Category Archives: International

Greenpeace Arctic 30 activists happy to be home after Russian prison

Greenpeace Arctic 30 activists happy to be home after Russian prison

Greenpeace activists happy to be back home after Russian prison
Alexandre Paul upon his release from Russian prison on November 22 (AFP/Valdimir Baryshev)

MONTREAL – Even after getting arrested at gunpoint, spending two months in a Russian jail, and a third in limbo while awaiting his exit visa, Greenpeace activist Alexandre Paul says the protest was worth it.

In fact, the 35-year-old Montrealer doesn’t hesitate when asked whether he would do it again. Said Paul in an interview Friday at Montreal’s Pierre Elliott Trudeau airport, shortly after arriving home:

[quote]Give me two weeks vacation and I’d go back out there (on another boat).[/quote]

Paul said the whole ordeal helped raise awareness about climate change and the effects of Arctic drilling.

The career activist, who worked on Greenpeace boats several times in the past, was among those arrested during a September protest against a Russian state-owned offshore drilling platform in the Arctic.

The group included 28 Greenpeace members and two freelance journalists. They were originally charged with piracy after some of them tried to scale the platform.

Paul greeted by parents

Paul and the other activists had their cases closed this week under a recent amnesty passed by the Russian parliament.

On Friday, Paul was greeted at the airport by his teary-eyed mother, his father, a small group of friends, and a swarm of reporters.

“I’m really, really happy to be back home,” Paul said, flanked by his mother Nicole and father Raymond.

[quote]It wasn’t the most joyous experience, I can tell you that. But every moment I spent behind bars was worth it.[/quote]

Second Canadian Arctic 30 member released

Fellow Canadian Paul Ruzycki, of Port Colborne, Ont., also arrived home on Friday, Greenpeace Canada said in a release.

Ruzycki declined interview requests, but said through Greenpeace that he’s “very happy to be back home in Canada.”

“I’ll be taking some private time now to be with my family and friends … and have that Christmas turkey dinner I missed,” Greenpeace quoted Ruzycki as saying.

Like something out of an action movie

Paul recalled the arrest as “a scary moment, something really out of an action movie,” with Russian authorities rappelling onto their ship from a hovering helicopter. They forced him and other Greenpeace members to their knees at gunpoint, he said.

Paul originally set out on a Greenpeace boat in mid-July and expected to be home by early autumn, only to end up spending two months in jail.

When Paul realized the piracy charges could carry a 15-year sentence, panic set in, he said.

“I realized my parents might not be around for that length of time,” he told a news conference at the airport.

The charge was later downgraded to hooliganism.

Kremlin brushing up images before Games?

The decision to grant the activists amnesty has been seen by many as part of an attempt by the Kremlin to dampen criticism of Russia’s human rights record ahead of the Games.

Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky was also released after a decade in prison and members of the activist group Pussy Riot were pardoned and freed.

Paul told the news conference he appreciated the support he received during his experience and said he was treated well in jail.

Paul: Harper Government did nothing to help Arctic 30

He thanked Canadian consular officials for helping him keep in touch with his family as well as bringing him books.

But he had harsh words for the federal government.

Asked what he thought about Canada’s intervention in helping him return home, Paul replied: “What intervention? That’s my question.

“I was a bit disappointed, but it’s time to move on. We know that in Canada we have a government that’s been put there by the petroleum industry. That’s known.

“But the word I’d use to describe the involvement of Mr. Baird or the entire federal government would be ‘disappointed, really disappointed’.”

Ex-Harper energy advisor slams Keystone XL pipeline promotion

Ex-Harper advisor slams Canada’s Keystone XL pipeline promotion


Ex-Harper energy advisor slams Keystone XL pipeline promotion

WASHINGTON – A former Harper government appointee used a keynote speech at a Washington event Monday to trample Canadian authorities’ message on oil pipelines while describing the country as an environmental “rogue state.”

Mark Jaccard became one of the first people nominated by the Conservatives to the environmental file when he was named in 2006 to the federal government’s now-defunct National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy.

Seven years later, the environmental economist delivered a lengthy rebuke of Canada’s climate-change performance at Monday’s event while the Obama administration grapples with whether to approve the Alberta-U.S. pipeline.

Jaccard, an adviser to different governments and a professor at B.C.’s Simon Fraser University, said he doesn’t want the oilsands shut down — he just doesn’t want them to grow. Said Jaccard:

[quote]On climate, Canada is a rogue state. It’s accelerating the global tragedy … The U.S. government should reject Keystone XL and explain to the Canadian government that it hopes to join with Canada (on a global climate plan).[/quote]

That message stands in sharp contrast to that of the Canadian government, which has spent millions to publicize the benefits to both countries of developing the oilsands.

