Public participation in decision-making is vital in a democracy. And in some ways, it is an understatement to say that democracy is not alive and well in Western Canada. The public is engaged on environmental issues, as much as ever, so particularly if we consider all the attention being given to the Northern Gateway pipeline and the public hearing process that is making its way through Alberta and British Columbia.
Unfortunately, and very simply put, the so called debate on whether or not to go ahead with the pipeline is playing out between irreconcilable positions held by the federal government and industry, and members of the public fearing spills, environmentalists and First Nations communities. We don’t know that these sides won’t be able to come to an agreement and finalize a deal with a warm embrace, but with the government and industry already making deals to sell oil in China, with federal departments supporting the pipeline, and with towns and First Nations’ communities rejecting the plan, the middle ground is fast evaporating. The momentum has also swung towards acceptance as the criteria for accepting the pipeline has been eased. Environmentalists are being labeled “adversaries,” and the environmental non-governmental sector is now under threat of losing their funding.
So what to do when a risky project is going to go forward anyways? Try and make as many little improvements in other areas as possible.
The Canadian government is inviting citizens to give their two cents on the next budget. Maybe it’s time to tell the federal government that a lot of Canadians like fresh air and water, and do feel close to the environment – and this is not a radical position to hold. Instead, Canadians can be innovative at combining green ideas and economic growth. Sustainability is about efficiency and providing for future generations. Environmental protection is the perfect forum to talk about doing things better, planning for the long-term, and also to show the benefits of greening the economy.
Whether or not you support the pipeline is for you to decide, but telling the government what you think is your democratic duty, and waiting for an election every four years doesn’t have to be the only way to be heard. The Northern Gateway hearings are one option, WECanada has been writing to Environment Minister Peter Kent, and talking to your government about your budget priorities is another. The pipeline will likely be built, so I am going to think about what precautions are necessary to ensure the least amount of harm from this project. Act now to make your voice heard.