Local groups join national day of action in defence of Nature and Democracy

 

Black Out Speak Out press conference, Harbourside Park, St. John’s

ST. JOHN’S – Representatives of several Newfoundland and Labrador environmental and community organisations, scientists, and individuals are speaking out today as part of the national Black Out Speak Out campaign against the down-grading of an array of environmental protection measures as outlined in the federal Budget Bill C-38, and sweeping cuts to conservation science and programming.

Changes introduced through Bill C-38 will weaken legislation protecting fish habitat and species at risk, narrow the scope of environmental assessment, reduce transparency in government decision making, and down-load responsibility to the provinces. “In continuing its destruction of basic environmental protections this government shows its ignorance of the ecological foundation that sustains our way of life,” stated John D. Jacobs, President, Nature Newfoundland and Labrador.

“Changes to the environmental assessment process as well as the Fisheries Act endanger the air, water, land and oceans we all need for every day life,” echoed Simon Jansen of the Western Environment Centre.

The legislative changes are being introduced through an omnibus budget bill, thereby skirting the normal processes of parliamentary and public debate. “It is bad enough that Stephen Harper, as the unofficial CEO of Corporate Canada, is gutting the Fisheries Act and subverting the environmental protection process. What is most insidious is his attempt to subvert democracy and the right of free speech of citizens,” said Ken Kavanagh, Chair of St. John’s Chapter of Council of Canadians, and the Sandy Pond Alliance. “The vast majority of Canadians value and want to protect the environment but Stephen Harper is engaged in both a frontal and covert attack on those who speak out and demand that protection.”

Significant cuts to federal science programs, including environmental research and monitoring, are also raising alarm. “As the Harper government demolishes options for environmental science, legislation and protection for offshore hydrocarbon production and for a robust science-based approach to resource development throughout Canada, they increase the risks and real costs for all Canadians. It’s time to push back or be pushed under,” said Dr. Bill Montevecchi, University Research Professor, Memorial University.

“Changes to legislation, decimation of environmental science and an associated anti-science approach to resource policy are an attack on the continued health of Canada’s environment. One only need look at our waters; the very well-being of our fisheries resources have been opened to unprecedented damage through the diminution of the protection of fish habitat,” stated Dr. Ian Fleming of Memorial University’s Ocean Sciences Centre. “These changes have occurred without factual discussion nor broad consultation – in an absence of science. There is an apparent emphasis being placed on resource development with little regard for impacts on ecosystems and in essence, the environment that we depend on for our air, water and food. The health of Canadians is under threat.”

The Black Out Speak Out campaign has gained the support of a range of groups around the province and country who will all darken their websites on June 4 and send letters, tweets, and take other actions. “Securing civic space for marginalized voices to be heard is a critical part of Oxfam Canada’s work worldwide. That is why we are supporting our environmental and community allies in the Black Out Speak Out action,” said Bill Hynd, Oxfam Canada. “Bill C-38, with its disregard for protection of the environment at this time of rapidly expanding economic development, can only result in dire consequences for all life, human and non-human,” stated Sister Mary Tee, Coordinator, Mercy Centre for Ecology and Justice.

Launched on May 7, Black Out Speak Out invites organizations, businesses and citizens from across Canada to darken their websites on June 4, and speak out against changes introduced in the federal government’s budget act (C-38). The Black Out Speak Out campaign, coordinated by several of Canada’s largest environmental organisations, has engaged more than 15,000 people and 500 organisations to speak out.

 

Black Out Speak Out:

Website: http://blackoutspeakout.ca/  Facebook:  http://www.facebook.com/BlackOutSpeakOut

Twitter: #BlackOutSpeakOut

 

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CONTACT:

John Jacobs
Nature Newfoundland and Labrador
709-738-3147 / jjacobs@nl.rogers.com

 

Ken Kavanagh
St. John’s Chapter of Council of Canadians, and the Sandy Pond Alliance
709-691-0991 / kavanagh.ken@gmail.com

 

 

Fred Winsor
Sierra Club of Canada – Atlantic Chapter
709-738-3781 / winsorf@nl.rogers.com

 

Chris Hogan
Newfoundland and Labrador Environment Network
709-753-7898 / nlen.ed@gmail.com

 

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ANALYSIS:

 

What Bill C-38 means for the environment

Prepared by West Coast Environmental Law and Ecojustice, May 2012

 

The 2012 budget bill (Bill C-38) will weaken Canada’s most important environmental laws and silence Canadians who want to defend them. Instead of using the usual process for sweeping changes, which allows for thorough debate, these changes are being shoehorned into a 452-page budget bill.

 

The changes amount to:

• weakened protection for fish and species at risk;

• an entirely new — and less comprehensive — environmental assessment law;

• broad decision making powers for Cabinet and Ministers; and

• less accountability and fewer opportunities for public participation.

 

What follows is a list of the TOP 10 items of environmental concern in the budget bill.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

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