Jaccard was the headline speaker at a summit tied to a well-connected Democratic donor, the so-called “green billionaire” Tom Steyer, and attended by a number of U.S. media outlets.

Jaccard has become an increasingly bitter critic of the federal government. He was even arrested last year after joining a blockade on a train carrying U.S. coal from B.C.

His disenchantment with the Conservative government reached a boil after the 2011 election, Jaccard said in an interview after his speech.

He said he tried to work with the government — not only at the Round Table, but as an adviser to then-environment minister Rona Ambrose. But after the Conservatives won a majority in 2011, the rhetoric hardened, the Round Table vanished and it became clear they had no interest in tackling climate change, Jaccard said.

“In 2011, the gloves came off.”

In his career as an author, academic, and adviser to different governments since the Mulroney era, Jaccard also criticized the Liberals for a climate approach he still derides as a “labels-on-fridges-and-Rick-Mercer-ads” strategy to encourage behaviour changes.

More drastic policies are in order, he told his audience: greenhouse-gas emissions need to drop 50 to 75 per cent by 2050 to limit temperature growth to a 2C target — an impossible task with a growing oilpatch, Jaccard said.

The event, and the choice of location, were designed to arm-twist the Obama administration as it faces its Keystone dilemma.

It was held in Georgetown, where President Barack Obama delivered a speech in June saying Keystone would not be approved if it significantly increases greenhouse-gas emissions.

The title of the event was, “Can Keystone Pass The President’s Climate Test?” One speaker after another suggested that, no, Keystone cannot be approved without a significant increase in carbon pollution as a result.

In the hallways, the many Obama supporters speculated about when the long-awaited decision might come down. And some suggested they’ve become increasingly hopeful the project will be blocked, given Obama’s choice of words.

Former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm even allowed herself to daydream about what an eventual presidential rejection speech might sound like. A decision is expected in early 2014.

“I think he could deliver a speech that could give him a legacy he would be proud of,” Granholm, the event moderator, said from the stage.

Earlier, Steyer described Keystone as a logical investment for the oil industry that would drive up the value of Canadian oil and ramp up development — which is precisely why he believes it shouldn’t be allowed to proceed.

“(Keystone) is a literal and a figurative line in the sands,” Steyer said. “Keystone is the economic key to unlocking the tarsands and, as such, it fails the president’s test.”

The other side of the Keystone debate was not represented at the event. TransCanada boss Russ Girling (TSX:TRP) and Gary Doer, Canada’s ambassador to the U.S., both declined to attend.

Harper government spending $40 million to improve Tar Sands image

Harper government spending $40 million to clean up Tar Sands’ image

Harper government spending $40 million to improve Tar Sands image
Stephen Harper is trying hard to convince other nations not to shun Tar Sands bitumen (Adrian Wyld/CP)

by Bruce Cheadle

OTTAWA – The Conservative government is spending $40 million this year to advertise Canada’s natural resource sector — principally oil and gas — at home and abroad.

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver revealed the figure Wednesday as his department seeks another $12.9 million to augment an international campaign designed to portray Canada as a stable and environmentally responsible source of energy.

That will bring NRCan’s 2013-14 ad budget to about $40 million — $24 million for advertising abroad and $16.5 million for the domestic market.

“The government has a responsibility to provide Canadians with facts to assist them in making informed decisions,” Oliver, under opposition questioning, told a Commons committee.

[quote]This engagement and outreach campaign will raise awareness in key international markets that Canada is an environmentally responsible and reliable supplier of natural resources.[/quote]

The entire federal government advertising budget last year was about $65 million, according to preliminary estimates, with $9 million allotted for Natural Resources.

In 2010-11, NRCan spent just $237,000 on advertising, according to the government figures.

Outside the committee room, Oliver justified the spending by linking it directly to winning over American public opinion in order to get approval of TransCanada’s controversial Keystone XL pipeline. The $5.4-billion project to carry Alberta bitumen to the Gulf Coast has become a lightning rod for environmental activists as it awaits a decision from U.S. President Barack Obama. Said Oliver:

[quote]Let’s understand what is at stake here,” Oliver said. “When we’re looking at Keystone, for example, we’re talking about tens of thousands of jobs.[/quote]

Asked to justify ad spending for one industrial sector that’s swallowing up almost two thirds of last year’s total government ad budget, Oliver was emphatic: “You justify it by what it’s going to achieve and there are billions, tens of billions of dollars, in play.”

