Oil vs Democracy: to whom are Wall and Trudeau accountable?

CBC reported on December 20th that the Saskatchewan government was ignoring the Information and Privacy Commissioner’s recommendation that it release records and information relating to inspection of Husky Energy’s pipelines.

Following the Husky heavy oil leak of July 20th which threatened the water supply of North Battleford, Prince Albert and several First Nations, a Freedom of Information request was sent to the Commissioner seeking information about the bigger context for this spill.  Specifically, there is widespread concern that the inspection regime had been inadequate.

It is a matter of concern that it is possible for government to override the Commissioner in this way.  This is not the first time that Saskatchewan’s right-to-know process has been found ineffective.  The limited powers of the Commissioner – together with the reluctance of the present government to require his recommendations to be acted on – has, for example, made it virtually impossible for citizens of the northern village of Pinehouse to hold their elected and unelected officials to account for their use of public money.

At CJS, we believe that the public has a right to the Husky information.  We have a right to know how critical areas of environmental protection are being dealt with, especially when it impacts the drinking water of thousands of people.  True democracy requires a well-informed public, able to push for good government decisions made on the basis of established fact.  The Commissioner has made it clear that, in his expert opinion, release of the documents would not jeopardize the ongoing investigation of the July 20th leak.  So the Saskatchewan government’s claim to the contrary looks very much like a bogus excuse being promulgated in the interests of one oil company – and also generally for an industry plagued by environmental mishaps.  The decision to ignore the Privacy Commissioner’s request shows just how intertwined the Brad Wall government is with the oil industry.

It is time for Premier Wall to put the people of Saskatchewan first instead of the oil corporations that fund his political party.

But it is not only Brad Wall that is using poor information and undemocratic process to put the interests of the oil industry ahead of those of the public.

In an interview on December 20th regarding his approval of new diluted bitumen pipeline projects, prime minister Justin Trudeau justified his position by claiming that:

“We’re a country of rule of law.”

However, the law in question was rushed through parliament without meaningful debate as part of the massive C-38 omnibus bill in 2012 – and involved dramatic and targeted weakening of existing environmental protections at the behest of the oil industry.  “Rule of law” becomes problematic when it is the corporate lobbyists who are writing the law governing their own companies’ activities.

Mr Trudeau further asserted:

“We’re a country where we have processes for consultations.”

Despite promises made before the 2015 election, Mr Trudeau maintained a biased process for consultation on the Kinder Morgan project.  Neither climate impacts nor Indigenous land rights could be adequately considered (and intervenors on these grounds were excluded), citizens did not have the right to cross-question industry presenters, and the commissioners represented a National Energy Board with a well-attested pro-industry bias  – indeed which can reasonably be described as “captive” to the industry it regulates.

The prime minister went on to say that:

“We have regular elections.”

Yes, using a system which puts 100% of the power in the hands of a party elected by about a quarter of those eligible to vote.  And – in the current case – a party which promised one thing and is now doing another.

Finally, Mr Trudeau stated:

“We have ways of protesting to make your feelings heard, and that is all par for the course and that will happen.”

We are not interested in merely “making our feelings heard”.  This is not about emotional release.  It is about protecting the life-support systems of this precious planet from the multiple impacts of corporate Big Oil, and especially from runaway climate change.  It is now clear that the government of Canada is not prepared to take seriously its responsibility to do that.  For that reason, the informed citizens whose voices have been marginalized in the “processes for consultations” will provide the necessary leadership, and will use all honest nonviolent means available to block any project which threatens climate stability or Indigenous rights.  Mr Trudeau stated repeatedly during the 2015 election campaign that “governments can grant permits, but only communities grant permission”.  Climate Justice Saskatoon stands in solidarity with communities which refuse that permission, whether on grounds of sound scientific analysis or in defence of their inherent rights and livelihood.

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