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Screwing the environment and shutting down science - what's in it for Harper?
December 25, 2012 8:45 PM   Subscribe

Canadian politics question. Screwing the environment and shutting down science - what's in it for Harper?

I am not following closely, but the basic news I get is that the government is stripping away environmental protections and making it easier for foreign nations to buy up our resources. And shutting down environmental monitoring / research that would help show how this is a bad thing.

So, explain it to me like I am five... he is Canadian too, and he has family here, won't they also lose when they live in a polluted and impoverished ecosystem? What is in it for him and his cronies? Who wins from doing this? Is there a shadowy cabal of super rich elites that will somehow benefit from the Canadian environment being degraded and our resources sold off?
posted by Meatbomb to Law & Government (10 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
Is there a shadowy cabal of super rich elites that will somehow benefit from the Canadian environment being degraded and our resources sold off?

Sure - the corporate masters of the Conservative party.

Essentially the Conservatives are gutting regulation and oversight in Canada so the corporate interests that helped them gain power will help keep them in power.
posted by davey_darling at 9:06 PM on December 25, 2012


"Is there a shadowy cabal of super rich elites that will somehow benefit from the Canadian environment being degraded and our resources sold off?"

It's money. Companies don't harm the environment for the fun of it. They pollute as a byproduct of what they do to make money. Which costs less: cutting back pollution or buying off like-minded politicians? It's usually the latter. As for politicians selling off resources... again, it's all about the money. Follow the money, especially in terms of campaign contributions.
posted by 2oh1 at 10:44 PM on December 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Politicians can, and have, been corrupted; weaken regulations and allow energy extraction companies to not have to clean up after themselves. Companies make contributions that pay for advertising/&c. A bunch of that is probably kicked back to the party. Egregiously, cf American SuperPAC inefficiencies/lack of oversight.

When they're done playing politician, they get cushy sinecure positions with the companies that they helped save money.

The thinking is that if they're wealthy enough, then they can insulate their children from a fetid world. The more wealth, the worse the world can get before they and theirs are inconvenienced.
posted by porpoise at 12:25 AM on December 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think you should consider that your choice of media may be heavily biased toward one side of the political spectrum.

stripping away environmental protections - Regulations is probably the more appropriate word, rather than protections. More regulation does not necessarily equal more protection, but it most certainly increases bureaucracy and red tape. This in turn increases the cost of doing business, costing businesses money and wasting government resources. Many of the regulations that have been cut back were redundant redundant and provided very little actual benefit, or were almost entirely unrelated to environmental protection (ex: the Navigable Waters Protection Act). A similar argument can be made regarding the various agencies that have received cuts.

You also have to take into account that we just went through a recession. Pretty much every budget is shrinking, or at least growing less quickly than before. I am not arguing that all of the cuts have been well placed but the rhetoric often gets more than a little excessive.

making it easier for foreign nations to buy up our resources. - We need foreign investment to develop our natural resources. We simply don't have the capital to do it on our own in an effective manner. Note that is not the same thing as cheerfully handing away the deed. Most of the major changes in this area recently, IIRC, have had more to do with clarifying the rules around foreign investment. It's difficult to attract investors when proposals keep getting rejected, after much time and money has been committed, for unexpected and inconsistent reasons. Improving the situation means bringing more money into Canada, rather than other international ventures.

So in the end, what is our government hoping to achieve? A stable and growing economy now and in the future, ensuring a steady stream of revenue to support all the myriad programs we expect and depend on. Programs that include environmental protection and research.
posted by vohk at 12:34 AM on December 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


Stephen Harper isn't some Captain Planet villain. He has a economic plan and some of the steps he's taken have involved removing regulations regarding the environment to help attract business. I don't agree with many of his policy choices, but he's not some moustache twirling bad guy. He's an economist with a vision for Canada's future and is taking the steps to move us in that direction. vohk has done a great job explaining why the government has made the changes they have. These sorts of policy differences are what distinguish one party from the other but it doesn't make anyone a bad guy.
posted by GilvearSt at 5:22 AM on December 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is there a shadowy cabal of super rich elites that will somehow benefit from the Canadian environment being degraded and our resources sold off?

Yes.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 6:28 AM on December 26, 2012


Harper's approval of the purchase of fossil fuel resources by Chinese state-controlled entities is highly rational. First, any large scale acquisition in Canada is likely to involve foreign capital to a great extent, and a lot of foreign capital derives from the sovereign wealth funds or state-controlled entities of countries with a lot less democracy than Canada.

Also, it's not like making those purchases emboldens China to take anti-Canadian actions; if anything, it requries China to hew closer to Canadian policy preferences. A China which became too dastardly for Canadian tastes could see local subsidiaries essentially put in trust (could continue to operate and accumulate income, but not remit that income offshore, including to their Chinese-controlled corporate owners). A China which went to war with Canada (or undertook some 21st-century equivalent to Westphalian war) could see those assets simply seized and sold to the highest bidder, with no compensation owed to the former owners.
posted by MattD at 8:02 AM on December 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


A good relationship with China.
posted by windykites at 11:55 AM on December 26, 2012


Hi Meatbomb,

It's hard to know where to start. Obviously this question is aligned along left/right politics, so folk om the right-side of the spectrum will say things like "Harper's economic plan" and "strong and stable government" to support him. They might even warn, as Harper as done, that not voting Conservative will throw Canada to the "separatists and socialists".