Peter Julian, the NDP natural resources critic who teased out the ad spending at the committee, isn’t buying the government rationale.

“I don’t see how the Harper government can justify spending tens of millions of taxpayers’ money to do something that the private sector could choose to do,” Julian said after the hearing.

The New Democrat said the ads won’t work because the Conservatives, through their policy choices, have “killed the possibility of social licence” — getting public buy-in, essentially — for major resource projects.

He said that by slashing environmental assessments and limiting “meaningful public consultation” on pipeline proposals, the government has sparked a public backlash.

The backlash, Julian asserted, is “worldwide. Canada has a black eye. There’s no doubt.”

He cited the Obama administration, which has openly urged Canada to up its environmental game, and the European Union, which is targeting higher emissions from oilsands production.

Rather than millions on ads, said Julian, “the way the Harper government can start to gain back the social licence is by starting to make better decisions on the environment, on the economy and on the whole process of approving these new projects.”

To that end, the government is making an effort to establish a baseline of research on cutting edge oilsands technology.

Natural Resources has asked a panel of experts to help catalogue and chart a way forward for technologies that can help reduce the environmental footprint of oilsands development.

Oliver has asked the Council of Canadian Academies to turn its gaze on new and emerging technologies for extracting bitumen from Alberta’s oilsands.

A 13-member panel will study what’s currently working and has been asked to identify economic and regulatory hurdles that slow the spread of the most promising technologies.

“There’s a lot of rhetoric, there’s a lot of exaggeration,” Oliver said of the study.

[quote]People can come to different conclusions based on the facts, but let’s start all together. We should all start with the facts.[/quote]

The council was created in 2005 with a 10-year, $30-million government grant and is designed to provide peer-reviewed, science-based assessments to help inform public policy.

Canada is not on track to reach its international pledges for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2020, but the Conservative government has frequently held out hope that technological breakthroughs will alter that trajectory.

A spokeswoman for the academy, a not-for-profit corporation, says expert panels typically take between 18 and 24 months to report and do not make policy recommendations — but instead provide a base of solid evidence to use in the policy mix.

The panel is to be co-chaired by Eric Newell, the former CEO of Syncrude Canada, and by the head of the International Institute for Sustainable Development, Scott Vaughan.

US House passes bill to speed up oil and gas fracking

US House passes bill to speed up oil and gas fracking


US House passes bill to speed up oil and gas fracking

by Matthew Daly, The Associated Press

WASHINGTON – The House approved a bill Wednesday aimed at speeding up drilling for oil and natural gas.

The measure was one of three energy measures the House was considering this week as Republicans controlling the chamber push to expand an oil and gas boom that’s lowered prices and led the U.S. to produce more oil last month than it imported from abroad.

Another bill expected to win approval later Wednesday would restrict the Interior Department from enforcing proposed rules to regulate hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, on public lands. A third bill would streamline permitting for natural gas pipelines.

Supporters say the bills are needed to ensure that a drilling boom taking place on state and private lands extends to millions of acres, mostly in the West, under federal control.

Obama to veto bills

President Barack Obama has promised to veto the bills, saying they are unnecessary and run counter to protections put in place for oil and gas drilling.

Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., who sponsored the bill to speed up permitting, said the current energy boom has mainly occurred on state and private lands, including the Bakken formation in North Dakota and Montana and the Marcellus Shale region centred in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. Said Lamborn:

[quote]The only reason we haven’t seen that same dynamic growth on federal lands is because of excess regulations.[/quote]

Automatic approval, $5,000 bill for protestors

Lamborn’s bill would deem a drilling application approved if no decision is made within 60 days, set a minimum threshold for lands leased by the Bureau of Land Management and charge a $5,000 fee to groups that protest lease permits. The House approved the measure, 228-192.

Lamborn said the bill would reduce federal “red tape” and cut down on “frivolous lawsuits that act as stumbling blocks to job creation and energy development.”

Democrats and environmental groups called the bill a handout to the big oil companies and said it would gut important environmental protections and stifle efforts by the public to intervene in drilling decisions.

Democrat: Bills a “waste of time”

Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, called the bills a waste of time, since they were unlikely to be taken up in the Democratic-controlled Senate and faced veto threats from Obama.

