientist and activist David Suzuki, in a news release on the day of action events.
“These values are the foundation of the peace, order and good government that define our nation, yet they are threatened by the federal government’s omnibus budget bill, C-38.”
For more on the Black Out Speak Out campaign in Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as changes proposed to federal science data collection and environmental regulations in the federal omnibus bill, see tomorrow’s print and digital editions of The Telegram.
For now, here is a Top 10 list of items of environmental concern in the 452-page Bill C-38, as prepared by West Coast Environmental Law and Ecojustice:
1. Changes to the Fisheries Act mean that the law may no longer protect all fish and the waters where they live.
The new protection framework could exclude many fish and watercourses. Generally, habitat protection will only include permanent alteration or destruction of “commercial, recreational or aboriginal fisher(ies)” habitat and some activities will be exempt from the law regardless of how much damage they cause. The federal government will also be able to hand over the power to authorize destruction of fish habitat to provincial governments or other entities, which is worrisome.
2. No maximum time limits on permits allowing impacts on species at risk.
This means that there will no longer be any guaranteed review to evaluate ongoing impacts to endangered species. These potential ‘perpetual’ permits could continue even where there is a drastic decline in the population of a species affected by the permitted activity.
3. The National Energy Board (NEB) will be exempted from species at risk protections.
The NEB will no longer have to ensure that measures have been taken to minimize impacts on the critical habitat of at-risk species before the NEB approves a pipeline or other major infrastructure. For example, there is no guarantee that an environmental assessment will consider the impacts of a proposed pipeline project and related oil tanker traffic on the habitat of endangered orca whales before the NEB issues a certificate approving that pipeline.
4. The Canadian Environmental Assessment Act is being replaced with a new Act that will significantly narrow the number of projects that will be assessed for their environmental, social and economic impacts.
Assessments, when they happen, will be less rigorous and subject to time limits that will place further constraints on public and First Nations’ participation. The new Act will apply only to “designated projects,” but we don’t yet know what those will be. The new Act gives the Environment Minister and government officials broad decision-making power: The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency would be able to exempt a designated project from even going through the assessment process.
5. The federal government is offloading responsibilities to the provinces.
This is troubling because the patchwork of environmental laws and policies at the provincial level leave doubt as to whether they can act as a sufficient or legally defensible substitute for federal oversight. Prime examples of this offloading include shifting responsibility for implementation or enforcement of the Fisheries Act to provinces and eliminating many federal environmental assessments.
6. Cabinet is now granted authority to override a “no” decision of the National Energy Board.
This may allow politics of the day to trump an independent, objective process and undermine the NEB’s expertise.
7. No more joint review panels.
Where a major energy project will be subject to an NEB hearing, a Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency-enabled review panel is prohibited, so there will be no more joint review panels. Thus, the environmental implications of major energy projects will now be evaluated only by the energy regulator.
8. Broad decision-making powers are being shifted from the public realm and given to Cabinet and individual Ministers.
This means decisions related to fish habitat protection and environmental assessments will be allowed to be made behind closed doors with minimal public scrutiny.
9. Significant narrowing of public engagement in resource review panel hearings, particularly for major oil projects, pipelines and mines.
In order to participate, people will have to prove they will be directly affected or have relevant information or expertise. In some cases, their contributions may still be ignored.
10. Repeal of two important environmental laws.
The repeal of the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act, means no more domestic accountability measures on climate change and the repeal of the National Round Table on Environment and Economy Act will phase out this valuable advisory body completely.