Friday, March 7, 2014

9 reasons to reject the NEB decision and continue opposing Line 9

Like the Joint Review Panel’s recent whitewash of the Northern Gateway pipeline, the National Energy Board has rubber stamped Enbridge’s Line 9 pipeline. Here are nine reasons to reject their 158-page decision and continue opposing Line 9.

1. allies of the Harper government
Even before reading the decision we need to consider the source. After Prime Minister Harper scrapped environmental legislation, handing over decision-making on pipelines to the NEB—which it has called an “ally.” As Keith Stewart from Greenpeace said, “Canadians should be concerned when a supposedly arms-length agency that is supposed to regulate the oil industry…is listed as an ‘ally.”

Who are the authors of the report? As Michael Toledano pointed out, “The government bureaucrats who made this decision were Lyne Mercier, a former oil and gas sector manager, Mike Richmond, a corporate energy lawyer, and Jacques Gauthier, a former energy sector CEO who has worked closely with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.”

Ontario’s so-called “social justice” premier Kathleen Wynne has also proved to be an ally of Harper’s environmental destruction. After first promising to address environmental concerns, Wynne refused to conduct an environmental assessment—leaving the decision to the NEB. As NDP MPP Peter Tabuns said, “I’m surprised to hear that this government has so much confidence in the Harper government’s approach to environmental protection.” Recently dozens of Indigenous, community and labour groups wrote an open letter demanding an environmental assessment, as part of a campaign that continues.

2. refused to consider tar sands production
The second page of the NEB decision gives insight into the content of the following 156 pages when it states that “some concerns were raised that are not within the Board’s mandate to regulate, such as oilsands development, energy policy, upstream greenhouse gasses (GHGs) and GHGs related to the end use of crude oil.”

As the decision goes onto explain, “The NEB does not have jurisdiction over energy exploration and production within provincial boundaries, Alberta’s oils sands, for example.” Not only does it refuse to consider the giga-project that Line 9 will be promoting, which has been termed “slow industrial genocide” by Indigenous groups, but it makes the bizarre comment separating the tar sands from Line 9: “the Project and oil sands production, or other Canadian oil production potentially supplying the Project, are sufficiently geographically separated that there is not likely to be any meaningful or measurable interactions between the likely residual environmental effects of the Project and those activities.”

3. Dismissed climate change effects
The NEB refused to consider what goes into Line 9, and what comes out of it—admitting that “The Board did not consider the environmental and socioeconomic effects of downstream consumption (ie end use) of oil transported by Line 9 within the cumulative effects assessment for the Project.”

But the decision goes further, dismissing climate change effects as speculative and hypothetical: “Any examination of potential environmental effects from such speculative impacts on the downstream mix or patterns of energy use in destination markets would be hypothetical and of no meaningful utility to the Board’s ESA or public interest determination. The Board finds that the potential for effects of downstream use of oil to act cumulatively with any potential effects of the Project is too speculative to merit consideration.”

Those who witnessed the floods in Alberta and Toronto, or the typhoon in the Philippines, know that climate change is not “speculative” but real—as are the deaths associated with air pollution. According to the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, “air pollution kills about 20,000 Canadians a year and with tar sands expansion, it will only get worse. If we can about our health we need to leave tar sands oil in the ground.” Otherwise, according to climate scientist James Hansen, “If Canada proceeds, and we do nothing, it will be game over for the climate.”

4. Restricted consultation
After thousands of people intervened in public consultations against the Northern Gateway pipeline, and Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver threw a temper antrum over people “stacking public hearings with bodies,” the NEB restricted democracy—requiring people to submit a 10-page application explaining why they personally are affected and why they should be granted to right to intervene. Those who passed this hurdle and were able to intervene had complaints against Enbridge—including some public consultation that happened after the deadline to intervene.

Enbridge simply rejected these concerns (“these comments are submitted to the Board without proof and should be rejected.”) and NEB agreed: “The Board is comfortable concluding that the design of he consultation program in general was adequate for the nature of the Project.”

5. Denied indigenous sovereignty
The lack of consultation was the most extreme concerning the 18 First Nations whose territories lies within 50km of Line 9. The decision provides sugar-coating, stating, “the Board takes the interests and concerns of Aboriginal groups into consideration before it makes a decision that could have an impact on those interests.” In other words, the NEB usurps all authority to make the decision that will affect Indigenous communities and their territories, and after denying their sovereignty it patronizingly claims it will take their concerns “into consideration.”

The NEB did write down these concerns, including: “Aboriginal Participants in this proceeding were critical of Enbridge’s efforts to engage them concerning the Project and also expressed concerns regarding Crown consultation. Aboriginal Participants argued that because these efforts were insufficient the potential impacts of the Project on Aboriginal interests are not fully understood or addressed… Chief Chris Plain stated that Enbridge’s efforts to engage Aamjiwnaang First Nation about the Project have been insufficient and did not meaningfully address its concerns about potential health impacts and impacts on its Aboriginal and treaty rights…Mohawk Council of Kahnawà:ke asserted that no meaningful engagement or information exchange occurred between MCK and Enbridge during the period reported in Enbridge’s summary. MCK also cautioned the Board not to interpret each meeting or exchange between Enbridge and a First Nation as qualifying as a meaningful engagement…Chippewas of the Thames First Nation submitted in their written evidence that Enbridge’s efforts to engage its members about the Project have not meaningfully addressed their concerns about potential health impacts and impacts on COTTFN’s Aboriginal and treaty rights…Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation stated in their evidence that Enbridge does not actively consult with or address MNCFN concerns regarding the ongoing operation and management of Line 9…Mohawk Council of Kanesatake submitted that Enbridge failed to engage with them meaningfully about Line 9…Grand River Indigenous Solidarity expressed concerns in its written evidence about Enbridge’s consultation activities, stating that Enbridge only notified affected Aboriginal groups of the Project rather than undertaking a process of meaningful consultation…Rising Tide Toronto stated in its oral final argument that Enbridge had not engaged in sufficient consultation processes within indigenous communities and, as a result, Enbridge was not aware of several sacred burial sites, outstanding land claims, and treaty violations.”