The drilling bill and others being considered in the House “distract and delay this body’s critical attention to the issues of critical concern to all Americans,” including adoption of a federal budget and passage of a farm bill and immigration overhaul, Hoyer said.

The House was debating another bill, sponsored by Rep. Bill Flores, R-Texas, that would block the Interior Department from enforcing a proposed rule on hydraulic fracturing on federal lands in states where drilling regulations are already in place.

All about fracking

Hydraulic fracturing, also called fracking, involves pumping huge volumes of water, sand and chemicals underground to split open rocks to allow oil and gas to flow. Improved technology has allowed energy companies to gain access to huge stores of natural gas underneath states from Wyoming to New York but has raised widespread concerns that it might lead to groundwater contamination and even earthquakes.

A draft rule issued this spring would require companies that drill for oil and natural gas on federal lands to publicly disclose the chemicals used in fracking operations. A final rule is expected next year.

Flores called his bill an important step to reaffirm states’ rights to determine energy production, as well as a way to create jobs.

Because of fracking and other techniques, the U.S. could be “energy secure” by 2020, Flores said.

[quote]This is a goal we should pursue, just as we did in the 1960s to put a man on the moon.[/quote]

Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., said state rules on fracking vary widely.

“That’s why it’s important that the Interior Department put in place a regulatory floor of safety measures to assure that there are at least minimal protections in place on all public lands in all states,” he said.


Team Harper should rack a win at climate negotiations...if they're smart

Team Harper should rack a win at climate talks…if they’re smart


Team Harper should rack a win at climate negotiations...if they're smart

With another round of international climate negotiations opening this week in Warsaw, Poland, and a new poll finding Canadians wanting leadership on the issue, Stephen Harper and his Conservative government have an opportunity to begin turning the tides on what has been up until now an abysmal failure.

Since taking the helm, Harper and his party have floundered at the United Nations climate events, with the likes of former environment minister John “Bull in a China Shop” Baird ham-handedly relegating our country to perpetual fossil of the day and year awards.

Canada’s fall from grace

As someone who has been working in and around these international climate talks, and other such global negotiations, for many years now I have witnessed first hand Canada’s fall from grace. Our small country (population-wise) has historically hit well above its weight in many international forums, with a reputation for neutrality and expert diplomacy. Now, we are called a “petro-state” and a fly in the ointment at such talks.

Up until Harper, Canada has been a international leader on global efforts to battle environmental issues. Former Progressive Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney was an outspoken global leader on reducing CFC’s and his leadership culminated in the Montreal Accord that saw 191 countries agree to phasing out ozone depleting chemicals.

Under Jean Chretien and the Liberals Canada was one of the first countries to sign on to the Kyoto Protocol to reduce global climate change pollution, and that leadership started a domino effect with many countries following our lead. Harper’s lack of performance, and in many cases outright opposition to deal on climate change, is not only being noticed by the international community, it is also starting to be noticed at home.

New poll: Canadians want climate change to be a top issue

A poll out late last week finds that a large majority – almost 60 percent – of Canadians agree that climate change should be a top issue for the Harper government. A whopping 76 percent say that Canada should sign on to a new international agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

While I am the first to admit that public opinion polls can fall well short of reality, in this case there is substantial proof at the street-level. Everyday people and not just the media or opinion-makers are wanting Harper to rejuvenate Canada’s international reputation on the issue of climate change.

Canadians to rally for climate this weekend

Look no further than the hundreds of events being planned across the country for a “Defend our Climate, Defend our Communities” day of action being held this coming weekend. Such a show of discontent in the streets and in front of MP’s offices has to have Harper and his minions at least a little worried.

And it is only going to get worse for Harper as more and more extreme weather events pile up week after week on the nightly news. Climate change is no longer a theory. The atmospheric disruption and extreme weather scientists talked about almost 20 years ago when Canada signed on to the Kyoto Protocol is now “the new normal.”

Harper could redeem himself in Warsaw

With these talks starting this week and next in Warsaw, Harper and his new environment minister, Leona Aglukaqq, have an opportunity to redeem themselves. It would be good for our international reputation to do so, not to mention my children’s children who, as it stands today, face a pretty bleak future. And according to public opinion polls, a strong stance on climate by Harper would be good politics.

So what’s stopping him?

Harper's Keystone XL lobbying trip funded by $65,000 in tax dollars

Harper’s Keystone XL lobbying trip funded by $65,000 in tax dollars


Harper's Keystone XL lobbying trip funded by $65,000 in tax dollars

by Carol Linnitt – Originally posted on DeSmog Canada

The hotel rental for Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s September visit to New York City cost Canadian taxpayers a total of $56,582.91, according to documents recently released by CTV News.

