Opinion

Lobbyists Outnumber B.C. MLAs 30 to One

This is a guest post by Dermod Travis, executive director of IntegrityBC.

Last month, lobbyists gathered in Vancouver for The Future of Lobbying, a one -day conference put on by B.C.'s Office of the Registrar of Lobbyists, Simon Fraser Institute's Governance Studies and Public Affairs Association of Canada (B.C. Chapter).

Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but there does seem to be a future for the industry. In fact, if we're not careful, B.C. could be overrun by lobbyists.

Last year, there were 2,502 in-house and consultant lobbyists registered in the province, up from 1,451 four years ago. Whoever said the B.C. Jobs Plan wasn't working?

While others do get some attention — political staff, deputy ministers and the like — that works out to 30 lobbyists for every MLA.

In Ottawa, there are 3,008 lobbyists or nine per MP.

As one of 14 panelists at the Vancouver conference, it fell on me to provide a bit of insight on the public's perspective towards the industry and a few ideas on how it might be improved.

Somehow has to rain on the parade of rainmakers. Not a tough task, though. There's no shortage of material.

Liberals’ Interim Pipeline Measures Fall Short

This is a guest post by Ecojustice National Program Director Barry Robinson and staff lawyers Charles Hatt and Karen Campbell. It originally appeared on the Ecojustice website.

4 Key Questions for Canada's New Pipeline, LNG Climate Test

This article by policy analyst Matt Horne originally appeared on the Pembina Institute website.

Last week, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna and Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr 
announced Canada’s intention to apply a climate test to major energy infrastructure proposals. This was the fifth of five new principles they announced to improve environmental assessments in the country.

The change is good news because it will fill a long-standing gap in the country’s environmental assessment process. The standard approach has been to look at individual oil pipeline or LNG terminal proposals without worrying about the oilsands mines or gas fields they’re connected to. The new approach will include the carbon pollution from the project being proposed and the carbon pollution from the development associated with it.

What the federal government hasn’t said yet is how they plan to evaluate the new information and integrate it into their eventual decisions. Here are four questions I’d like to see included in their climate test, using Petronas’s Pacific NorthWest LNG project to illustrate how they might work. In many cases, the federal government — as opposed to the proponent — is in the best position to address these questions.

David Suzuki: Paris Changed Everything, So Why Are We Still Talking Pipelines?

TransCanada Keystone Pipeline

This is a guest post by David Suzuki.

With the December Paris climate agreement, leaders and experts from around the world showed they overwhelmingly accept that human-caused climate change is real and, because the world has continued to increase fossil fuel use, the need to curb and reduce emissions is urgent.

In light of this, I don’t get the current brouhaha over the Trans Mountain, Keystone XL, Northern Gateway or the Energy East pipelines. Why are politicians contemplating spending billions on pipelines when the Paris commitment means 75 to 80 per cent of known fossil fuel deposits must be left in the ground?

Didn’t our prime minister, with provincial and territorial premiers, mayors and representatives from non-profit organizations, parade before the media to announce Canada now takes climate change seriously? I joined millions of Canadians who felt an oppressive weight had lifted and cheered mightily to hear that our country committed to keeping emissions at levels that would ensure the world doesn’t heat by more than 1.5 C by the end of this century. With the global average temperature already one degree higher than pre-industrial levels, a half a degree more leaves no room for business as usual.

David Suzuki: Environmental Rights Are Human Rights

My grandparents came here from Japan at the beginning of the 20th century. Although it would be a one-way trip, the perilous journey across the Pacific was worth the risk. They left behind extreme poverty for a wealth of opportunity.

But Canada was different then, a racist country built on policies of colonization, assimilation and extermination of the land’s original peoples. My grandparents and Canadian-born parents, like indigenous people and others of “colour”, couldn’t vote, buy property in many places or enter most professions. During the Second World War, my parents, sisters and I were deprived of rights and property and incarcerated in the B.C. Interior, even though Canada was the only home we’d ever known.

A lot has changed since my grandparents arrived, and since I was born in 1936. Women were not considered “persons” with democratic rights until 1918. People of African or Asian descent, including those born and raised here, couldn’t vote until 1948, and indigenous people didn’t get to vote until 1960. Homosexuality was illegal until 1969!

In 1960, John Diefenbaker’s Progressive Conservative government enacted Canada’s Bill of Rights, and in 1982, Pierre Trudeau’s Liberals brought us the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, with equality rights strengthened in 1985.

We Are the World; We Must Act On That Understanding

This is a guest post by David Suzuki. 

The coming year looks bright with the promise of change after a difficult decade for environmentalists and our issues. But even with a new government that quickly moved to gender equity in cabinet, expanded the Ministry of the Environment to include climate change, and offered a bravura performance at the climate talks in Paris, can Canada’s environmentalists close up shop and stop worrying?

Of course not.

