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Heat Wave: Environmental censorship concerns rise as vote day approaches

Credit: CANDIS BROSS


Emily Stewart | Interrobang | Lifestyles | October 12th, 2015



Election day is getting closer and many people are wondering how they should cast their ballot. Often, it’s just a matter of deciding which issues are important to a voter. One of the major issues people will think about during and after this election season is the environment.

A London Environment Network survey pointed to Vote Compass, the online voter engagement survey for the CBC, which revealed the environment is the second most important issue to Canadians.

The survey, which included 10 questions about the environment, was sent to all MP candidates running in four London area ridings: London North Centre, London West, London Fanshawe and Elgin- Middlesex-London.

The results revealed that while all four Conservative candidates were asked to fill out the survey, none of them answered. In contrast, all Liberal and NDP candidates replied, while two of the three Green party candidates responded.

Since the environment is such an important issue to Canadian voters, why aren’t some candidates responding to a survey about it?

Matt Farrell, a politics professor in the School of Language and Liberal Studies at Fanshawe College, explained it is part of revealed preferences for any government.

“They might say something is a priority, but when you look at the things people actually do, that’s what their priorities are,” he said.

CAMPAIGN PROMISES

Farrell added that, for example, the Liberals and the NDP say the environment is a top priority, and they try to depict Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservative government as one who doesn’t care about it.

“For the Prime Minister, he just says that everything, whether it’s the environment and what have you, falls under the umbrella of economic development.”

In the Environment and the Economy, a class he teaches at Fanshawe, Farrell emphasizes that actions benefitting the economy don’t usually help the environment and vice versa. He said while the Harper government “gives lip service to the environment”, most of their promises focus on economic development.

Looking over all of the campaign promises from the top four parties, most of Harper’s pledges support the economy, including pledges for $20 million in the lobster industry, and 1.3 million net new jobs by 2020. However, he had one sustainable promise to put $5 million a year for habitat sustainability that would protect turkey, moose and bird populations.

With that said other parties also focus on the economy. NDP leader Tom Mulcair promised $10 million dollars to help the forestry industry grow by promoting Canadian wood products overseas.

On the other hand, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau has a mix of both environmental and economic pledges, including bringing in cleaner forestry, fishery, farming, energy and mining technologies, and a $500 million skilled trade boost across Canada.

Although Green Party leader Elizabeth May has not made as many promises in comparison to the other three front running parties, she vowed to legislate a ban for super tankers on the coast of British Columbia, and freeze drilling gas and oil in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Farrell said only time will tell if these leaders will actually act on their promises. He explained Canada has a reputation for advocating for the environment, such as signing the Kyoto Protocol, and working with other governments around the world to combat climate change, but that hasn’t been seen in a decade, despite it being a priority for Canadians.

“I don’t think you’re going to see very many parties do that,” Farrell said. “For them, the environment is almost a secondary or tertiary issue. They want to focus on the economy because they think that’s what voters are mainly motivated by.”

However, Farrell said the Green Party strongly advocates for the environment, which is at the core of their platform. “They criticize all parties [for] not putting the environment at the forefront of their decision making,” he explained. “The Green Party candidates are very good at spinning everything back to the environment.”

PUTTING LIMITS ON GLOBAL WARMING RESEARCH

Climate change and global warming is of an utmost concern, as seen through scientific research. However, some researchers and scientists feel like they are being muzzled by the government on the topic.

Tree Alerts, a communications hub about climate change, said that Mike De Souza, a journalist, wrote in an email to Environment Canada that weather forecasters are prohibited from discussing climate change in public and are banned from connecting extreme weather events to global warming.

A report from 630 CHED said that when the Conservatives were first elected in 2006, a new policy was created to forbid scientists from talking to the media without government permission.

Farrell explained, “The government wants its policies and priorities to be reflected in what the government does. That can be a problem sometimes because you have scientists that work for the government, and sometimes the things that they find don’t always align with what the government wants them to say.”

Farrell said that that could be seen with closed down libraries, including the ones run by the Department of Oceans and Fisheries.

“There’s an experimental lake area that was also shut down, and these are great sources of research for scientists,” he said. “Research scientists who work for the government, work for the ministry, they are always accessing this material.”

He added even the general population are disadvantaged because everyday people don’t have access to these libraries.

“When the government runs its efficiency analytics, it sees that we’ve got these multiple libraries, which are very expensive to maintain, which are only being used maybe by five people a year. What they don’t see is the thousands of scientists who use them every day electronically.”

Hilary Beaumont, a writer for Vice News noted environmental rights groups are more quiet than usual during this election campaign. She explained, “Canadian charities can spend up to 10 per cent of their time on political activities, but they must be non-partisan. Running afoul of these rules could lead them to lose their charitable status.”

Beaumont added the only one speaking their mind is renowned environmental activist David Suzuki. Looking at his recent tweets and blog posts on the David Suzuki Foundation website, Suzuki is raising his voice on environmental issues as always.

On his website, he spoke out about the already present effects of greenhouse gases, tying it to the upcoming UN Climate Summit in December.

“The consequences are already severe and will get worse if we don’t act. Increasing extreme weather, including heat waves, floods, droughts and storms put lives, agriculture and economies at risk,” Suzuki said.

Suzuki added the resource conflicts decrease global security and stem problems for refugees and cause respiratory illnesses, such as asthma and heart disease because of pollution. The environmental activist later called for an alternative, sustainable vision for the economy.

“A better economic vision would support the right of all Canadians to live in a healthy environment, with access to clean water and air and healthy food,” Suzuki said.

“The alternative economy would connect people to family, friends and communities, focus on social capital investments over gross domestic product gains and distribute wealth through taxes, social programs and minimum guaranteed incomes.”

However, Farrell said speaking out on climate change is rare for anyone who works in the public service industry, such as scientists, because the government has ordered them to stay unbiased.

“They don’t want them to take political stances, they want them to stay neutral, and that has caused a lot of political problems, because they are people too, with political beliefs. They want to post on their Facebook page, they want to make public statements, and the government is asking that they don’t do that.”
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