Okay, agreed. There’s nothing about Stephen Harper that suggests he is a big joker. He doesn’t speak in public except in modulated monotones. Very reassuring, like Prozac. No off-script moments of hilarity. No pirouettes in the hallways.
But I had to wonder. Was he going for political satire? Some sort of self-referential pop cultural joke in kicking off the budget implementation bill debate? I mean, he must have read Andrew Coyne’s piece in the National Post. Noting that a huge number of non-budgetary matters are stuffed in the over 420 pages of C-38, much of it dramatically changing environmental laws, Coyne wrote, “This is not remotely a budget bill, despite its name,” further noting that while throwing non-budgetary matters into a budget bill is not unknown, in C-38, “The scale and scope are on a level not previously seen, or tolerated.” (Or if the PM didn’t read it, he must have people who read it for him and left post-it notes somewhere he would see saying, “Coyne and others seem to have noticed the budget bill is crammed full of new laws to remove environmental protection. Offence to democracy alleged...must deflect.”)
No sign of recognizing anger is stirring across the land. They went for the Full Monty as it were. No shame.
The kick-off speaker to the Budget Implementation Bill? Not the Minister of Finance. No sir. What would Flaherty have to say about a budget bill anyway? The lead Conservative Speaker was Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver. Say it ain’t so, Joe.
He gave the standard Harper “energy super power” message. It goes like this:
Canada is an energy super-power -- in the same way a business in bankruptcy is a super-power. Everything must go. We are running out of time to sell everything fast. Oil-hungry markets won’t wait.
Really? “We need to act quickly,” said Joe Oliver in the House on Wednesday. But the existing pipeline infrastructure is, according to Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers projections, sufficient to meet demand until oil sands production expands by 150%. (Testimony of former government petroleum geologist, J. David Hughes, to the NEB Joint Review Panel on the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project).
Minister Oliver cited many statistics from the International Energy Agency (IEA), establishing that the world is energy-hungry and oil-thirsty...without once mentioning the IEA urgent warnings about the climate crisis. The IEA is screaming from the rooftops (figuratively speaking, but the reports are increasingly frantic) that time is running out to reduce dependency on fossil fuels to avoid the catastrophic impacts of climate change at its worst. No reference either to Mr. Harper’s promise to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies (now there’s a budget measure), promised in 2009 at the G-20, underscored in every IEA report as an urgent step, which the PM has steadfastly ignored. No reference to the International Energy Agency advice that Canada needs to put a price on carbon.
And then for more laughs, in answer to a question from one of his colleagues, Mr. Oliver said, “Mr. Speaker, the whole point of this exercise is to ensure that we have a robust environmental review of major projects... under the aegis of the Canadian Environmental Protection Agency.”
Now, in fairness to Mr. Oliver, there is no particular reason he should know much about the environmental laws C-38 is destroying. He is not the author of this strategy; the Prime Minister is. And the fact that Canada doesn’t have an agency called the Canadian Environmental Protection Agency is not something he has to know...Peter Kent should know it, and, of course, he spoke next. No sign of the finance minister...but what would he have to contribute to a debate about freeing the oilsands and mining from the tyranny of environmental laws. I expected to hear, “Free at last, free at last...” from some conservative script, recycling the end of the long-gun registry invocation of the Rev. Martin Luther King in more triumphalist Libertarian oratory.
With 420 pages plus of detailed, complex and sweeping changes to laws originally passed decades ago, any thought that there was even a hint of shame in the Conservative strategy was dashed. Within the first hours of debate, Peter Van Loan made a motion to invoke time allocation on Bill C-38. After all, we are in a hurry.
None of this is funny. It is an outrage. PLEASE, if you are angry, say so. Please insist that your MP work to pull the environmental laws impacted by this bill (Canadian Environmental Assessment Act*, Fisheries Act, Navigable Waters Protection Act, Species at Risk Act, Canadian Environmental Protection Act, National Round Table on Environment and Economy Act*, Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act*), out of the so-called budget bill.
(Note: the bills marked with * are repealed in C-38. CEAA is replaced with a brand new, gutted version of environmental assessment law, which, at this rate will be passed by the end of June -- without a single day of hearings before the environment committee).