I tend to think of our vast northern neighbor as a huge tract of unspoiled land, filled with pure mountain streams and untouched wildlife. Unfortunately, this idyllic picture may not be long for this world—if Canada’s federal government has anything to say about it.
During Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s tenure, Canada has been slowly but surely chipping away at the country’s environmental regulations, and is now actively putting his country’s drinking water at risk. The news broke back in March, thanks to the Council of Canadians.
I regret that I didn’t cover the story sooner, so let’s make up for lost time.
What’s Going On?
Maude Barlow, who formerly served as a UN adviser on water, and is now the national chairperson for the Council of Canadians, penned the report, under the no-nonsense title “Blue Betrayal.” In it, Barlow reveals that Harper’s administration has bowed to pressure from mining companies and begun allowing them to pour toxic waste into lakes. That’s bad enough, but Canada’s leadership has also taken steps to exempt pipeline companies from environmental review.
And one more thing? They’ve also begun allowing fracking companies to sue the government for the privilege of appropriating sources of clean drinking water for the use in their commercial applications. This stands in stark contrast to the nascent anti-fracking movement here in the States, which has seen New York, Maryland, and New Jersey ban the practice. Strangely enough, portions of Canada, including Quebec, British Columbia, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia have also banned the practice. It would be bad enough if Harper was ignorant of events beyond his country’s borders, but it’s even worse that he’s ignoring public sentiment within Canada herself.
But then again, the western world is not at all unfamiliar with politicians who prioritize corporate interests instead of common sense.
Who Does Harper Work For?
Since 2008, Canada has its tar sands production practically double in scale. At a time when areas all over the globe are experiencing unprecedented water shortages, it makes no sense at all to double down (literally!) on a practice that could use somewhere in the ballpark of 20 million barrels of water per day.
According to that same report linked above, about 3 million gallons of contaminated water enters the Canadian water table each and every day. Even worse: these chemicals—the ones used to extract natural gas and oil—are all but impossible to remove once they’re “in the system.”
It’s clear enough that Harper’s motivations are far from pure, but where’s the smoking gun that proves intent? Thankfully, the Polaris Institute is on the case. The Institute found that, after taking office in 2008, Prime Minister Harper and/or his officials met with representatives from the oil and gas industry four times as often as they took meetings with environmental lobbyists.
Oh, and another thing? Harper used to be an employee of Exxon’s Imperial Oil Limited. As far as I’m concerned, those kinds of industry ties should make an aspiring “public servant” ineligible to hold public office in the first place.
But if it sounds like Canada’s about-face on environmental conservation is coming out of left field, that’s really not the case. Back in 2012, a federal omnibus bill changed a 120-year-old suite of laws known as the Navigable Waters Protection Act, which had—until then—protected 99% of the lakes and rivers in Canada. They are now completely vulnerable to damage caused by gas and oil projects.
But they weren’t finished just yet. The administration also crippled the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, which immediately halted some 3,000 in-progress environmental reviews, which is just as bad as it sounds. Any move that makes Big Oil less accountable in environmental terms is a gigantic mistake.
America the Beautiful Profitable
But if you think Canada is the only country betraying its natural beauty to the Almighty (Canadian) Dollar, think again. Right after the 2014 mid-term elections, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared that his #1 priority would be to “rein in” the Environmental Protection Agency—a combination of words that is as awful as it is unexpected, when you consider they came from the GOP’s most vocal mouthpiece.
McConnell describes federal environmental protections as the product of an “overactive bureaucracy.” More recently, Senator-turned-presidential-candidate Rand Paul called the government a “bully” for wanting to protect our public lands for posterity. Uh … what?
I’m frankly astounded that two of the most prosperous countries on earth are actively sabotaging our ability to keep the natural world intact. But when you consider the sway Big Oil has in world governments—sway bought and paid for by campaign donations—it’s not actually surprising at all.
Like many of the issues now facing us, the solution is in our hands. We can keep voting the same corrupt, near-sighted career politicians into office, or we can vote according to our (and our children’s) best interests.
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