Monday, December 10, 2012

Should Stephen Harper's honorary chieftainship be revoked?

Today, I was asked to speak at a rally at Red Crow Park in Standoff, Alberta. I brought greetings and a message from MP Jean Crowder, the NDP Critic for Aboriginal Affairs and ended with a suggestion to the Kainai Chiefs. 

From: Jean Crowder, Member of Parliament for Nanaimo-Cowichan and federal NDP Aboriginal Affairs critic.
Dear Members of the Kainai First Nation,
Greetings to your Elders, your Chief and Council and all of you gathered today. I am sorry I cannot be with you.
I have heard from many First Nations from right across this country who are dismayed at the changes announced in Bill C-45, the Budget Implementation Act.
For many First Nations who depend on the land, it is the changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act that worry them the most.
Without that protection, plan to build dams, dredge waterways or build a dock do not automatically trigger a review on how it will affect the navigability of a lake or a river. Over time, that automatic trigger also provided environmental protection.
Now this Conservative government has decided that protection is only important for a handful of lakes and rivers – most of them in federal ridings held by Conservative MPs.
For a First Nation like yours, whose reserve is bounded by three rivers, it will mean more work to ensure that decisions made by the province or other private companies do not adversely affect your people or your territory.
Already First Nations like the Athabasca Chipewyan near the tar sands know how industrial development can affect downstream water quality. They have reported fish with strange growths on them and caribou meat that smells like oil.
There were other changes in Bill C-45 that affect First Nations directly – a change in the double majority needed to make a land designation on reserve. Previously, a majority of members on the reserve had to vote and a majority of the people voting had to vote in favour of a land designation for it to go through. The government has changed that to a simple majority under this legislation. 
There can be no doubt that this change fundamentally affects the inherent rights of First Nations. So there should have been a formal consultation process before this legislation was introduced to ensure free, prior and informed consent. Sadly, there was no opportunity for First Nations to speak to this legislation.
On behalf of my Leader, Tom Mulcair, and the entire federal New Democrat caucus, I hope that this is a good day, that the other speakers share their good words with you today and that those words are heard by the government in Ottawa.

From: Jean Crowder, Member of Parliament for Nanaimo-Cowichan and federal NDP Aboriginal Affairs critic.   Nitsiniiyi’taki, thank-you. [nehd-seh-nee-yeh'dahgi ]

I might add my own thoughts: 
In June of 2008 Stephen Harper apologized.  In part, here is what he said, “on behalf of the government of Canada and all Canadians, I stand before you, in this chamber so central to our life as a country, to apologize to aboriginal peoples for Canada's role in the Indian residential schools system.”
And in the summer of 2011, on this very site, Harper was named an honorary Chief of the Kainais with the title of Chief Speaker. 
Last April, Richard Wagamese from BC said: “[Mr. Harper], You said ‘sorry’ and you were not. In aboriginal context, an apology means that you recognize the flaw within yourself that made the offence possible and you offer reconciliation based on understanding the nature of that flaw. That reconciliation takes the form of living and behaving in the opposite manner. You have not done this. In fact, you have continued in the same vein that made the original apology necessary.”
Mr. Wagamese could add C-45 and a long list of other bills in the House and the Senate that attack a very way of life of the Kainai Nation.  Consider this: A week ago, Canada had 2.5 million protected rivers and lakes; today we have 82 protected rivers and lakes.
It is probably without precedent, but it might be time to consider revoking the honorary title Mr. Harper received here in 2011. 
At the very least, through democratic processes, let’s all work to revoke the title Prime Minister from this man and this party. 

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Federal funding cuts undermining Arctic research

A version of this appeared in the Letters to the Editor section of The Lethbridge Herald, SUNDAY, 02 SEPTEMBER 2012 

