27 Oct 2015 10:13 AM PDT
On October 19, we Canadians went to the polls, in large numbers, to vote in the federal election. Prime Minister Stephen Harper, after holding that position for nine years, went down to a stunning defeat. Justin Trudeau and his Liberal Party won a majority of the seats in parliament, giving them power that may help to partly undo the truly horrific environmental record of the Conservative Party. To what degree they do so, the future will determine.
But, things could not be much worse for the environment and wildlife than they were under the steadily more authoritarian Harper regime. He did not want to be factually informed and, in 2008, eliminated the Office of the National Science Advisor. In 2010, Harper prevented scientists from talking directly to the media, or to people like me, who seek information in order to help us protect wildlife. (The “war on science” waged by Harper is far too long to list here.)
Friends of long standing who were on the federal payroll were suddenly afraid to talk to me about work they were doing with funding from my taxes! The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) scientists were not allowed to publish research without screening it to assure it did not counter government policy. Unbelievably, in 2010, geologist Scott Dallimore was not allowed to talk to media about a paper he published in Nature about a flood that had occurred 13,000 years ago. I never even got a response from a scientist about what species co-existed with a long-extinct, ice age camel!
The 25-year existence of the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy, critical of Harper’s policies, was axed in 2013. In 2014, seven (of nine) research libraries of the DFO, many containing unique, century-old baseline data of previous fish population sizes, were closed, and irreplaceable documents were trashed or burned. Yes, book-burning in 21st century Canada… with scientists blindsided.
And, the following January, Environment Canada tried to stop an investigation into whether tailing ponds in oil-rich Alberta were contaminating fish habitat, contrary to the Federal Fisheries Act. Fishery scientists whose findings indicated certain environmental problems were continually thwarted, often not allowed to speak about their own findings, with Harper’s government media even keeping close to Environment Canada scientists at the International Polar Year Conference in 2012, lest they say the wrong thing. Work was impeded that indicated infectious salmon anemia and parasites could spread from “farmed” salmon to wild stocks, researchers muzzled. DFO scientists working on a shared Canadian-U.S. Arctic research endeavor had to promise confidentiality.
But, worse things happened, including Canada being the first nation to leave the Kyoto Protocols and its greenhouse gas emission targets. And, in 2012, Canada repealed key parts of the Fisheries Act, leaving previously protected fish habitat vulnerable to destruction by oil and other economic interests. Harper greatly weakened both the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and the once-effective Species at Risk Act (the Canadian equivalent of the U.S. Endangered Species Act). The Harper government was particularly opposed to legislation requiring public consultation and independent assessment of any project that might benefit short-term economic interest at the expense of wildlife and the environment.
By 2012, emboldened, Harper slashed some $222.2 million out of the Environment Canada budget, cutting 1,211 jobs—thus weakening many prior endeavors to protect the environment. For me, a dangerously low blow came early in 2012, when Public Safety Canada said that environmentalists were identified as “issue-based domestic terrorists” in its counter-terrorism strategy, as Harper sought to conflate many existing crimes as “terrorism” while also seeking harsher penalties for conviction. We seemed to be heading toward an authoritarian state with divisive and mean-spirited decisions coming out of Ottawa almost daily.
I could go on and on, but the bottom line is that Harper is now gone. As a peculiarity of our parliamentary system, his party never did win the majority of votes from Canadians; Canada never did fully share his values; and, finally, after a campaign long enough to allow even naïve Harper supporters to understand what was happening, it was all over.
It is not that I have great expectations of Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party—but, the bar is low. I have little doubt that we will be able to again communicate with government employees, partake in communicating our views, perhaps undo some of the damage Harper did, and provide fact-based information without being labeled enemies of the state. It is a new chance for Canada, for the Canadian environment, and for Canadian wildlife… and we intend to make the most of it!