Open letter to Members of Parliament, January 2014

Dear MP

It’s time for a new private member’s initiative to address climate change. Jack Layton’s (Bruce Hyer’s) old private member’s bill, the Climate Change Accountability Act, did a great deal to raise awareness of the serious nature of the measures needed to tackle climate change adequately. It was passed in the House of Commons, with a minority government, then defeated by the Senate, without discussion.

JustEarth: A Coalition for Environmental Justice, and various other climate change activists, are looking for an MP to give leadership on this. Maybe you? Get in touch!

We propose the drafting of a private member’s bill for a comprehensive assessment of the impact of the bitumen sands (oil/tar sands) project. This has never been done, although a previous Standing Committee on Natural Resources in 2007 recommended that one be done (notes on this follow).

The proposed bill is not the comprehensive legislation that Canada needs to do its share to deal with climate change, but it addresses the major source of our growing GHGs.

By comprehensive assessment we mean:

  • Impact on the atmosphere, from increased emissions of GHGs; harm to agriculture and forests from global warming; rising food prices and scarcity; and increasing ocean acidification from higher carbon dioxide emissions;
  • Impact on water: river water depletion and pollution, harm to local fisheries;
  • Declining biodiversity from climate change and deforestation;
  • Transportation: risks of spills and leaks in pipelines, tankers and rail;
  • Social risks generally, and especially for First Nations communities; consequences of importing of temporary foreign workers and employees across the country, to towns with inadequate infrastructure;
  • Health risks generally, and especially, again, for First Nations;
  • Economic consequences, including the high “petro dollar” and its impact on exports and the manufacturing sector;
  • Canada’s international reputation (our refusal to reduce GHGs and obstreperous conduct at international meetings, earning us “Fossil of the Day” awards);
  • Ethical considerations, notably consequences for future generations of Albertans, Canadians, humankind and companion species--our responsibility to think beyond immediate profits and convenience, to acknowledge duties as well as rights.

Yours sincerely

Rita Bijons, Ben Donato-Woodger, Rob Shirkey (Our Horizon), Rose Dyson, Lynn McDonald, Dorothy Goldin-Rosenberg

Some further background:

A comprehensive assessment was proposed by the Standing Committee on Natural Resources, chaired by Conservative MP, Lee Richardson, in 2007. The report has the unrealistic title of The Oil Sands: Toward Sustainable Development, but it does contain many good ideas. It proposed joint assessment with Alberta, insisted on “polluter pays,” acknowledged some bad impact on First Nations, and the waste of “precious” natural gas to process the bitumen, and specified consideration of “trans-boundary air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and harm to waterways and fisheries.”

The report called for assessment of the “cumulative impacts of oil sands development, projects already underway and planned for the future.” There was even a recommendation that the project’s development “be done in a way that it does not jeopardize Canada’s international Kyoto obligations on GHG emissions and climate change.” Good idea!