Tag Archives: environment

Canadians say ‘ho hum’ to federal priorities


Sleeping giants, like the electorate, wake up...don't they?

Sleeping giants, like the electorate, wake up…don’t they?

Certain enclaves of the federal government have long suspected that Canadians are far less enamoured of their cherished policies than they have otherwise propagandized. 

Their buoyant rhetoric about the nation’s proud military tradition, bolstered by tens of millions of dollars for war memorials and stagy commemorations, have struck many citizens as crass testimonials to a certain prime minister’s preoccupation with battlefield derring do. 

Meanwhile, thousands of veterans needlessly do without – victims of red tape, official neglect and outright disinterest among corps of bureaucrats whose members have never, and likely never will, lace up an army boot.

Equally, Canadians are, in increasing numbers, dissatisfied with Ottawa’s leadership (or lack, thereof) on education – both pre-school and K through 12. Public school is properly the purview of the provinces, but a sense of national purpose is sorely lacking – a fact manifested in the hodgepodge of early education, primary and secondary programs across the country.

And then there’s health care, another provincial responsibility that could use some sage advice from federal policy makers and office holders. Still, Ottawa’s diffidence regarding long wait times for several medical procedures and widely divergent catastrophic coverage regimes virtually guarantees the nation’s mediocrity in this crucial service on the developed world stage.

In fact, in almost every way, the Government of Canada’s ‘jails and jobs’ agenda has failed to impress the general public. 

The wholesale flight of the feds away from things Canadians actually care about – the environment, hard science, and, of course, the social safety net – to things that merely bewilder them – fighting crime at a time when crime rates are at historic lows; taking credit for creating jobs while repeatedly reminding everyone that only the private sector can and should generate new employment opportunities – has conjured an atmosphere of ennui from coast to coast.

Now, some research commissioned by the federal Department of Finance confirms officialdom’s worst suspicions. 

According to a Canadian Press story this week, public opinion surveys conducted last winter, “suggest key government policies are out of step with Canadians’ priorities, including the Northern Gateway project. . .Members of focus groups. . .had ‘little enthusiasm’ for the proposed bitumen pipeline to the British Columbia coast – even those who said they support the controversial project. . .Rather the groups spontaneously raised education, health care, pensions, and veterans as their key issues.”

The operative word there is “spontaneously”. That indicates that participants weren’t prompted or even asked forthrightly about their feelings. They just blurted their concerns with a degree of unanimity that should truly worry a government that’s running second in the polls, behind the third-party Liberals, and preparing to head into a national election. 

As for western oil and gas, the report, itself – prepared by NRG Research Group – states that “detractors worry about the environmental consequences in the event of a spill, particularly as a result of a tanker accident off the B.C. coast. . .There is an appreciation that increased access to oil will be economically beneficial, but there is still a desire to do so in a more environmentally safe manner.”

A report like this is, of course, exactly why governments employ professional spin doctors. When I was one, back before the federal Grits suffered their political Waterloo at the hands of Stephen Harper’s bayonetted storm troopers, I might have prepared a statement that read something like this: “Naturally, Canadians care about the environment. So does this government. To suggest otherwise shamefully underestimates the intelligence of the electorate, which, need it be said, gave this government the mandate it now takes with great seriousness.”

See how that works? Wait for it; we’ve still got it in store.

In the meantime, however, we might do well to ruminate on what it means to live in a democracy where the government of the day – Conservative, Liberal, NDP, Green, Republican, Democratic, Rhinoceronian – brooks no criticism, takes no advice, considers no alternatives to its various hobby horses, and prosecutes its “mandate” with a perpetual scowl on its face. 

We might legitimately question whether this political machinery constitutes a democracy at all.

Then again, if we have decided that our rage against the machine will keep us home on voting day, we already have our answer.


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Catching the Tories in Bambi’s headlights


Canada’s freshly cobbled Finance Minister Jim Flaherty says that the nation’s laws oughtn’t transform charitable foundations, which pay virtually no income taxes, into shelter accounts for fraudsters, money-launderers, terrorists, and organized criminals.

To which, the proper response might be: “Well, duh.”

In advance of today’s federal budget, Mr. Flaherty – his new shoes dutifully acquired from Toronto’s Mellow Walk Footwear – declared to media, “There are some terrorist organizations, there are some organized crime organizations, that launder money through charities and that make donations to charities and that’s not the purpose of charitable donations in Canada. We are being increasingly strict on the subject.”

What’s more, he said, “If the critics of the government (policy to close the apparent loophole) are terrorist organizations and organized crime, I don’t care.”

Sure, but that’s not really the nontaxable sixty-four-thousand dollar question.

If it were, then citizens of this country would have every right to demand what, exactly, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and Communications Security Establishment Canada – not to speak of America’s Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency and the co-dependent operations of Britain’s Secret Intelligent Service – have been doing in the authentic age of surveillance.