“Canada and the U.S. are making important progress on enhancing trade, travel and investment flows between our two countries, including securing our borders, speeding up trade and travel, modernizing infrastructure in integrated sectors of the North American economy, and harmonizing regulations,” Harper said at the event. “But there is much more that can be done, and must be done, to make our economic relationship more productive and seamless.”

The event, organized by the Canadian American Business Council, gave Harper the opportunity to tell an audience of American business executives that he wouldn’t “take no for an answer” on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, planned to carry tar sands crude from Alberta to oil refineries in the Gulf of Mexico.

Hotel bill mistakenly sent to CTV

The hotel bill for the luxurious New York Palace Hotel, which was mistakenly sent to CTV’s Washington bureau, suggests Harper’s speaking engagement was a staged promotional gathering for the Keystone XL, rather that a typical guest speaker event which are usually paid for by the host.

The hotel charges include coffee services for $6,650.00, room rental for $33,500.00 and audio visual services of $14,709.15. An overall service charge for the room and coffee came to $9,234.50.

According to CTV, the event was co-hosted with the Canadian American Business Council, which claimed to ‘share’ the costs for the event with the Harper Government.

Maryscott Greenwood, senior advisor for the Council said, “the costs were shared…we paid for pieces of it.”

The “Voice of Business”

On their website the Canadian American Business Council claims to be “the voice of business in the world’s most prosperous relationship. Established in 1987 in Washington, D.C., the Council is a non-profit, non-partisan, issues-oriented organization dedicated to elevating the private sector perspective on issues that affect our two nations, Canada and the United States.”

CABCMembership to the Council requires a $5,500 annual fee, with conference sponsorships running up to $25,000 per event. Members of the Council include the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the Canadian Embassy, the Government of Alberta and TransCanada among many other major oil and gas companies.

In 2012, the Council listed “Approval of the Keystone XL pipeline that would bring Canadian crude oil to the U.S. gulf refineries” in its top ten ‘list of issues.’

The Council’s Washington offices are located inside a major law and lobbing firm, McKenna, Long & Aldridge, LLP, that represents TransCanada’s Keystone XL project.

Andrew Shaw, who works for the Council, is also a registered lobbyist for the Keystone XL pipeline with KcKenna, Long & Aldridge. Shaw was hired by TransCanada to lobby on the topic of “permitting issues regarding the Keystone XL pipeline,” lobbying disclosure documents show.

According to further lobbyist documents, Shaw was also hired by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, Canada’s largest oil and gas lobby firm, to speak with members of the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives about American environmental legislation or policies that might have implications on the development of Canada’s tar sands.

TransCanada spends millions on US lobbying

A recent white paper report released by DeSmog Canada shows TransCanada has spent $2.78 million on in-company lobbyists and $1.26 million on U.S. based lobby firms, including McKenna, Long & Aldridge, since 2010.

The white paper also shows that since 2010-2011 the Harper Government’s spending of taxpayer funds to promote the tar sands and Canada’s environmental performance has increased by 7000 percent with plans to further increase in the 2013-2014 year.

Influence in America

For more information on lobbying for the Keystone XL, see this backgrounder put together by Friends of the Earth or read about the pipeline on

Merkel took BMW money before putting brakes on tougher emissions cuts

Merkel took BMW money before putting brakes on EU emissions cuts

Merkel took BMW money before putting brakes on tougher emissions cuts
German Chancellor Angela Merkel gets a tour of new BWW designs at a recent auto show

BERLIN – Germany blocked the introduction of tougher European Union emissions rules for cars shortly after Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party received a large donation from three major BMW shareholders, according to newly released parliamentary records.

Opposition parties on Tuesday cited the donation as evidence of an uncomfortably close relationship between Merkel and German automakers.

Following weeks of German lobbying, the environment ministers of the EU’s 28 nations agreed Monday to seek further tweaks to the proposed emissions rules that come into force in 2020.

Just days earlier, Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union had received 690,000 euros ($935,900) from Susanne Klatten, her mother Johanna Quandt and brother Stefan Quandt. The Quandt family holds almost half of the shares in the Munich-based BMW, whose luxury cars on average emit well over the proposed limit of 95 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre.

Merkel’s party insisted there was no link between donation and the pressure that her government put on other European countries to hold off on the emissions deal.

“The Quandt family has supported the CDU with private donations for many years, independently of whether the CDU was part of the government or in opposition,” the party said in a statement.

