By John Bennett
TROY MEDIA COLUMNIST
Anyone who knows me knows I’m not good at keeping secrets. I particularly don’t like governments working in secret. They feed us a lot of malarkey about why things are done in secret, but you can bet nine times in 10 the real reason for secrecy is bad.
Here are two government plans developing in secret everyone should know about.
At a secret location in Ottawa this week 400 delegates from Pacific Rim countries are negotiating the Trans Pacific Partnership, the latest “free-trade” deal our government says we just have to have. Last January, some of the sections of the draft agreement showed up on WikiLeaks, including the environment chapter. The contents have fired up our U.S. cousins because the language appears to violate a U.S. law requiring all trade deals signed by the U.S. to apply the same terms and conditions on environmental issues as they do to commercial issues.
The leaked environment chapter has unenforceable language on the environment and strong rules for commercial issues. Why? Because a number of countries, including Canada, opposed stronger language to protect the environment.
This is just one reason we should be concerned with “free-trade” agreements. Our first concern should be loss of sovereignty. Multinational corporations promote these deals because there are always clauses inserted to protect them from democracy or, as they would say, “arbitrary government action”. In reality, it means things like forcing Canada to pay damages to U.S.-based Ethyl Corp for banning a gasoline additive banned in the United States or demanding $1 billion from Costa Rica because the Costa Rican people rejected a mining project.
The Trans Pacific Partnership has an added insult to democracy. It will force countries to guarantee the construction of energy export infrastructure. Canadians are being asked to accept that Northern Gateway, Kinder Morgan and EnergyEast pipelines are beyond the ability of either the federal or provincial governments to stop. In fact, the federal government is selling out our rights for 30 pieces of silver.
No wonder the negotiations are done in secret.
There is another nasty little secret developing in Alberta everyone should know about.
Climate change is the predominant issue of our time so most of the focus is on the oil sands’ carbon dioxide emissions. U.S. President Barack Obama has said he won’t approve the Keystone XL if it means increasing carbon emissions.
Many critics have pointed out Canada has no limits on emissions from the oil sands. Others have urged putting a price on carbon. Alberta has a small carbon charge that has done nothing to slow the rapid increase in emissions. So what would happen if Alberta significantly increased its carbon tax? Wouldn’t the U.S. President have to approve the Keystone XL pipeline? In fact, isn’t this exactly what many critics on both sides of the issue have been urging?
I can’t tell you how I know without endangering our source, but I can tell you that a dirty deal has been struck in secret. Sierra Club has learned that the Alberta government is going to increase its “carbon tax” probably after the November U.S. elections. There will be great fanfare and trips to Washington. People like me will be forced to applaud.
Hold that applause and hear the rest of the plan. Our friends at CAPP (Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers) negotiated a nifty deal with the Alberta government to mitigate the cost to oil sands producers.
In return for accepting a higher carbon tax, the oil companies will get a slackening of the rules on cleaning up the tailings ponds at the oil sands mines. This will neutralize the cost of the carbon emissions but at great risk.
The tailings ponds are an ecological time bomb. One scientist told me a single leak into the Athabasca River could kill everything downstream. They hold millions of gallons of highly toxic contaminated water.
When CAPP was asked about the arrangement its spokesperson said “no comment”.
This arrangement puts thousands of lives at risk in a cynical attempt to manipulate public opinion.
So two very reckless plans are being negotiated in secret and you and I are supposed to trust our best interests are being looked after. I hate secrets.
John Bennett is Executive Director of Sierra Club Canada.