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Orwell would be impressed...

The climate change issue reached new heights in Canadian public dialogue this week. It wasn’t because of the unprecedented melting of Arctic sea ice this summer, the phony-baloney announcement about Canada’s ‘progress’ toward meeting its greenhouse gas targets, or government’s caving on real regulations for coal plants. Nope, it wasn’t because of any of these worrisome situations.

Fighting climate change was selected by the Harper government for use as an all-purpose distraction -- a fog machine -- for the new parliamentary session. Now it didn’t have to answer to a number of pressing issues (like the rapidly melting Arctic icecap or 1.4 million unemployed Canadians). So when the leader of the opposition rose to ask his first question he was promptly attacked as an economy-destroying peddler of carbon taxes. For a week the Prime Minister and a gaggle of ministers and backbenchers repeatedly levelled this false charge at every opportunity. It quickly turned into a farce.

The NDP of course doesn’t support a "$21-billion dollar carbon tax" -- they favour a cap-and-trade system, as did the Conservatives in their 2006 and 2008 election platforms. It’s all Conservative doublespeak. Orwell, who once wrote in a famous essay that the "great enemy of clear language is insincerity," would be impressed by the level of hypocrisy and doublethink. With the Arctic in full-melt mode, I (and many Canadians) was hoping for a serious debate to begin in this parliamentary session. We didn’t get that. Instead, this week’s performance in the House of Commons was the worst kind of diversionary politics.

You will recall that last spring I challenged Environment Minister Peter Kent to either produce evidence of money laundering by environmental organizations or withdraw his accusations. I even offered to contribute $100 to his favourite environmental charity if he had any proof. Needless to say, he didn’t respond. I didn’t expect he would but I hoped that after having been called-out once for false and misleading statements, the minister would be more careful in future communications. Nope.

Last month Kent held a press conference to make an announcement on Canada’s ‘progress’ towards meeting its inadequate greenhouse gas reduction targets. He said we’re 50 per cent there -- quite a remarkable achievement since according to data they only reached 25 per cent in 2011. Sound too good to be true? Well, it is. Kent used various accounting tricks (like counting forests as carbon sinks) to spin a positive announcement. Even the Financial Post ridiculed the minister. Somehow he was able to read his statement with a straight face. 2+2=5.

This was followed by Kent’s long-awaited announcement on regulations for coal-fired power plants. After a year of consultation (Kent said his department reviewed over 5,000 comments) he announced his department would further weaken the rules and lengthen the lifespan of coal-fired plants to 50 years!!!! I asked Environment Canada for a breakdown of the comments knowing about 1,500 came from Sierra Club Canada supporters calling for stronger, more urgent action. I obtained a copy of the official comments only to find the public was ignored. It turned out only 30 comments were officially recorded and there is NO mention that 5,000 were submitted (which the Minister had publicly acknowledged).

Fast forward… The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency gave Canadians until August 24 to submit comments on the proposed list of projects requiring an environmental assessment (EA). You may remember that on advice from our lawyers, Sierra Club withdrew its request for a judicial review of the decision to allow Bruce Power to export 1600 tonnes of radioactive nuclear waste through the Great Lakes and on to Sweden. Bill C-38, which replaced the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act with weaker laws, eliminated our legal footing. But at the time our lawyer wisely advised us to use the EA comment period to argue in support of EAs for large nuclear waste shipments, which we did.

At our urging, 1,780 Canadians sent in comments. So I was disheartened but not surprised when I received a summary of the ‘official comments’ from the Agency which stated, using careful language, that 44 comments were received from 'targeted' stakeholders. “No, they hadn’t been missed,” I was told by CNSC officials when I inquired as to why. They felt their summary was ‘reflective’ of the comments received. I asked them to correct the record but I’m not holding my breath. Apparently none of these ‘stakeholders’ included us or even raised the issue of nuclear waste shipments. I asked if there had been some mistake.

You may also remember in 2011 we generated over a thousand letters (1,022) to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) regarding the proposed, and ill-advised in our opinion, refurbishment of the Point LePreau nuclear facility in New Brunswick. We were then dismayed to see that the over a thousand citizens who sent in submission weren’t included in the official comment record.

A couple of weeks ago Allan Greg, founder of Decima Research and former adviser to Brian Mulroney -- and until recently a regular panellist on The National -- wrote a damning piece referencing Voltaire and Orwell to express his concern for the lack of honesty in the federal government’s communications. Gregg essentially agreed with what I’ve been saying for years now -- that we're no longer dealing with facts and science but have entered a new age marked by a permanent Orwellian disinformation campaign designed to confuse and mislead.

Canadians deserve better, or at least the truth.

Meanwhile, as I wrote in my last blog, the ice is rapidly melting…

John Bennett, Executive Director
Sierra Club Canada
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