The opposition Left Party noted that the decision to block the new emissions rules would directly benefit German automakers such as Daimler, Volkswagen and BMW.

“The suspicion that this corporation bought itself a favourable policy is hard to dismiss,” it said.

The auto industry and its suppliers employ some 740,000 people in Germany.

The Green Party, which is one of two parties holding talks with the CDU to form a coalition government following last month’s election, also criticized the donation, saying it harmed Germany’s image abroad.

In a compromise deal in June, national EU governments and the European Parliament agreed to force carmakers to further slash their average carbon dioxide emissions from a 2015 target of 135 grams.

Germany wants to delay the introduction of the new emissions limit until 2024.

Billionaire Tom Steyer blames Harper's agressive Keystone lobbying for US govt shutdown

Billionaire Tom Steyer blasts Harper’s agressive Keystone lobbying

Billionaire Tom Steyer blames Harper's agressive Keystone lobbying for US govt shutdown
Billionaire Keystone XL pipeline opponent Tom Steyer (photo: Getty Images)

OTTAWA – An anti-Keystone XL pipeline crusader has written to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, suggesting Canada’s aggressive lobbying for the project played a part in the ongoing government shutdown south of the border.

Tom Steyer, a San Francisco billionaire who’s also a major Democratic party fundraiser, chastises Harper for saying he would not “take ‘no’ for an answer” from U.S. President Barack Obama on TransCanada’s Keystone XL.

In a question-and-answer session with the Canadian American Business Council last week in New York, Harper took a hard line on how Canada would respond if the Keystone XL project is rejected by the White House.

“My view is you don’t take ‘no’ for an answer,” Harper said. “This won’t be final until it’s approved and we will keep pushing forward.”

Steyer took issue with those comments in his letter to the prime minister Friday, asking:

[quote]Have your government, your government’s lobbyist and/or agents representing TransCanada communicated with House Republicans about including Keystone in the original litany of demands put to President Obama?[/quote]

Steyer says in the dispatch that TransCanada is launching a new advertising campaign aimed at stakeholders in Washington, D.C.

“News of this advertising campaign comes in the context of House Republicans having closed down the U.S. government as well as threatening to oppose the extension of the country’s debt limit unless certain demands were met,” Steyer writes.

“Included in the original list of House Republican demands was that the Obama administration grant approval for the building of the Keystone XL pipeline.

The combination of the advertising campaign and Harper’s comments last week “raises the question of whether your office is working hand-in-hand with TransCanada to try to exploit the current situation in Washington, D.C., at the expense of the American people,” Steyer wrote.

The Prime Minister’s Office didn’t respond to queries about Steyer’s letter. Harper is currently in Southeast Asia for an economic summit with Pacific Rim countries.

Harper’s strong-arm tactics counter-productive?

The majority of Republicans in the House of Representatives, and some Democrats, have long been staunch supporters of Keystone XL and have tried in the past to insert pipeline provisions into bigger pieces of legislation.

Privately, however, some TransCanada officials have bemoaned the strong-arm tactics of some of their Republican cheerleaders.

Just this week, TransCanada’s director of the pipeline said a legislative effort by Republicans in 2012 to push Obama into approving Keystone XL unnecessarily delayed the project.

“As you recall, 2012 was an election year and politics began to weigh heavily into that process and some political manoeuvring occurred,” Les Cherwenuk said in Houston at an energy roundtable.

The president “couldn’t (approve the project) fundamentally, since the work had not been completed and he had no choice but to deny the permit.”

In early 2012, Republicans pushed a mandate through Congress demanding Obama approve the $5.3-billion pipeline within a strict deadline. But the State Department was still assessing the project amid concerns from the state of Nebraska that Keystone XL posed risks to a crucial drinking water aquifer.

The president invited TransCanada to submit another application, one that would reroute the pipeline around the aquifer.

The pipeline has become a flashpoint for U.S. environmentalists who hold it up as a symbol of America’s over-reliance on carbon-intensive fossil fuels. They argue that approving Keystone XL will encourage oilsands crude production, which emits more carbon into the atmosphere than conventional oil production.

Steyer, a former hedge fund manager who hosted Obama in his home for a Democratic fundraiser in the spring, left his firm to devote himself entirely to climate change issues. He’s emerged a major thorn in the side of pipeline proponents, and recently launched a series of TV commercials maligning Keystone XL.