The nature of politics includes constant trade-offs, compromises and disagreements. Even with a government sympathetic to environmental issues, we won’t act deeply and quickly enough or prevent new problems because we haven’t addressed the root of our environmental devastation.

The ultimate cause isn’t economic, technological, scientific or even social. It’s psychological.

We see and interact with the world through perceptual lenses, shaped from the moment of conception. Our notions of gender, ethnicity, religion, socio-economic status and the environment we grow up in all limit and create our priorities.

Canada Could Actually Help Strengthen the World’s Climate Agreement in Paris

This is a guest post by Dale Marshall, national energy program manager with Environmental Defence.

There’s a lot of hope for the U.N. climate change summit starting this week. And Canada can play an important role in helping to ensure the Paris summit’s success. 

The goal of the Paris summit, officially called the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21), is for a global agreement on climate action to be finalized. The world has let so much time pass without taking strong action on climate change that many are hoping the Paris agreement will be the one that finally ensures that climate change does not reach truly dangerous levels.

Expectations are high for the Canadian government. Prime Minister Trudeau has signalled that he wants his government to play a constructive role, and contribute to a strong outcome in Paris. Our new report, Canada’s Role at COP21, shows there are several ways that the Prime Minister can lend momentum to the climate summit, where a strong, progressive, Canadian voice can propel the talks forward.

First, the federal government must signal in very clear ways that this is not just a new government but one that takes climate change seriously. The previous government’s pledge for the Paris summit was the weakest in the G7 and assessed as inadequate by two separate analyses — one by four European think tanks and one by civil society groups. The new Canadian government needs to communicate in concrete terms that it will do much more.

Why 'Slacktivism' Matters

This is a guest post by Tania Lown-Hecht from the Outdoor Alliance.

In the last decade, social media has transformed how people relate to each other and the rest of the world. For people who experienced their adolescence before the Internet, this digital world can sometimes seem like a simulacrum of the “real thing.” Most of us have heard complaints about “slacktivism” on our social media feeds, the phenomenon where people post about advocacy issues they care about on social media.

Critics of slacktivism believe that social media posts amount to little more than making the poster feel briefly good about him or herself. While I initially bristled at the idea that social media advocacy could be effective, over the past year I’ve fallen in line with my millennial brethren. Here are five pieces of evidence that “slacktivism” is anything but slacking — and that we should all be using this low-investment, high-yield form of engagement to get what we want from policymakers.

The Case for Hope after Harper

This article originally appeared on Alternatives Journal.

What is it about activists that they can’t even be optimistic for one day after a whole decade?” 

The disgust and disappointment on my 16 year olds face is somewhat heartbreaking as he pours cereal the morning after the Canadian election and surfs the comments on my Facebook page. I can only shake my head sadly and agree with him. 

Wouldn’t it be great to be fueled by hope instead of fear as the late Jack Layton urged us in his letter to the nation? For just a minute could we not take a deep breath and focus on all the things that we know will now change?

My sons have never known a Canada that was not under Stephen Harper's thumb. For the last decade they have listened to their parents shock and outrage over the weakening of our environmental laws, the lack of transparency, the erosion of democracy, the muzzling of scientists, the attack on environmental groups, the disregard for Canada’s constitution.

Along the way we tried to keep hope alive. We painted a picture for them of a Canada that valued evidence based policy. A Canada that led on the world stage to create critical international agreements like the Montreal Protocol. We talked about how lucky we are to live in a democracy and how important it was for us to participate, to organize and to vote. 

Together we watched the election results come in from coast to coast and I watched the hope and optimism on my sons face as he listened to Justin Trudeau’s acceptance speech. “Sunny ways!” We all yelled, half-hysterical and grinning ear to ear. “To the end of the Harper Era!” We cheered as we raised a glass in jubilant toast. 

Our exuberance made the next mornings conversation all that more painful. “Is he really no different?” “Why can’t people ever be hopeful?”

Why not indeed. 

Voting Should Be About Values That Make Canada Great

This is a guest post by David Suzuki.

When my grandparents arrived from Japan in the early 1900s, Canada was far less tolerant than it is today. Women and minorities couldn’t vote, nor could Indigenous people who had lived here from time immemorial. In 1942, the government took away my Canadian-born family’s property and rights and sent us to an internment camp in the B.C. Interior simply because of our ancestry.

Canada has come a long way in my lifetime. Women can vote, as can Asians, other minorities and Indigenous people. Homosexuality is no longer a crime punishable by imprisonment, as it was until 1969. We’ve learned to take better care of each other through rational social programs like universal health care, welfare and unemployment insurance, and a culture of tolerance for the many people from diverse backgrounds who contribute so much to our peace and prosperity — many of whom came here as refugees or immigrants seeking better lives.

Because of my family background and all I’ve witnessed, I take democracy and voting seriously. That’s why I’m dismayed to see the current federal election descend into a divisive discourse that reminds me of all we’ve worked to overcome.

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