I must confess I have mixed feelings about the well-publicized Canadian project to try to find the lost Franklin expedition ships (Herald, Aug. 23).
On the one hand, there's the adventure of solving a 150-year-old mystery with the added benefit of affirming Canada's Arctic sovereignty claim, but the money spent stands in stark contrast to Harper's cuts to funding for Arctic research.
At the head of the list is the elimination of funding for PEARL (the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory) located on Ellesmere Island. PEARL made key measurements in the winter of 2010-2011 that were used to detect and analyze the largest ozone hole ever detected over the Arctic. PEARL ceased year-round operations on April 30, 2012 and its equipment was removed. The building will remain available only for intermittent, short-term projects. Also lost is funding for a research station in the Yukon near Kluane National Park.
Research is urgently needed on Arctic climate, ecology, permafrost, etc. And, although Harper announced a new Canadian High Arctic Research Station (CHARS) during his trip, the facility won't open until 2017 and it's 1,300 kilometres to the South of PEARL, so it won't be suitable to take over PEARL's atmospheric research. Meantime the scientists doing this type of research are under-funded or not funded at all. As one scientist (John England, a geoscientist at the University of Alberta) put it, "Who's going to go up to CHARS eight years from now if you undermine the current population of Arctic researchers?"
As Michael Healey, from UBC, said in a letter to the Globe and Mail (Aug. 28), "Canada needs a vigorous Arctic research program, but it's hard not to see the current initiative, from a government that has done more than any other to emasculate Canada's research capability, as a cynical ploy for a couple of prime ministerial photo-ops."
Each summer Harper makes a big deal of his trip to the Arctic. He makes many promises, but, as they say around here, he's all hat and no cattle (Article about Harper's broken promises in The National Post.

Mark Sandilands

Sunday, May 27, 2012

NDP leader not advocating shutting down oilsands

A version of this letter appeared today (Sunday, May 27, 2012) in the Lethbridge Herald finally.  I submitted it on May 18th.

Editor: Re: "NDP Leader continues to bash oilsands" (Herald, May 17, p. A1). Thomas Mulcair is definitely NOT advocating shutting down the oil sands, only developing them in a slower, more intelligent, and more environmentally responsible fashion, similar to Peter Lougheed and the Mayor of Ft. MacMurray.

We're all becoming familiar with the term "Dutch Disease"--when the manufacturing exports of a country decline because the international value of a country's currency has skyrocketed due to raw resource exports. It happened in the Netherlands in the 1970s due to their massive exports of natural gas. Mulcair says Dutch Disease is happening in Canada right now because of resource exports by mainly Alberta and Saskatchewan. Attacks have come from the premiers of BC, Alberta, and Saskatchewan.

But let's step back a moment and examine the situation. There have been 500,000 job losses. A report by the Institute for Research on Public Policy (IRPP) says, in an unfortunate choice of words, "“On balance, the evidence indicates that Canada suffers from a mild case of the Dutch disease." They go on to say that about 25% of the job losses are due to the high value of the loonie. I say unfortunate choice of words because 25% of 500,000 is 125,000 jobs. That's approximately the working population of Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, and Red Deer combined! This is mild?

You'd think a government, noticing large job losses, due in part to its policies, would consider what they could change. Indeed, the IRPP suggests in the same report some things the federal government should do: They should put tax revenues into infrastructure projects that improve the competitiveness of manufacturers. The IRPP also suggests that the resource-rich provinces could also help “neutralize” the upward pressure on the loonie by investing resource revenues offshore through sovereign wealth funds. One thing about the rising loonie that is being ignored is that, for every $.01 the dollar rises, the Alberta treasury looses $247,000,000 ((  See page 62.  If the dollar were at 81 cents instead of at par, the Alberta treasury would be ahead by about $4.5 billion per year.). This is because oil is sold in American dollars. So it's to Alberta's advantage to take prudent steps to keep the loonie closer to its real value. According to the OECD, the current “fair value” for the Canadian dollar (based on purchasing power parity analysis) is about 81 cents US.

So, rather than ganging up on Tom Mulcair, Harper and company might consider a national industrial strategy that does not penalize one region of the country at the expense of others.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

In his Globe and Mail column of Wednesday, April 18, 2012 (What if the U.S. becomes an oil exporter?), Jeffrey Simpson points out that, with abundant natural gas, the Bakken field, and better fuel efficiency, the USA may, by 2030, not want Canadian (Alberta) oil. (Further, the world may wake up and decide that fossil hydrocarbons are better used to manufacture things than burn for energy.) Then what of Harper's and others hell-bent drive to develop the oil sands? Better to follow the Alberta NDP's plan to process the bitumen here.  Further, we should also export the resulting synthetic crude to Eastern Canada. Finally, we need to develop Alberta's abundant renewable energy--sun, wind, biomass, geothermal. See this link.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Post-secondary funding not keeping up with the times


