First Nations the real target of government’s war on environment
I may be a little more preoccupied with the government campaign to marginalize environmental groups (more than most) so apologies to those who feel I’ve been harping on this too much.
Speaking of harping … it’s Harp Seal hunt season and there is no ice in the Gulf of St. Lawrence for to the seals to give birth (yet the government has given hunters a quota to kill 400,000 pups). Climate change is putting the seals and seal hunters out of business. A sensible government, one might think, would be putting the fossil fuel industry out of business in response. Instead, of course, it is trying to put people like me out of business.
Or is it?
Are environmental organizations the real target of the Harper government? Is curtailing the power of the environmental movement what all this talk of “radicals” and meddling “foreign interests” is about. It might be if we had any real power and were more than just a nuisance.
In my 30 plus years as an environmental activist, I’ve only been part of two successful bids to stop dumb industrial development. The first was during my very first campaign. We helped a local group near Port Granby on Lake Ontario convince an environmental panel that first-class farm land was not the best site to bury nuclear waste from the nearby Port Hope uranium plant. Thirty years later I testified in a hearing on a proposed rock quarry near Digby, Nova Scotia that was eventually given thumbs-down by the panel.
Everything else, including nuclear and coal power plants, went forward - sometimes with minor fixes. The point being environmental processes rarely prevent industrial development anywhere in Canada, so why all the fuss about organizing a few thousand people to speak at the Northern Gateway Pipeline hearings?
I know I’m annoying. People, friends and foes, have been telling me that all my life. Apparently I’m a know it all type who gets emotional. Last spring when I spoke about environmental assessment before the Standing Committee on Environment, one of the government members sided-up to me at coffee break (just before I headed outside to be yelled at by anti-windmill people) and told me: “You made some good points but the way you put them makes it hard for us to hear them.” But I digress.
To get back to the point, I was thinking about all this on the bus the other day (a great place to think I if you can get a front facing seat) when it finally dawned on me. If environmental groups aren’t all that powerful or even successful at opposing big industrial projects (especially mega-energy projects) why go to such lengths to vilify us and threaten our resources. Then I remembered what Fort McMurray MP Brian Jean said last month. During a finance committee meeting he suggested First Nations were being bought-off by environmental groups using the so called “foreign interest” money.
When I first heard of his comments, I shrugged them off. I thought, oh, an ideological anti-First Nation goof by a backbencher. Then the story seemed to fade away. The MacKay First Nation in Alberta wrote a letter to the Edmonton Journal but that was the end of the media coverage on the insulting comments.
I think the media heard it the same way I did and didn’t press the issue simply because they assumed it was just an isolated (albeit intolerant) slur from a backbencher and not official government policy.
But perhaps it is official government policy.
What if the real goal of all this noise is not about marginalizing the eco-radicals and environmental charities – but First Nations? After all, First Nations have constitutional and property rights at stake in almost every major energy project, including the Northern Gateway Pipeline.
What might be disturbing the government and oil companies most is the growing cooperation between First Nations and environmentalists. In the past we have been easy to divide and conquer – after all, environmentalists from the city don’t always have the same interests as the local band. But with the right backing and resources, even the smallest band can take a project to the Supreme Court with a good chance of winning – or at the very least, causing years of delays.
The principle source of funds for many First Nations is the federal government, so it’s difficult for them financially (and politically) to oppose government-backed oil industry mega-projects. What if environmentalists and First Nations stay united and tap into funds outside government control?
What if the government could find a way to cut off the new-found funds? Is this what the smear campaign was all about? Is this the real point behind all this recent noise?
I wrote a while back that in war, the first thing you do is attack the other side’s communications. The second is the strategic destruction of the other side’s physical ability to wage war. In World War Two they called it “strategic bombing”.
This may be a war of words so far, but mind bombs can be strategic too.
John Bennett, Executive Director
Sierra Club Canada