As a staff member and moderator of Canada's largest left-wing news site, rabble.ca and their discussion board babble, obviously I fall on the other side of the spectrum. If you're looking for more than the usual right-left policy politics, here's what I would say:

First, Harper is a highly cynical neo-conservative ideologue in the Chicago school mould. He paints himself as an Albertan conservative, the birthplace of Canadian neo-liberalism, despite the fact that he was born in Toronto (Canada's largest urban centre and left-leaning stronghold). He completed a Masters in Economics at the University of Calgary, and joined a think-tank which pressed for Alberta separatism, ran a strategy for the populist, hard right-wing and regional Reform Party of Canada in the 1995 Quebec referendum which opposed self-determination for Quebec, and famously criticized economically struggling Atlantic Canada for fostering a so-called "culture of defeat."

After becoming leader of the Canadian Alliance (née Reform Party, above), he engineered an amalgamation with Canada's traditional Tory party, the Progressive Conservatives. Tellingly dropping the "Progressive," the newly dubbed "Conservative Party of Canada" vied for the PC respectability while harbouring neocon and socially conservative misfits who would make Texan Republicans blush. Harper, whose sallow complexion and awkward mannerisms (he once posed for a presser by giving both his sons handshakes as they went off to school) did not enamour Canadians, spent several years convincing the nation that it had nothing to fear from a "secret agenda": following the implosion of our traditional Whig party, however, the first thing he did was implement said agenda.

One of the secret truths about Canada is that we are a deeply conservative nation. It's the reason we had essentially one ruling party for a hundred years, with the occasional Tory blip. American liberals like to point to our health care system, but history shows us that such a radical policy change was an anomaly, borne of a regional socialist minister who burned brightly for far too short. But with no centrist party to speak of currently, Harper -- a smart academic with lots of money backing him -- was able to fill that void.

So, in my humble opinion, questions like "doesn't Harper have children too?" aren't at issue, any more than you could ask that question of Mitt Romney. What's at issue is that those who believe -- in the Biblical sense -- in neoliberalism want to remake the world in its image. And Harper is one of them.

At the moment -- because of a craven opposition, a conservative electorate and an archaic parliamentary system -- there's nothing stopping him. Our mainstream media prefers to have at least someone who resembles an Old Boy (Harper gave a plum Senate position -- not an elected post, just a highly-paid political appointment with no actual influence -- to a former CTV anchor). Our corporations (and yours!) prefer someone who will hold their interests above all others -- and they will pay handsomely for the service.

Our nation is large, our interests diverse, our resources seemingly without end. All this adds up to a weak and fractured opposition in parliament and in the streets with a government skillfully prolonging the status quo.

Basically, Harper is doing all this because he is ideologically so inclined; because its the best way for him to gain and keep power (which he has always craved); and because all the political and social forces in Canada are aligned to ensure that he keep doing it. I hope that answers your question.
posted by Catchfire at 8:04 PM on December 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


Regulations is probably the more appropriate word, rather than protections.

Well, no. The OP asked about 'protections.' In some cases, these protections were in the form of regulations. In other cases they were in statutes. Usually both. Protections and regulations are not mutually exclusive categories. Many environmental protections are regulations. The fact that you treat regulations and protections as mutually exclusive categories- when in fact most protections are in the form of regulations- undermines your credibility on this issue.

Bill C-38 did in fact remove a large number of important environmental protections- though these were statutes (which have accompanying regulations). For example, projects on many rivers are no longer subject to environmental assessments. The Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act has been repealed. There is far less supervision of fisheries. Outside Bill C-38, there has been a general and marked decline in supervision of environmental problems. Funding for scientists studying environmental and ecological issues is declining. For more, see the summaries done by West Coast Environmental Law, especially their submissions to the House and Senate on Bill C-45.

They repealed and re-wrote the entire Environmental Assessment Act.

I would give you more specifics, but am in China and the internet is slow and censored. Off the top of my head, I can say that a very significant change is the change in protected fish habitat. Before, all fish habitat was protected (by environmental assessments when a "project" might cause "deleterious effects" to that habitat). Now, I believe, this is only the case for "commercially" important fish, or something to that effect.

To be clear, the Fisheries Act no longer protects fish as fish. It only protects them where they can be shown to be useful to humans. This was most definitely an environmental protection, and it has been removed.

None of this means that these protections were for the best; that is a different argument. We should have that argument some time.

So in the end, what is our government hoping to achieve? A stable and growing economy now and in the future, ensuring a steady stream of revenue to support all the myriad programs we expect and depend on. Programs that include environmental protection and research.

That's basically right. I would only add that the choice is between a better environment for our children and more growth now. I think that the Conservatives' approach takes from our children and their children by reducing the quality of the environment with which we leave them. You may disagree. But do not deceive yourself into thinking that no trade-off has been made; that we have only done away with inefficient regulations. As economists like to say, there is no free lunch. Be honest with yourself about the choices we are making.

There simply isn't some library of useless environmental regulations that slow down the economy and I can't speculate as to why you assumed that there was. They are mostly there for a reason. We can argue about the merits of those reasons, but only once we recognize that there are reasons.


This is not to say that Harper is bad guy. While I disagree with much of what he has done, I have a lot of respect for anyone who subjects themselves to the scrutiny and abuse that he has in the pursuit of their vision for the country. He's not part of some shady cabal; he just doesn't seem to understand ecology and has a disturbing abundance of faith in corporation-driven 'free-markets.'
posted by the thing about it at 10:05 PM on December 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


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