I mean, are we or aren’t we fully, bloodily and bodily exposed? And if the critics of the government are, in fact, terrorist organizations, then shouldn’t our “friendly” spies and spooks care rather deeply, even if our finance minister does not?

No, this is not about terrorists or money launderers or organized criminals. This is about that hemp-clad, plackard-waving, fossil-fuel hating, trust-fund baby boomer (and his millennial acolytes) who has roundly peeved Conservative office-holders, lo these many years.

According to the Toronto Star and other news organizations, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) is systematically auditing environmental charities that continue to make a connection between fossil fuel production in Alberta and global warming.

It wants to know whether the organizations – Pembina Foundation, David Suzuki Foundation, Tides Canada and Environmental Defence, among others – are running afoul of the 10 per cent rule, which refers to the percentage of a charity’s time and money that may be spent on political or advocacy work as long as the activities are non-partisan in nature (that is, not aligned to particular parties).

John Bennett of the Sierra Club of Canada calls this “a war against the sector.”  Marcel Lauzière of Imagine Canada laments the “big chill out there with what charities can and cannot do.”

All of which may be true, but CRA’s government-sanction audits illustrate, if nothing else, that the sector has struck a nerve in Ottawa. Who knew that Bambi’s tree-hugger brigade would scare the scat out of the establishment fat cats in Ottawa?

In fact, it’s been a pretty good past couple of years for environmental groups bent on countering the federal government’s fondness for the oil sands. The effects of coordinated and aggressive publicity campaigns are especially noticeable in the United States, where the Obama administration continues to drag its feet on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

One recent poll by USA Today indicates that only a slight majority of Americans surveyed supported imports of oil sands crude from Alberta. “About 56 per cent say they favor the northern leg of the billion-dollar, Canada-to-U.S. project and 41 per cent oppose it, according to the poll of 801 U.S. adults completed last month by Stanford University and Resources for the Future (RFF), a non-partisan research group,” the newspaper reported last month.

Still, any government that deliberately targets for censure organizations with which it doesn’t agree, and whose growing influence it fears, runs a perilously close risk of trampling on some very hallowed democratic ground.

After all, if you name your organization “Environmental Defence”, apply for and receive charitable status, do you not also assume that your right to criticize official policy   on said environment is protected?

And what utter nonsense is the 10 per cent rule, anyway. All charities fill the gaps in the public and private sector’s attention to social detail. They exist to do precisely what their critics and detractors revile: advocate.

By all means, go after the evil-dowers who distort our charities for larcenous ends. But for the rest of the sector, let’s holster our six guns.

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Our increasingly dull song of praise for oil

You can just smell the methane

You can just smell the methane

One public page of the member-driven website, Geo-Help Inc., which bills itself as “The Virtual Geology Department providing Geological Expertise and Services to the Oil and Gas Industry in Canada,” offers a collection of quotes that reaffirms man’s (though, interestingly, not even one woman’s) abiding love affair with liquid, black gold down through the decades.

Odes have been written to exalt the substance, including this one, sponsored by Seneca Oil and published in 1850:

“The healthful balm, from Nature’s secret spring/ The bloom of health, and life, to man will bring/ As from her depths the magic liquid flows/ To calm our sufferings, and assuage our woes.”

Others, like Kansas geologist Wallace Pratt (1885-1981), also recognized the allure when he said, “Where oil is first found is in the minds of men.” Men, presumably, like American industrialist J. Paul Getty (1892-1976) who once declared that his formula for success was to “rise early, work hard, strike oil.”

The quotes are not uniformly laudatory. One describes oil as “the excrement of the devil.” Another complains, “You can’t get the grease without a lease.”

And some are way off the mark, as is one attributed to the Director of Anglo Persian Oil Company who, in 1926, observed, “Saudi Arabia appears devoid of all prospects for oil.”

Historically, though, our preoccupation with the stuff has been, until quite recently, laced with positive connotations. And this strikes me as somewhat paradoxical, because unless you happen to be an industry executive or petroleum geologist, the chances are very good that you, like me, find oil to be. . .well, pedestrian.

Or, if you will pardon the pun, boring.

Whenever a fixation becomes mundane, it has a tendency to subdue the other faculties of mind – imagination, ingenuity, creativity – that can, quite often, improve social, political and economic conditions.

This might help explain New Brunswick’s current circumstances. The rut the province is in – fiscally, commercially, even demographically – could well be related to, if not actually derive from, our single-minded focus on the promise of a pipeline from Alberta’s oil patch and the putative promise (and danger) of a fully functioning shale gas industry in the future.

