Photo: China deal and budget sacrifice democracy to short-term goals

(Credit: Larissa Sayer via Flickr)

By David Suzuki with contributions from with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Communications Manager Ian Hanington.

Why, when so many people oppose the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline project, would government and industry resort to such extreme measures to push it through?

The problems with the plan to run pipelines from the Alberta tar sands across northern B.C. to load unrefined, diluted bitumen onto supertankers for export to China and elsewhere are well-known: threats to streams, rivers, lakes and land from pipeline leaks; the danger of contaminated ocean ecosystems from tanker spills; rapid expansion of the tar sands; and the climate change implications of continued wasteful use of fossil fuels.

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The benefits aren't as apparent. Some short-term and fewer long-term jobs, possibly for foreign workers, and increased profits for the oil industry — including state-owned Chinese companies — are all we're being offered in exchange for giving up our resources, interests and future, putting ecosystems at risk, and forfeiting due democratic process.

Our government is ramming through another omnibus budget bill, and is set to sign a deal with China, both of which seem aimed at facilitating the pipeline and other resource-extraction projects. Its first budget bill gutted environmental protection laws, especially those that might obstruct pipeline plans. It also limited input from the public and charitable organizations, and included measures to crack down on charities that engage in political advocacy.

The recent 457-page omnibus budget bill goes even further. Among other changes, it revises the Navigable Waters Protection Act (renamed the Navigation Protection Act) to substantially reduce waterways that must be considered for protection and exempt pipelines from regulations.

Meanwhile, the government is set to sign a 31-year deal on October 31 that will give China's government significant control over Canada's resources and even over Canadians' rights to question projects like Northern Gateway. The Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement would allow China to sue Canada, outside of our borders and behind closed doors, if the pipeline deal were blocked or China's interests in our resource industry hindered; for example, if the B.C. government were to stop Northern Gateway. It also gives the Chinese state-owned companies "the right to full protection and security from public opposition", as well as the right to use Chinese labour and materials on projects in which it has invested.

According to author and investigative journalist Andrew Nikiforuk, writing for the Tyee, "The deal does not require provincial consent. It comes without any risk-benefit analysis. And it can be ratified into law without parliamentary debate."

Why would anyone want to sell out our interests, democratic processes and future like this? And why would we put up with it? On the first question, Gus Van Harten, an international investment law professor at Osgoode Hall Law School, told Desmog Blog we must consider the possibility that government and industry know that changes in attitudes about fossil fuel extraction "may lead to new regulations on the oil patch, in that, climate can't just be wished away forever, and that governments might take steps to regulate the oil patch in ways that investors wouldn't like." He continues, "If you bring in a lot of Chinese investments, and you sign the Canada investment deal, you kind of get the Chinese investors to do your dirty work for you."

In other words, as the world recognizes the already extreme and increasing consequences of global warming and shifts from wastefully burning fossil fuels to conservation and renewable energy, tar sands bitumen may soon become uneconomical. The goal is to dig it up, sell it and burn it as quickly as possible while there's still money to be made. It's cynical and suicidal, but it's the kind of thinking that is increasingly common among those who see the economy as the highest priority — over human health and the air, water, soil and biodiverse ecosystems that keep us alive.

What can we do? Prof. Van Harten has written to provincial governments urging them to ask the federal government to "stop the rushed ratification" of the China deal. We should all demand that our leaders put the interests of Canadians now and into the future ahead of short-sighted and destructive industrial ambitions. The budget bill and trade deal are not democratic in content or implementation. We need to take back democracy

October 25, 2012

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Nov 16, 2012
7:07 AM

Unbelievable, China has free reign over our life-sustaining pristine land, and guess who the jobs will be going to? the ones that Ottawa is supposedly investigating the Chinese immigrant worker forms for - and btw, does anyone find it ironic that the recent earthquake in northern b.c was very near the pipeline route? you can bet the land is already being bomb-blasted without restriction as per their foreign investment protection agreement…and of course our Native Lands and Peoples are being compromised without a second thought as usual…maybe the U.S. will be benefitting from our downfall?? sadly, a sign of the times…Unbelievable

Nov 09, 2012
12:25 PM

As of November 9, the deal has not been ratified, so there's still time to let your elected representatives (federal and provincial) know that it must be put on hold or cancelled.

Nov 01, 2012
12:24 PM

so, have they listened to the petitions and e-mails or have they just pushed this deal through?

Oct 31, 2012
8:29 AM

I am a fan of David Suzuki and am glad that we have such a strong advocate for our planet's health. I am very happy to add my voice.

Oct 27, 2012
3:53 PM

Our Federal government has been selling Canada to foreign countries for decades and it is time we Canadians stood up for ourselves and say "NO! Our resources are ours and we will keep them! There are no deals: It is our way only!"

Oct 27, 2012
9:07 AM

Capitalism has always relied on the ability of capitalists to maintain control of the strings on power. The ability to obtain legal entitlement to what was previously considered commons (charter of the forest etc) through the exercise of totalitarian power prevents such acts from being recognized and treated as crimes.

Until we can cut the strings between global capitalist puppeteers and the so called great democracies, little progress can be made.

Oct 26, 2012
3:06 PM

I see this, as well as other rushed legislation, as simply the governance mirroring our obsessed economy. No longer is it good enough to make a profit, we need to make it faster and faster and more and more. It's the final result of a constant demand for unlimited growth. We see it everywhere in our day to day lives. Our society is obsessed with fast and furious, and instant gratification, and in this case it is the greed of the government officials involved, driving them to ignore everything but the possibility of making a huge profit. It has become the only thing that is important in our society, the money you can make from something. Until we lose this insane approach to making decisions, we can only expect things to get worse and worse. There are fundamental changes that need to be made at the roots of the system that we function under as a society, or else we are doomed to fail. The Suzuki foundation and its ideas are a small glimmer of hope that not everyone has lost their minds. We need to empower these ideas and start to influence on a large scale.

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