Bill C-51 could be the biggest bait and switch Canada has ever seen: Opinion

In the spring of 2011 the Government of Canada was renamed the Harper Government. While to some it may seem a relatively minor issue of semantics, in retrospect it has come to signify something much greater: the dismantling of the Canada you grew up in, and its replacement with a strange and frightening new Canada birthed behind the closed doors of the Prime Minister’s Office. While Canadians have complained about the unchecked power of majority governments in the past, this one feels like a landslide that just keeps coming.

George W. Bush once famously intoned that “you’re either with us, or you’re with the terrorists.” Now with the proposal of Bill C-51 the Harper Government has essentially said the same thing, only with a twist. You’re either with the Harper Government and the oil companies, or you’re with the terrorists. Disagreeing is treasonous. Canadians don’t deserve to be “othered” by what is ostensibly our own government.

Canadians don’t deserve Bill C-51, a bill that that smells like the biggest bait and switch this country has ever seen in the making.

Show us pictures of beheadings, cars on fire and tell us that Bill C-51 will protect us from similar events. It's hard to argue against this. I am appalled at the apocalyptic and psychotic march of ISIS in the Middle East and I was shocked by the shootings in Ottawa and Quebec. But as a Canadian I am also disgusted by the vagueness and thinly-veiled intent of this creepy bill.

As social psychologist Jonathan Haidt might point out, Canada’s discussion on the economy, oil and gas and the environment has been hopelessly mired in a chasm of “moral matrixes” ever since the Harper Government decided to prioritize expansion of Alberta’s energy sector above all else.

As a Canadian who cares about our environment and as someone who has worked in community economic development for the past several years, I catch myself being at times dumbfounded and at other times outraged at the decisions being made in Ottawa these days. But I try to step out of my own moral matrix, as Haidt encourages, in order to understand why the Harper Government says and does the things that it does.

To many Canadians it probably appears that since Harper has come to power that we have slipped deeper and deeper into what the Superman comics dubbed Bizarro World. A Canada where the government does the opposite of everything you’d think a responsible government should do. Where Orwellian doublespeak has replaced facts, and where ideology has replaced data in policy making. A government that hastily drafts up anti-terror laws that intelligence experts emphasize won’t make us safer, and spends tens of millions on ads glorifying war, while it denies veterans services. Yes, these days, it seems that down is up and up is down.

One of the biggest bones of contention between this government and Canadians has been this exaltation of Alberta’s petroleum export economy above the environment, and now even above our privacy and freedoms. This has been particularly acute in BC. But there is a moral foundation to Harper’s ambition. Alberta, or the multinational energy corporations who have heavily invested in it over the past century, is desperately seeking new markets. Being too dependent on exporting to the U.S. the industry sees China as the logical place to focus; this has been presented by the Harper Government as being in the national interest. Unfortunately those corporations, the province of Alberta and the Harper Government have to run roughshod through BC and the environment in the process

British Columbians who are concerned about pipelines or rail transport of petroleum products feel that we assume the majority of the risk, while Alberta and multinational corporations reap the majority of the benefits. We feel that our traditional tribal lands, our eco-tourism, our sport fishing, our recreational camping, our regional economies are threatened by the potential for oil spills, dozens of which have happened in the past decade in North America.

British Columbians are rightly insulted that our own economic priorities, our culture, our environment, and our well-being is somehow not considered in calculating the national interest. What is good for Alberta is good for Canada, but what is good for B.C. is not?

It is a powerful fallacy that what is good for the environment is not good for the economy— and yet another powerful fallacy that what is good for the oil companies is good for the economy. Oil is but one sector in a diverse web of industries and entrepreneurship that makes our economy tick. But as Thomas Homer Dixon warned in his 2013 New York Times op-ed, Canadians are concerned that our country is being “twisted” into a petro-state.

I imagine the Conservative Party faithful could feel confident justifying all of this if the economy was doing well, but sadly this isn't even the case. This government has vastly increased the national debt and produced consecutive deficits as it hemorrhages tax dollars in profligate spending to remake Canada. Under Harper, economic inequality has increased. Poverty has increased. Household debt has reached record levels. Our economy is not well. And neither is our environment. And neither is the state of our democracy nor our standing in the world.

What is perhaps saddest of all to this Canadian is that we can't even have the meaningful discourse required to adequately debate this bill in Parliament. Steven Harper was not even present at either opportunity. For years it has felt like we have been talking to a brick wall; now the man who announces sweeping anti-terrorist measures at a party fundraiser is not even there in Parliament to debate it.

To clarify the concerns raised by Green Party leader Elizabeth May and NDP leader Thomas Mulcair: they say the vagueness of this bill opens it to interpretation that will result in politically-motivated actions towards environmentalists and others.

The highly political use of CRA to crack down on environmental charities in my opinion has completely validated the concerns about how this government will direct CSIS to operate under these new laws, especially with vagueness around such things as defining “Interference with critical infrastructure” or concerns about "economic stability."

Does a pipeline that exports oil out of the domestic supply for a multinational corporation constitute “critical infrastructure”? Does action against a pipeline that isn’t built yet constitute a threat to critical infrastructure?

Would Canada's dollar becoming a petro-currency that soars and crashes constitute a threat to economic stability? Because this has done more damage to industries and sectors than any rail blockade or climate march we've ever seen in Canada.

Further to the suspect marching orders given to CRA we have now learned that there has already been unprecedented and wholly inappropriate spying on Canadian environmental organizations and Canadian citizens in a coordinated effort between oil companies, the National Energy Board, the RCMP and CSIS.

Here are the original screen shots of a recently leaked RCMP files that rely on absurd sources to validate eco-terrorist anti-petroleum paranoia. As a grad student I have marked undergraduate papers with superior sources and fact-checking. Once again, what is happening to this country? I feel like I'm taking crazy pills.

A former CSIS officer has noted that Harper is using the same tactics that fascist dictators have employed in the past. Let that sink in for a moment. Is that not truly disconcerting? So with expanded powers and no oversight or accountability to the public, whose CSIS will this really be? Canada’s or the Harper Government’s? Canada’s or the oil companies?

Or are Canadian environmentalists and the public who support them just being paranoid?

If the previous spying and coordination between the oil industry and Harper Government is any indicator, Canadians who care about the environment, free speech and their privacy are right to be extremely suspect of the motives behind Bill C-51. It may be presented under the guise of protecting Canadians from a purported global jihad against us, but as time will tell this bill may conveniently aid in another struggle. To silence dissent and quell environmentalism in Canada. Canadians don’t deserve a Bill C-51 but I do feel we deserve a Government of Canada. When do we get that back? I think a lot of us have missed it and look forward to having a meaningful conversation with it again someday about our security, our economy and our environment.

Originally published in the Vancouver Observer »


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