I would never suggest that we should dismiss these projects for the sake of our becoming less tedious people. But it might profit us to pull our heads from the sand and take a look at what other jurisdictions around the world are doing with energy development. (A well-known writer – though, his name escapes me – on the industry from, of all places, Calgary made a similar observation on New Brunswick CBC Radio’s rolling-home show last week).

Science Daily reports, “It’s less costly to get electricity from wind turbines and solar panels than coal-fired power plants when climate change costs and other health impacts are factored in, according to a new study published in Springer’s Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences.

“In fact – using the official U.S. government estimates of health and environmental costs from burning fossil fuels – the study shows it’s cheaper to replace a typical existing coal-fired power plant with a wind turbine than to keep the old plant running. And new electricity generation from wind could be more economically efficient than natural gas.”

Meanwhile, also according to Science Daily, “High school and college students got a recruiting call. . .to join the Solar Army and help solve one of the 21st century’s greatest scientific challenges: finding the dirt-cheap ingredients that would make sunlight a practical alternative to oil, coal and other traditional sources of energy.

‘Enough sunlight falls on Earth in one hour to provide all of the world’s energy – for 7 billion people – for an entire year,’ said Harry B. Gray, Ph.D., leader of the army. He is the Arnold O. Beckman Professor of Chemistry and Founding Director of the Beckman Institute at the California Institute of Technology. ‘If we can capture that energy and use it to split water, burning coal, gasoline and other fossil fuels will be history.’

Maybe. Maybe not. But even the thought is inspirational – which is more than I can say about oil.

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Are happy days here again?


Here, in the shadow of the western world’s setting sun, we are languishing in a near-permanent state of decay – both victims and authors of our decidedly unenlightened self-interest.

This, at least, has been the received and incontrovertible wisdom, and there’s no longer any point in trying to save ourselves.

First, came the financial crisis of 2008, which effectively wrecked private savings, public accounts, the manufacturing sector, and the housing market. Then came the government bailouts (“stimulus” spending, if you prefer), which saddled states, provinces and cities across North America with spiraling deficits and structural debts.

Finally, came the language of the resignedly defeated: No growth is the new normal; quit your jobs and plant your gardens, for the end of our global, capitalist hegemon draws nigh.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the economic abattoir. Suddenly, with no portents or premonitions, everything got just a little bit better. How? Why? Economists, bankers, politicians are still scratching their heads.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Nariman Behravesh, the chief economist of IHS Global Insight, told The New York Times recently. “There is more optimism about the U.S. and in particular about the second half of this year and 2014. Three months ago, we wouldn’t have come to that same conclusion.”

Three months ago, no one, it seems, was ruminating on the efficacious effects of certain economic outliers, such as advancing technology, growing energy independence and the resurgence of what can only be described as a sort of gritty self-determination.

Referring to the future, George Mason University economist Tyler Cowen told The Times, “It’s better than it looked. Technological progress comes in batches and it’s just a little more rapid than it looked two years ago,” adding somewhat circumspectly: “The great stagnation will end for a lot of people but not everyone. I think there will be great breakthroughs but the distribution of those gains will go to owners of capital and intellectual property.”

Still, some economists predict the U.S. economy will outperform its average of two per cent per year growth rate by as much 1.5 percentage points over the next eight quarters, which would effectively close the doomsday chronicle of recent times.

A similar phenomenon is occurring in Canada. May was an astonishing month for employment in this country. The economy generated 95,000 new positions, most of which were full-time, private sector jobs. That was the single, largest monthly surge in more than a decade.

Again, in interviews with the Financial Post, the experts were gob-smacked. “Canada’s job gain. . .is simply stunning on the headline and most of the details,” said Derek Holt of Scotiabank Economics. It is equivalent to the U.S. adding over 1 million jobs in a single month.” Indeed, noted Douglas Porter of BMO Capital Markets, “Even outside of construction, which is definitely the eye-popping stat here. . . (May’s data) was still a mammoth number for employment.”

Naturally, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty prefers to take the long view. To the Post, he declared, “What’s more important is the positive long-trend when it comes to employment in Canada. . .We can’t be complainant. We are still facing a very volatile global economy. We recently saw European unemployment hit a record high. Canada is not immune to these challenges from beyond our border and we will be impacted.”

He is correct, of course. Canada is joined at the hip with the international community, and our national prosperity depends on the degree to which we diversify our goods and services and, crucially, our trading relationships.

And yet, the recent numbers suggest that rugged, defiant entrepreneurialism – inventiveness, creativity, opportunism – is not as easily squashed as the prophets of calamity (in whose company, I must admit, I have found myself) would have us think.

That’s worth remembering here, on the East Coast, as we gnash our teeth and wring our hands over the high cost of government, the seemingly endless string of failed economic development schemes and the hollowing out of our productive population.

The heart of true enterprise still beats. We can feel it if we try.

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