What Justin Did

Delores Broten

Human formation of "SOS" on beachThe Liberal government of Justin Trudeau came into office on November 4, 2015 with a lengthy list of promises. In our last issue we looked at the commitments related to environment, climate, and science, which ranged from building trust in the National Energy Board to freeing charities from onerous review.

Since then, the Paris climate summit has held centre stage, both in a premiers’ meeting before the summit, and the attendance at the summit, when Trudeau extended an invitation to premiers and opposition leaders to attend. Canada, according to all accounts, redeemed its battered reputation, trying to include indigenous rights and acknowledging that an appropriate goal would be 1.5oC rather than a 2oC increase in global temperature. How the climate issue will play out is anyone’s guess, with the western part of the country dependent on sales of oil and gas, and markets for those products reduced, leading to hard times once more in Alberta.

Ripples of unease went through the environmental community when the Minister of Natural Resources, Jim Carr, hired as his chief of staff Janet Annesley, a manager for Shell in oil sands communications and Vice President of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

Carr went on to stoke the embers of unease by announcing that the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Expansion and TransCanada’s Energy East Pipeline projects will not stop while changes are made to the National Energy Board (NEB), which reviews pipeline projects.

As the Council of Canadians notes, “The existing reviews for both projects have shown a lack of adequate aboriginal consultation, a clear democratic deficit, and a failure to evaluate climate implications. The NEB itself is stacked with recent Harper appointees and industry insiders.”

Crude Oil Tanker Ban
However, there is better news on the other sticky issue for tar sands pipelines on the West Coast, tankers. Trudeau’s ministerial mandate letters to all the cabinet ministers have been published, (www.pm.gc.ca/eng/ministerial-mandate-letters) and contain the instructions:

“Formalize a moratorium on crude oil tanker traffic on British Columbia’s North Coast, working in collaboration with the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, the Minister of Natural Resources and the Minister of Environment and Climate Change to develop an approach.”

Those letters also charge the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, with the Ministers of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, Natural Resources, and the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, to “immediately review Canada’s environmental assessment processes to regain public trust  and help get resources to market and introduce new, fair processes.”

The Minister of Natural Resources is also mandated to “modernize the National Energy Board, “to ensure that its composition reflects regional views and has sufficient expertise in fields such as environmental science, community development, and indigenous traditional knowledge.

The letters include instructions to “review the previous government’s changes to the Fisheries Act and the Navigable Waters Protection Act, restore lost protections, and incorporate modern safeguards.” There are many other environmental goodies buried in the letters, such as restored funding for the Experimental Lakes Project.

All the mandate letters feature lengthy discussions about the need for open and transparent government: “Government and its information should be open by default.”

It is too early to tell how much the government will accomplish, but that promise of open government is being kept. Two days after the new government took power, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and Environment Canada “unmuzzled” their scientists, telling them they were free to openly speak to the press and the public. Since it is in the dialogue between science and environment that sound decisions can be made, this openness promises to heal more than the civil service.

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