Into the valley of Death rode the seven hundred
It was a quiet little news story but it caught my attention. The Harper government has just laid off 700 Environment Canada workers—that’s a whopping 11 percent of the whole operation. Not surprisingly, the union representing the workers observes that the cuts have been ongoing through attrition (not replacing retiring workers) and that further cuts are in the works.
To say that these cuts to Environment are ideological is an understatement. The Conservatives have long been opposed to funding protection and scientific research related to the environment.
I don’t make this claim lightly. Remember the Bruce Carson scandal that broke out in the news last spring? The 66-year-old Carson, a convicted fraudster and one of Harper’s key political troubleshooters, was accused of lobbying the government on behalf of his 22-year-old fiancée, a former sex trade worker. Harper summarily washed his hands of the issue and sent the matter to the RCMP. But that’s not the whole story.
Investigative reporter Andrew Nikiforuk writes that Carson, while working in the Prime Minister’s Office, was lobbied for money by a University of Calgary think tank—the Canada School of Energy and the Environment. Apparently, Carson then left the Prime Minister’s Office to become the think tank’s executive director, which had just been conveniently awarded a $15 million grant from the Harper government. You might recall that U of C is Harper’s alma mater. But it still doesn’t end there.
Carson went on to revise the think tank’s mandate to include government lobbying and policy development on the oil sands, and then successfully lobbied the feds for another $25 million, while doing work for three federal cabinet ministers—his former associates—and directing a joint industry-government campaign to improve the image of the oil sands industry. Nice work, Bruce.
Nikiforuk concludes that, “In the end, the school [became} a clearinghouse for industrial energy lobbyists working hand in hand with the federal and Alberta Tory government.” Hmm. Isn’t it great to see our tax dollars so wisely spent?
On the other side of the story columnist Barbara Yaffee wrote a vaguely positive account of oil sands lobbying in Saturday’s Telegraph-Journal. She opens with, “Companies harvesting Alberta’s oil sands have begun aggressively fighting back against North American activists working to discredit their industry.” To that end the industry trade organization, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, hosted a media trip to the oil sands operation for an all-paid first hand look, and Barbara went along for the ride. She concluded that, sure, open pit mining is ugly but so are slaughterhouses, but Canada’s oil sands produce only 3.5 percent of the amount of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions produced by US coal-fired generating plants annually. So I guess she means that 45 megatonnes of GHG is acceptable. OK…
But what about those 700 disappearing environmental jobs? Well, Carson’s $40 million in funding would have supported them for another full year—in wages that would contribute directly to our economy. On the other hand, who knows where Carson’s outfit spent its money?
Closer to home, I read that 1,500 jobs “vanished” in New Brunswick last month; that’s 10,100 jobs lost since the beginning of the year, with the province’s “official” unemployment rate now hovering over 10 percent. Nationwide, Canada isn’t faring much better—with the entire economy producing only 7,100 jobs last month.
This is not a time for the Harper government to be cutting back in a severe austerity effort to reduce the debt that they racked up. Nor is it even time for our destitute Alward-led provincial government to get too tight. The real economy—that is, the one that affects ordinary people like us—is already limping badly. This is a time for government to raise taxes on the top income earners and increase funding for research and innovation to lead us into this new century. That means finding money for things like energy alternatives on a massive scale, new forms of food production that require less fossil fuel inputs and new modes of energy-efficient transportation, to name a few.
Like it or not, we Canadians have a government-heavy country. We depend on our government to protect our way of life, administer our legal and health care systems and safeguard our environment—and to provide us with steady government jobs to do that good work. And it’s a system that does function well, for the most part.
For example, according to commentators Susanna Fuller and Matthew Abbot, the cod and haddock are back. And why is that? Because our government finally shut down the fishery (too little and too late, but still). Not that the writers are fans of government, especially the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, which they feel has gone too far supporting big aqua business at the expense of the small family fishermen.
All of this story points in one direction, which is simply this. Our Canadian governments, like their U.S. counterparts, have climbed into bed with big corporate interests at the expense of the rest of us.
The 700 displaced employees, I fear, are headed where many of us are headed: home, without paycheques. And into that particular valley of slow Death we seem to be rushing at breakneck speed.