Harper getting desperate to move Alberta oil

Harper getting desperate to move Alberta oil as pipelines stall

Harper getting desperate to move Alberta oil
Stephen Harper has been trying to win over Obama on the stalled Keystone XL pipeline (Adrian Wyld/CP)

Prime Minister Stephen Harper looks increasingly desperate to find ways for expanding the Tar Sands. While his government wants to ramp up bitumen production dramatically in Alberta, it faces export challenges at every turn.

This has led to some erratic and questionable moves by Team Harper in recent months – from a sudden u-turn for its aboriginal relations on the pipeline file, to aggressive US lobbying over the controversial Keystone XL project, to today’s news that it has been mulling an unprecedented plan to move massive quantities of bitumen to BC’s coast by rail.

Half a million barrels a day…by rail?

On that last point, we learned today from internal memos pried loose by Greenpeace that the Harper Government and Chinese-owned Nexen sought out CN to explore moving a similar quantity of oil to the embattled Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline proposal.

Oil is moved by rail today, but in relatively small volumes – though that trend is changing, particularly in the US with the Bakken shale in North Dakota. This has had dangerous consequences, as we saw with the catastrophic derailment in Lac-Mégantic of a train carrying highly combustible shale oil. Even with oil-by-rail shipments on the rise around North America, this Prince Rupert plan is unprecedented in its scale and risks.

While the now-defunct operator behind the Lac-Mégantic disaster – the Montreal, Main and Atlantic Railway – moved half a million barrels of Bakken oil a month, CN would be doing that on a daily basis. The company would send seven trains a day, with over a hundred cars each, carrying bitumen to the Port of Prince Rupert.

The trains would travel along Canada’s second largest salmon river, the Skeena – a derailment would be a catastrophe waiting to happen. Pipeline proponents – especially since Lac-Mégantic – have long held up rail as a straw man to persuade the public of the relative safety of pipelines, making this alternative proposal all the more baffling. Unless, of course, it’s intended to frighten British Columbians back into embracing Enbridge.

Memo blacked out

Who can say what Harper and co. are really thinking here, especially since the section of the rail memo discussing the Department of Natural Resources’ views on the matter was entirely blacked out.

The undated memo was allegedly written prior to Lac-Mégantic, so it’s difficult to say to what degree it’s being taken seriously today. Any way you slice it, this is a crazy plan, coming from a government that looks like it’s flailing around for a lifeline, amid the increasingly troubled waters for Tar Sands expansion.

Keystone antics

This desperation has played out in Harper’s erratic attempts to win over President Obama on the controversial, proposed Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta to refineries on the US Gulf Coast. With Obama’s apparent conversion on the climate file, Harper looks lost.

When trouble first began brewing for Keystone, he sent his pitbull, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, to Washington, DC for some pipeline diplomacy. The only thing missing was the diplomacy, as Oliver’s brutish antics only served to insult his hosts and provoke ridicule from more enlightened political and media observers around the world.


Harper’s draconian gutting of environmental regulation and muzzling of scientists to protect his oil agenda is drawing widespread condemnation – visible everywhere from prestigious international journals to a recent New York Times editorial.

Following Obama’s bold climate speech this summer, Harper radically changed his tack, offering to commit to US carbon emissions targets in exchange for giving Keystone a pass. The jury’s out on how effective this tactic will prove, but it can hardly look like anything other than disingenuous, johnny-come-lately political maneuvering to Obama.

Mixed signals to First Nations

Finally, there’s Harper’s dramatic swings in his approach to First Nations on pipelines. Over the past year, he and Oliver have gone from alternately ignoring First Nations’ concerns to vilifying them as “radical” opponents of Canada’s national interest.

Then, out of the blue, we learned recently that Harper and a caravan of federal ministers would be venturing out to our hinterland west of the Rockies to get First Nations onside with the proposed Enbridge and Kinder Morgan pipelines.

If this apparent reversal wasn’t baffling enough for aboriginal leaders like Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, the ministers’ attitude at the table took it to another level. Describing separate meetings with Oliver and Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Velcourt to the Vancouver Observer, Phillip says the ministers made little effort to win him over:

[quote]There was just a lot of rhetoric about not dwelling on the past, looking towards the future, and realizing the benefits of the vast natural resource wealth that this country has been blessed with. Pretty much a Canadian Apple Pie lecture…There wasn’t any engagement or dialogue in terms of Minister Oliver saying ‘what will it take? What are your recommendations?…He just sat there and repeated his talking points.[/quote]
Phillip suspects this sudden action from Harper is about papering over consultation with First Nations that has been sorely lacking, paving the way for the pipelines through the argument of “national interest”.

