June 3, 2012 – 4:12am By DEVON PAGE and PETER ROBINSON
When we think of Canada, some of the first things that come to mind are powerful images of our rich natural legacy — towering forests, rolling plains and abundant lakes and rivers. These wild spaces appeal to our sense of freedom, the feeling that anything is possible, that we can create our own destiny.
The same values — freedom, possibility and interconnection — are also the foundation of a democratic society, one where all citizens have the right to think and speak freely about their vision for a healthy Canada. One where decision-makers respect the diverse voices of citizens and treat them as stakeholders in shaping the future we all share.
But as the federal government has made clear in its recent budget legislation, Bill C-38, not everyone has the same respect for nature and democracy.
In recent weeks, Canadians have watched in shock and anger as the federal government works to dismantle the rights and protections we — and the environment — depend on. It’s an assault that seeks to gut many of the country’s most important environmental protections and strip Canadians of their right to stand up for clean water, air and land. All to clear the way for faster oil and gas development.
Among other things, Bill C-38 replaces the Environmental Assessment Act, gives the government power to override recommendations from independent experts, weakens the environmental review process to speed up approvals, and shuts citizen groups out of reviews for pipelines and other industrial projects. The bill changes or repeals almost every major federal environmental law, amounting to a massive deregulation of environmental protection in Canada. When the laws that protect our health and our planet are weak, we are all vulnerable.
Unfortunately, the budget bill doesn’t stop there. Charities that have for decades stood up for Canadians when governments and industry fail to act in their best interests are being subjected to a sustained smear campaign. Those who have dedicated their lives to championing a healthier planet are being demonized, branded as “radicals” for opposing mega-projects that will pave over our forests and pollute our oceans. Federal scientists are being muzzled from talking about findings that undermine the federal government’s carefully constructed narrative of its environmental successes. All across the country, voices of dissent are being silenced.
What we’re facing is not simply a battle for our natural legacy, but a fight for our democracy. The good news is that Canadians are refusing to stay silent.
Since Ecojustice and the David Suzuki Foundation, in collaboration with nine other environmental groups, launched the Black Out Speak Out campaign (www.blackoutspeakout.ca), more than 13,000 individuals and over 100 organizations have decided to speak out against Bill C-38. Celebrities like Margaret Atwood and Bruce Cockburn are standing up to say silence is not an option when nature and democracy are at risk. And they’re backed by groups like the United Steelworkers, Oxfam Canada and Democracy Watch, as well as doctors, lawyers, teachers, artists and even politicians who know that a country without open debate is a country in crisis.
It’s a non-partisan effort with a goal that goes beyond politics and profit. The David Suzuki Foundation and Ecojustice are standing in solidarity with other like-minded organizations across the country that believe in a healthy environment and your right to defend it. Speaking out for the laws that protect the environment that all species — including humans — depend on to survive and thrive is not a radical idea. Neither is fighting for Canadians’ right to advocate for their own health and well-being.
That’s why we’re asking Canadians of all backgrounds and political affiliations to join us and speak out for nature and democracy on June 4. Whether you darken your website or send a letter to your MP, our collective symbolic opposition to Bill C-38 will mark the beginning of a shared effort by charities, businesses and individual Canadians to protect and promote what makes this country so great.
In the words of Ms. Atwood: “Whatever your political affiliations, if you believe in free and open democracy, now is the time to speak out.”
Devon Page is executive director of Ecojustice. Peter Robinson is CEO of the David Suzuki Foundation.