Re “Weadick defends post-secondary funding” (2012-Apr-6) .  Lethbridge West NDP Candidate Shannon Phillips has pointed out several times that, because government support to the colleges and universities has not kept up with inflation, there have been, in effect, cuts.  In responding, Mr. Weadick asserted “There has never been even one year of cutback in funding to the postsecondaries.”  If the size of your grant each year doesn’t keep up with inflation, and you can purchase less and less, this is, in effect a cutback.  To quote from the Report of the [U of L] Budget Committee (March 2012,,  “[It] is important to note that [2% operating grant increases for each year] will not fully offset the cost of expenditure increases for these years and thus we will still be experiencing reductions."

Colleges and universities have fixed costs: their electricity and heating bills for example have gone up faster than inflation, as have everyone else’s.  Furthermore the rate of inflation in the PSE sector is higher than the consumer price index (CPI). Equipment and supplies for labs, books for the Library, for just two examples increase in price far faster than general inflation. The U of L’s labs are using some of the original equipment acquired when the University moved its science departments to the present campus in 1972--they can’t afford newer.  High school students coming to the University are taught using equipment that’s older than the equipment they used in grade 12.

Having been a faculty member at the U of L for over 30 years, including stints as President of the University of Lethbridge Faculty Association and President of the Confederation of Alberta Faculty Associations, I have to say that grants by the Alberta government to the PSE sector actually have seldom kept up with inflation. 

When Greg Weadick was a university student, he could work at a minimum wage job from about May 1 to mid- or late June and earn enough to pay for one year of university tuition.  Now, to earn enough to pay today’s higher tuitions you have to work from May 1 to the end of August or later.  Squeezing students and burdening them with huge debts is bad economics: those with large debts are less likely to buy houses or start families, but Albertans have grown too used to the bad economics of Tory governments.

Mark Sandilands
Professor Emeritus

This letter appeared in the Lethbridge Herald 2012-04-14

Monday, February 20, 2012

Logging in the Castle Crown Wilderness

I've campaigned against logging in the Castle for several years now.  The case seems obvious, but, recently a column appeared in the local paper making a compelling case.  With the author's permission, I reproduce it here:

Chaos courts the Castle
David McIntyre, Crowsnest Pass
Society was recently stunned when told the Castle River valley would be logged because of the Alberta government’s need to, “… balance environment and economic development.”
The statement defies logic. Why? There is no balance because logging in southwestern Alberta produces no economic benefit to society as a whole. What appears obvious is that it costs the government more to manage these cold, high elevation forests for timber production than the resultant timber is worth.
In other words, managing this treasured headwaters landscape to generate timber revenue results in a net economic loss. Having the government report that this logging strikes a “balance” makes it sound as if a thoughtful review had led to a logical conclusion. But there is no logic. Instead, the government chose to embrace welfare logging over economic and environmental options and, as a result, authored a course of action that’s guaranteed to cost taxpayers dearly.
Phrased another way, the government’s decision implies that nothing—absolutely nothing—is so rare, or valuable, that it won’t be sacrificed in order to support commercial clear-cut logging of the forest … even if society forfeits buckets of cash in the process, even if the logging kills endangered species and degrades essential watershed values.
But don’t worry. Everything’s fine. All the paperwork’s in order. And it shows that the government didn’t find a single grizzly den in the area. And why not? It didn’t have time to look; it was too busy approving logging permits.
Why does the government choose to act in a direct affront to science, economics and overwhelming public sentiment? Why does the government wish to flaunt its ability to degrade, needlessly, an iconic, world-class landscape, even if nothing is to be gained, even if the degradation enrages the populace?
Here in Alberta, purported economics tend to trump the environment in every case. But in the case of the Castle, the economic argument supports a no-logging decision. What the government touts as a “balance” of environment and economics is, in reality, the blatant disregard of each of these values, followed by the illogical, incongruous rationalization of an inexplicable and ill-founded outcome: clear-cut logging of a revered, internationally marketed Crown of the Continent landscape.
The Castle’s billion-dollar landscape constitutes a strikingly unusual, viable, high-end ecotourism and geotourism product, a product that Travel Alberta is marketing around the world with a multimillion-dollar promotional campaign. This is vintage Alberta, and the marketed product relies on an intact landscape with aesthetic and ecological appeal. The Castle, as it exists today, is the foundation for a catch-and-release form of self-sustaining tourism.
Recent promotional efforts by Travel Alberta, coupled with cries of concern from troubled geotourism operators, have profiled the need for sustainable tourism, a product that’s currently in a state of perpetual degradation. The Castle’s dramatic Crown of the Continent landscape is showcased by Travel Alberta, and its managing director, speaking of the promotional images, says they are “powerful expressions” of what makes Alberta attractive to visitors. “We needed to peel back the layers and capture the authenticity of Alberta.”
Logging the Castle’s headwaters kills the land’s intrinsic, geotourism worth. Clear-cut logging of a revered heritage landscape is not an authentic and powerful marketing tool. It’s a lethal stab into the heart of the international tourist. It’s the death knell for tourism dollars. It’s AB-SRD.
Sustainable Resource Development and, apparently, the entire Alberta government, have lost touch with society’s pulse and its wishes. The government no longer hears the voice, nor the pleas, of the people.
How ironic that the government, with a cheering populace lauding it, could save the Castle in a heartbeat, but appears committed to throw away this vote-winning outcome in favor of degrading the province and kicking society in the teeth. Why? (This is the question that leaves people shaking their heads.)
Lorne Fitch has also had published compelling analyses of why it's very bad to log the Castle Wilderness:
Honk for Water, Wilderness and Reason
. . . 
This protest has been building; several things help frame the actions of people on the picket line and elsewhere in Alberta. Among the things that puzzle people is the blatant disregard for existing policy, planning and process. In addition, neither the science, economics or public opinion support industrial scale, clearcut logging.
The overarching intent for the Castle is entrenched in Eastern Slopes Policy. Not surprisingly, to the many downstream communities dependant on water, the prime directive is watershed protection. Alberta Environment has questioned whether AFS has the necessary data, requisite skills and confidence in water quantity modeling to ensure logging doesn’t impact water supply. AFS response is along the lines of “don’t worry”. Many do worry since there is no evidence from any actual monitoring to substantiate this claim.    [Go to Lorne's full column for more: )