Pipelines’ uncertain future

Whatever thinking is motivating Harper’s about-face with First Nations, if he continues down this path, his government’s actions will do little to mollify his agenda’s most powerful opponents.

It remains to be seen where Obama goes on Keystone and whether Harper gets any traction on Enbridge, Kinder Morgan – or new plans to pump bitumen East through Enbridge and TransCanada pipelines – but the more he fumbles for “radical” solutions to his pipeline predicament, the more unsure, vulnerable and desperate he shows himself to be.

Harper Govt spent $120 million helping Enbridge: Elizabeth May

Harper caught helping Enbridge while wooing Obama on climate

Harper Govt spent $120 million helping Enbridge: Elizabeth May
Photo: Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press

While Stephen Harper was busy trying to green-wash his image with Barack Obama – acquiescing to climate targets to improve prospects for the Keystone XL pipeline – Green Party Leader Elizabeth May dropped a bombshell: the suggestion that the Conservative Government is spending $120 million in tax dollars to “grease the wheels” for Enbridge and its Northern Gateway pipeline bid.

May and her only elected Green cohort, BC MLA and Nobel Prize-winning UVic climate scientist Andrew Weaver, discussed the allegation at a press conference in Victoria on Wednesday. Said Weaver:

[quote]Documents obtained from Environment Canada and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans reveal that at a time when core science is being cut across the Government of Canada, tax dollars are being spent to do Enbridge’s homework for them.[/quote]

Harper tries to turn over new leaf

The revelation was bad timing for the prime minister, coming on the heels of a letter he sent personally to Obama, promising “joint action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the oil and gas sector.”

According to CBC, Harper reached out to his US counterpart in late August, in an attempt to persuade him to approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta’s Tar Sands to refineries in Texas. The project is in limbo, with Obama twice delaying his decision on the matter, recently bumping it 2014.


The Harper Government’s considerable lobbying efforts have yet to move Obama on Keystone. Some have even hampered their mission – like Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver’s attack of renowned former NASA climatologist James Hansen at a Washington, DC event. This failure is now compelling the prime minister to back off his earlier opposition to hard climate commitments, says CBC:

[quote]Sources told CBC News the prime minister is willing to accept targets proposed by the United States for reducing the climate-changing emissions and is prepared to work in concert with Obama to provide whatever political cover he needs to approve the project.[/quote]

Those sources also say Harper wanted to address Keystone with Obama at this week’s G20 Summit in Russia, but the pipeline project was drown out in the tempest surrounding Syria.

May’s allegations can’t be of help to the Prime Minster’s attempted image makeover, which is why his government was quick to respond this week. Harper’s top lieutenant on pipeline matters, Joe Oliver, fired back:

[quote]While the Green party and the New Democratic Party oppose resource development projects before the science is in, our government will not make decisions until an independent, scientific review determines they are safe for Canadians and safe for the environment.[/quote]

According to the Canadian Press, Ottawa said the money is going to “oil tanker safety studies on Canada’s coastlines…announced last March in Vancouver by Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver against a backdrop of tankers and shipping vessels in Burrard Inlet.”

(You may recall this event for the irony of a federal oil spill clean-up ship running aground en route to the press conference)

Government handout to Big Oil

May and Weaver aren’t buying this defense. To them, Ottawa is using tax dollars to subsidize things that Enbridge should be doing at its own expense – like $78 million for bitumen-specific marine spill studies. Add to that another $42 million to develop improved weather monitoring systems for the rugged north and central coast waters which tankers would transit if Northern Gateway goes ahead.

Federal monies for such core elements of Enbridge’s National Energy Board application amount to a government hand-out, says Weaver:

[quote]This is another example of federal money being used to essentially subsidize industry, and industry’s inability to actually provide effective response to marine dilbit (bitumen) oil spills because the tools don’t exist.[/quote]

For a leader who has spent the past several years gutting environmental laws, monitoring and enforcement staff, cutting research monies, and muzzling scientists, it won’t be easy now to suddenly convince Obama that he’s turned a new leaf. This is, after all, a president who has been heading in the opposite direction of late, earning accolades for his progressive talk on climate action.

By contrast, Harper’s egregious environmental record has spurred criticism from all corners – even two former Conservative fisheries ministers – leading to a series of “Stand Up for Science” rallies across the country on September 16.

If Keystone fails, it will be partly because the prime minister’s war on science and the environment finally caught up with him.