rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

Federal government hides behind budget with changes to environmental assessment

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support rabble.ca for as little as $5 per month!

The Harper Government™ has made no secret of its plan for environmental protection, planning, and assessment; it's a necessary complement to its economic strategy, which essentially consists of extracting as much wealth from the ground as quickly as possible, unencumbered by niceties like public consultation or the free, prior, informed consent of affected Aboriginal peoples.

To the extent they can be known before the actual Budget Implementation Act is unveiled, the details of these budget measures are well covered elsewhere, in the media and by environmental law organisations like West Coast Environmental Law and the Canadian Environmental Law Association as well as the Progressive Economics Forum and others.

What's truly fascinating is how it's being done. For many months, speeches and interviews by Prime Minister Harper and Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver (and an extraordinary open letter from Oliver) have echoed and amplified the demands of the oil patch, the mining companies, and key provincial governments keen to stop the federal government (and the public) meddling in the "approvals" process for resource development projects. They wanted to make sure they established the official version of reality in the public's mind, vilifying and marginalizing any other perspective -- especially those pushing for environmental policies based on established principles of sound resource management and experience on the ground.

They even manipulated the statutory review of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act into providing a blueprint for the desired changes, by cutting off, ignoring, or selectively quoting testimony, and then by quoting their own committee members to fill in any parts that industry representatives had failed to include.

But the response was not positive -- from experts or from the public. Tar sands supporters were happy, but a lot of people responded strongly against being told their concerns for the environment were not legitimate, and they were insulted by the implication that they were being manipulated by shady foreign-funded environmental organizations. It became obvious that the proposed changes would create more chaos, not greater certainty, that the government had no knowledge or understanding of what it was doing, and that it wasn't interested in finding out.

A broad range of environmental groups came together to support a vision for an environmental assessment process that is more participatory, rigorous, and consistent -- not less -- and when it emerged that the government was also contemplating removing key habitat protection provisions from the Fisheries Act, a wide range of scientists and specialists joined a growing public opposition. As this process drags out, the government could eventually risk having its "clients" in the extractive industries discover that a rubber stamp does not constitute a "social licence" to operate.

And so it came to pass that the strong, stable, majority Conservative government pushed back its own deadlines month after week until it could once again hide major policy changes in the budget bill, all the while repeating the same speaking points ad nauseam with all the bravado it could muster. When the Conservatives did this as a minority government they were accused of gamesmanship and subverting the Parliamentary process, but it was the only way they could easily push through a range of ill-advised initiatives. This time it looks more like simple cowardice.

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.