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Plebiscite fair way to settle CWB issue

Note: This letter was published in the November 29th edition of the Lethbridge Herald.  The Herald did not publish the letter in its online edition for reasons of their own.


In his letter about the CWB of, November 20, Jim Hillyer is technically correct that Parliament has the right to overturn legislation put in place by previous governments.

However, governments also have an obligation to seriously consider the effects of overturning previous legislation and of introducing new legislation. This is why there are debates in the Parliament and, usually, extensive committee hearings. But the Conservatives are using closure to shut down debate and to limit severely the time available for the agricultural committee to hear witnesses. Furthermore, the legislation they're introducing is coming at a time when farmers are busy harvesting crops. The Canadian Wheat Board Act required a plebiscite to determine if the majority of wheat farmers agree with the move. Yes, it is technically legitimate to rescind this old legislation, but it definitely violates the spirit of the old law and, more importantly, the spirit of fairness. Why not hold hearings throughout the prairies? Independent experts (e.g., agricultural economist Murray Fulton) have stated that the CWB cannot survive without its single desk (See The Canadian Wheat Board in an Open Market: The Impact of Removing the Single-Desk Selling Powers ). Why not ask the farmers and see if they agree with Fulton or with Harper?

It's hard to argue against the phrases, "Marketing Freedom" and "Freedom of Choice." But if a group, very likely a majority group, chooses one approach to marketing, a change to that approach should, at the very least, include consulting with that group, particularly if it's a major and irreversible change.

A group of farmers have, in the past 12 years, chosen repeatedly to keep the CWB in its present form by repeatedly electing farmer directors of the Board who support the CWB's monopoly. Indeed, some directors who were elected on a dual desk platform, when they learned about the advantages brought about by the single desk, changed their mind.

Recently the Globe published an obituary for Ken Ritter, former chair of the CWB. Mr. Ritter, a Conservative, was one of the ones who changed his mind from supporting dual desk to the single desk.

Mr. Hillyer mentions a small group of farmers, but it's a small group that are the ones who want to dispose of the CWB in its current form and who are in the minority. No one can know for sure, unless there's a fair plebiscite of those affected. Why are you and your party so afraid of doing this, Mr. Hillyer?  

Mark Sandilands