How will the people of BC respond to Harper making a mockery of democracy?

Last week saw the Harper Conservative government ram its sprawling omnibus Bill C-38 through Parliament. This mega bill, checking in at well over 400 pages in length, was ostensibly the budget implementation bill. In reality, it went way beyond budget matters.

Despite its bland, innocuous name – the “Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act” – this Bill represents a grave threat on many levels, a manifestation of Stephen Harper’s ambitious, wide-ranging agenda.

The implications for British Columbia are enormous, especially when it comes to the myriad ways the bill slashes provisions designed to safeguard the environment. For instance, the bill guts the environmental review aprocess, which means less scrutiny and faster approval for industrial mega-projects. C-38 also makes significant and harmful changes to the Fisheries Act; UBC zoology professor Eric Taylor says, “It’s going to remove freshwater protection for most fishes in Canada.”

So it’s no surprise that BC MP Elizabeth May, the Green Party leader who represents the riding of Saanich-Gulf Islands, put up a fierce fight within Parliament against this destructive bill. Ms. May presented a list of hundreds of amendments to the bill, forcing an around-the-clock ‘vote-a-thon’ last week, with Members of Parliament staying up through the night to be counted in standing votes on all of Bill C-38’s many provisions.

Within the House of Commons, then, the opposition was able to provide some mildly satisfying political theatre, highlighting both the tragedy and the farce that Bill C-38 represents.

When the marathon voting session ended, the NDP Official Opposition caucus broke out into chants of “2015! 2015! 2015!” – a reference to the likely date of a next general election. Their message: Harper can bully his bill and his agenda through now, but the people of Canada will eventually punish him at the ballot box.

Thoughts of ousting Harper in 2015 are well and good, but not nearly sufficient at this perilous moment for democracy and social justice in Canada. Given Bill C-38 and the events of the past few months – think about the “robocalls” scandal and the F-35 cost fiasco, for starters – nothing less than a mass movement in the streets will suffice to push back and change the correlation of forces in political life in this country.

British Columbia will have a key role in the fightback against the Harper government, and not just because it looks very likely that in the next year an NDP government will take over provincially from Christy Clark’s moribund and discredited BC Liberals.

More crucially, BC is literally the frontline against Harper’s priority plans to massively expand tar sands exports via pipelines across the province. The feds made no secret that a lot of the measures contained in Bill C-38 rolling back environmental protections were designed to ease the way for the Enbridge Northern Gateway and Kinder Morgan pipeline projects.

Last Friday, I joined colleague David P. Ball to interview the President of the BC Union of Indian Chiefs, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, on Vancouver Co-op Radio. He made it clear that among other things, Bill C-38 was also an attack against Indigenous peoples whose land these pipelines plan to cross:

“Considering the lack of benefits, and the tremendous risk attached to these projects with respect to oil spills, tanker spills along the coast, the Taseko mine [the proposed New Prosperity Mine near Williams Lake, in Tsilhqot’in territory] poisoning the river systems … many of these projects, if not all of them, jeopardize the wild salmon industry in British Columbia. British Columbians need to take a very hard look at what Bill C-38 represents, and to take a very public stand to continue expressing their vehement opposition to this type of legislative agenda.”

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip concluded:
“Now, more than ever, we need to rise up and come together to defend the legacy that we will leave our children and grandchildren. The challenge has been brought down by the Harper government, and we need to respond.”

Those of us in BC have to rise up to meet this challenge. If we can get our act together, Harper’s Bill C-38 and his corporate agenda, in the long-run, will be no match for a united and powerful people’s movement.

The poet Shelley wrote, “O, wind, if winter comes, can spring be far behind?”

A Canadian Spring is long overdue, and it’s up to us to make the political seasons change.

Is Bill C-38 a budget bill?

  • Gives $8 million to the Canada Revenue Agency to audit charities, ensuring that they spend no more than 10% of their budget on political advocacy.
  • Reduces federal government’s role in environmental protection and gives Cabinet ultimate decision-making in cases that it does oversee.
  • Eliminates protections for fish habitats that don’t directly benefit humans, including streams in the way of the Northern Gateway pipeline.
  • Increases age at which Canadians can collect Old Age Security from 65 to 67.
  • Prevents recipients of employment insurance benefits from turning down a job, even if it involves conditions that would not be expected of a good employer.
  • Repeals legislation requiring federal government contractors to pay fair wages and overtime.
  • Allows U.S. law enforcement to arrest Canadians on Canadian soil
  • Eliminates office charged with monitoring CSIS’s compliance with its own policies.
  • Eliminates backlog of 280,000 immigration applications under skilled-worker program.