Don’t expect a fox to guard the henhouse

While polls show Canadians are becoming increasingly concerned about climate change, our governments in Ottawa and Victoria are promoting fossils fuels.

Stephen Harper’s recently announced Clear Air initiative is just the latest proof that the Conservative government in Ottawa will continue to promote climate changing oil and gas production over energy conservation and clean renewable technologies. Mr. Harper’s decision to cave in to lobbying from oil companies and use intensity-based targets for carbon emissions illustrates that the priorities of the Conservative’s Albertan supporters are more important that the broader interests of Canadians.

And Mr. Harper’s Conservative government in Ottawa is not the only government attempting to disguise blatant promotion of fossil fuel under a friendly banner.

In late September, a dozen or so representatives from various agencies in Gordon Campbell’s government descended on the communities of Smithers and Telkwa in the Bulkley Valley to promote coalbed methane under the banner its new “Community Engagement” process

Under the friendly-sounding banner of Community Engagement, Mr. Campbell’s government is promoting one of the most environmentally destructive fossil fuels, coalbed methane a form of natural gas trapped in coal seams.  The Community Engagement initiative is anything but. Rather it is a new, better staffed name for business as usual promotion of fossil fuels.

Like George Bush’s “No Child Left Behind, and Clean Air” programs, Mr. Harper’s so-called Clear Air initiative and Mr. Campbell’s Community Engagement are blatant attempts to spin issues by putting a confusing, but friendly face on bad policies.

Why is BC’s Energy Ministry spending so much money and staff time promoting a coalbed methane tenure that at best amounts to 0.15% of the provincial reserves of coalbed methane?

Because every other BC community faced with a coalbed methane proposal has rejected. Communities such Fernie and Princeton and First Nations like the Tahltan in the Sacred Headwaters and the Bonaparte, Xax’lip (Fountain) and Ts’Kw’aylaxw (Pavilion) in Hat Creek have rejected coalbed methane outright. In fact, local opposition to coalbed methane is so strong that in 2003 the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) passed a resolution calling for a province-wide coalbed methane moratorium until stronger regulations were implemented.

Communities and First Nations from across BC are rejecting coalbed methane because weak BC regulation s don’t protect against the damage coalbed methane has caused elsewhere. In Wyoming, Montana, Colorado, New Mexico and Alberta methane gas has seeped into drinking water, toxic waste water has been dumped into lakes and rivers harming fish and wildlife and loud compressor stations reminiscent of a jet engine run 24-hours-a-day near people’s houses.

The attempt to fast track coalbed methane in the Bulkley Valley, and the vast amount of government staff and resources being dumped into promoting coalbed methane in Smithers/Telkwa and elsewhere, demonstrate where the Campbell government’s true priorities lie. Instead of investing in job creating energy conservation or renewable initiatives, like the federal Conservatives, the BC government is promoting fossil fuels.

Examining the history of the “fox guarding the henhouse” proverb provides some insight into our current governments’ attitudes in Ottawa and Victoria.

The proverb has been traced back to the old English book  ‘Contre-League’ (1589) and is similar to the Latin: ‘Ovem lupo commitere’ (‘To set a wolf to guard sheep.’)  Etymologists say the phrase is intended to mean, “Don’t assign a job to someone who will then be in a position to exploit it for his own ends.”

There could be no better description for our current federal and provincial governments; both are beholden to oil and gas money and fossil fuel companies. In Ottawa, because Stephen Harper’s Conservatives are beholden to the remnants of the old reform party and must appease fossil fuel companies and his core supporters to hold onto all the Alberta  ridings and have a chance at a majority government.

And in BC, because Gordon Campbell’s Liberals are using the short-term windfalls from booming fast tracked energy exploration to offset his tax cuts and balance the budget.

Thus the new energy initiatives coming out of Ottawa and Victoria are nothing more than public relations ploys to deceive Canadians that the government is engaged, while the business of subsidizing fossil fuel production like the tar sands and coalbed methane continues.

In order to win majorities both governments need to persuade uninformed average voters that they are doing something.

It is our job, to expose the truth and identify better options

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