Georgia Strait Alliance is the only citizens' group focused on protecting the marine environment in and around the whole Strait of Georgia – Canada's most at-risk natural environment, and the place where 70% of British Columbians live, work and play. We are committed to a future for our region that includes clean water and air, healthy wild salmon runs, rich marine life and natural areas, and sustainable communities.

December 19, 2012

The year of the radical

If at the beginning of 2012 you had asked me to list a few words to describe myself, I might have chosen words like “wife”, “aunt”, “godmother”, “environmental advocate”, “news junkie” and “theatre lover”, to name a few.  But I can tell you that nowhere on this list would you ever have seen this one word – “radical”.

But come the end of January that was the word being attached to my work as an environmental advocate, and to all those who work tirelessly to ensure that protection of our air and water isn’t an afterthought, but is a foundation of our social and economic health.  We were also being called “enemies of the state” for our views, another descriptor you would not have found on my list.

As I look back on this year and see the devastation left behind by a federal government that sees the environment – and its protection – as an impediment to an economy they believe should be solely built on resource extraction, I’m left wondering – who exactly are the radicals here?

Canadians have consistently indicated that they place a high priority on the protection of our environment.  From a commitment to parks to tackling climate change, Canadians value a healthy environment and see it as fundamental to our identity.  Most recently, an Ipsos Reid poll found that over 4 in 5 Canadians (85%) say federal laws protecting species at risk are crucial to the diversity and abundance of wildlife.

Yet today, environmental assessment has been weakened and our oceans and rivers – and all the creatures that call them home – have less protection than ever before.  And we all know the carnage isn’t over.  It seems that our government is out of sync with Canadians and it is they who are acting in a radical way.

Now, the de-regulation of environmental protection in Canada is frightening enough, but that those who would disagree with government policy become the target of inflammatory attacks from a democratically elected government should all give us pause.  The government's decision to provide Canada Revenue Agency with additional funding to audit charities at a time when cuts to scientific research and environmental monitoring have been slashed underscores this strange reality we live in.  The current environment is so concerning that Pen Canada, an organization who works with others to defend freedom of expression as a basic human right, at home and abroad, has voiced its concerns.  This is an organization that is often flagging human rights violations in countries with few democratic rights, which says a lot about what they see happening in Canada.

Through all this, what I have found even more mind-boggling is the accusation that environmental groups have a secret agenda.  That sounds scary until you realize that our agenda is quite transparent, it’s just that it is beyond the understanding of our government and its supporters.  What we want is to build a different world than the one the oil and gas industry has decided we should live in.  We care about our communities and strongly believe we can have strong environmental health and a strong economy – we just have to start doing things differently.

This has been a year like no other in my time at Georgia Strait Alliance, but I’m actually feeling quite hopeful because I see a lot of good has come out of this “annus horribilis”.  What heartens me most is that these attacks have resulted in a more galvanized and cohesive social justice community.  Charities of all types have come out in support of environmental groups and voiced loudly their concern about a government that believes disagreement should be quashed.  In effect, the results have been not a quieting of opposition but a more thoughtful and emboldened movement because when you are being attacked for your right to speak out, this is not time to be silent.  And I can assure you as we go into 2013, we will not be.

Thanks to all of you who have supported Georgia Strait Alliance and other environmental groups during this past year.  We are your voice in these terrible times and by making a charitable donation, you allow our voice to be stronger – as we will need to be in the year ahead.  

December 13, 2012

Pipelines and Public Relations

"Information Session". Now isn't that a friendly, non threatening term. And indeed that's exactly what the Kinder Morgan Information sessions on their proposed new pipeline to bring Alberta Tar Sands crude to the coast to load onto tankers were for the most part.  These are almost over, with just one left in this region on Salt Spring Island in January.

 I attended the one in Nanaimo and saw nothing but overt good cheer and intentions from the full spectrum of opinions that we all know this project has. Apparently there were some minor kefuffles in Hope and Victoria but not having been there I can't give a perspective. Kinder Morgan seems to know they cannot just ram this project through as perhaps once was the case and have developed a strategy that is all about public relations at this stage.

When I got there quite a few people had already gathered awaiting entry. When the doors opened I was one of the first in and was asked if I wanted to sign in. I presented my card and asked if I could speak to the main PR person expecting someone from Vancouver or Calgary. I was surprised to find they actually have someone based in Victoria. This means they are taking this PR stuff very seriously.

Lots of opposition at the Nanimo info session
Looking around the room the essence of slick PR professionalism was everywhere. From the many members of the young fresh faced PR team to the few experienced company, port and response representatives. The comprehensive, very professional looking information signage covering almost every conceivable aspect of the project including the inevitable environmental and socioeconomic concerns of course and the general layout of the room which allowed for the one-on-one discussion method to be most effective.Having been a somewhat serious student of the martial arts for almost 30 years I recognize this strategy of drawing your opponent in.

However a large number of the folks who were there seemed to be highly informed about the project already and were not letting themselves be drawn in. In fact many stayed outside the room singing songs and handing out  information from a different perspective. There were all sorts of signs in opposition and many blue drops (a sign of solidarity for clean water).

I let myself be drawn in order to tell the main PR guy very clearly and firmly that Georgia Strait Alliance does not support this project or any that would increase the risk of a major spill in our sensitive waters or significantly contribute to climate change. The environmental, social and economic consequences are just not worth any risk! Prepared to extract myself from a conversation geared to convince me to the merits of the project if necessary, I was pleased but not overly surprised to be told that he would not try to dissuade us from our position (another tactic I'm familiar with).

What I was surprised at however was a cheerful, though perhaps unintended, admission that there was really no point in me trying to convince him of our position either. I understand some of these folks are not just about growth or short term gain and they actually believe this is a good project, but I guess I'd call that a a bit of a PR disaster.
I thought they wanted to hear from us. Well maybe they do but they certainly didn't seem to want to actually listen.

In martial arts, a strategy following the drawing in, is a reversal of your opponent's energy to use it against them. I'm curious if Kinder Morgan will try this next? And will it work if they cannot actually draw people in? Another option of course would be to actually listen to the community concerns, in fact be part of the community - not opponents at all, and be prepared to pull out of the project if it is not supported, rather than forge ahead regardless.