But the NEB cynically used these concerns as substitute for informed consent, agreeing with Enbridge that “all Aboriginal groups potentially affected by the Project were provided with sufficient information about the Project…potential affected Aboriginal groups and individuals had an opportunity to make their views known to Enbridge and to the Board.” The NEB then dismissed the content of these concerns, claiming that “any potential Project impacts on the rights and interests of Aboriginal groups are likely to be minimal and will be appropriately mitigated.”

6. Minimized risk of spill
The spill from Enbridge’s Line 6B caused water pollution that continues after a billion dollars in clean up fees. Enbridge not only refused to provide $1 billion in insurance but also stated that “if drinking water is affected Enbridge would provide a safe, temporary supply of drinking water.” What a reassuring thought, to be given a temporary supply of bottled water after Enbridge has ruined the natural water source for us and other living creatures.

For a comprehensive assessment of the risks of Line 9, which synthesizes information from intervenors, read the new report “Not Worth the Risk.”

7. Admitted negligible jobs
There is a common myth that we need tar sands and pipelines to provide jobs, but Enbridge inadvertently debunked that myth: “Enbridge submitted that for the majority of stakeholders, the reversal would have no noticeable impact since it involves reversing the flow on an existing pipeline, and that any impacts arising from construction are expected to be temporary and minor in nature…The project is expected to create a total of 3 permanent positions and may require up to 40 temporary construction workers at each of the existing station the terminal Project sites.” Three permanent jobs per site, at the cost of destroying the planet on which all our jobs depend!

8. Ignored green jobs alternatives
There is growing labour opposition to tar sands pipelines across the country. On the West coast, Unifor and the BC Teacher’s Association have signed the Solidarity Accord in support of First Nations resisting the Northern Gateway pipeline. As Gavin McGarrigle, Unifor Area Director of BC said, “it’s time for a new vision for Canada’s energy industries –one that addresses the reality of aboriginal title and rights, respects our social and environmental commitments, and generates lasting wealth for all who live here.” According to a report by Blue Green Canada, the $1.3 billion of federal subsidies to the oil and gas industry could create 18,000 more jobs in the clean energy sectors.

What alternatives did Enbridge consider in its application? “No other alternatives to the Project were investigated” other that “an assessment of the feasibility of using rail, barge, waterborne tanker, other existing pipelines or trucks, in isolation or in combination, to deliver western Canadian and/or US produced crude oil to Quebec area refineries.”

And you can guess the response of the NEB: “The Board stated that making use of existing underused pipeline capacity, such as the capacity on Line 9, is a sound idea. The Board concludes that the Project represents the most economically feasible alternatives.”

9. Uses conditions to shift the debate
Having monopolized and restricted decision-making, refused to consider tar sands or climate change, denied Indigenous sovereignty, minimized risk of spills and ignored green jobs alternatives, the NEB decision has used conditions to shift the debate from “No Line 9” to “Line 9 if…”. This is designed to undermine the unconditional opposition to Line 9 and to shift the debate onto pipeline technicalities. But the unconditional opposition to Line 9 and the reasons for it—opposition to tar sands and climate change, and support for Indigenous sovereignty and green jobs—will continue.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Obituary: Dr. Romalis, abortion provider

On January 31, Vancouver abortion provider Dr. Garson Romalis passed away at the age of 76, after providing reproductive choice for four decades and surviving two anti-choice attacks. His life is best summarized in his own words, in a 2008 address he gave to mark the 20th anniversary of the Morgentaler decision that struck down legal barriers to abortion in Canada.

Criminalizing abortion kills women
A graduate of UBC medical school, it was his experience at Cook County hospital in Chicago where he witnessed the magnitude of barriers to choice, which disproportionately affected women living in poverty.

“Cook County had about 3,000 beds, and served mainly an indigent population. If you were really sick, or really poor, or both, Cook County was where you went. The first month of my internship was spent on Ward 41, the septic obstetrics ward. Yes, it’s hard to believe now, but in those days, they had one ward dedicated exclusively to septic complications of pregnancy. About 90% of the patients were there with complications of septic abortion. The ward had about 40 beds, in addition to extra beds which lined the halls. Each day we admitted between 10-30 septic abortion patients. We had about one death a month, usually from septic shock associated with hemorrhage. I will never forget the 17-year-old girl lying on a stretcher with 6 feet of small bowel protruding from her vagina… Today, in Canada and the US, septic shock from illegal abortion is virtually never seen. Like smallpox, it is a ‘disappeared disease.’”

Reproductive justice
In 1969 the Canadian government liberalized the abortion law, and Dr. Romalis began providing abortions as part of his practice as an obstetrician and gynecologist in 1972. But the law still maintained strict control of the procedure and denied abortion access to women. It took a mass movement—concentrating opposition to the abortion law based on a broad understanding of reproductive justice—to strike down the law in 1988.

As Carolyn Egan from the Ontario Coalition for Abortion Clinics wrote, “OCAC tried to ensure that the demand for abortion access was never seen in isolation, but as one of a number of interdependent struggles. We tried to make this concrete by challenging the coerced sterilization that Aboriginal women, women with disabilities and Black women were facing. We held joint forums on the issues with women speaking about the injustices that they were experiencing. Healthcare workers told us that therapeutic abortion committees sometimes refused abortions unless a woman agreed to be sterilized. We fought for childcare as a woman’s right and campaigned against extra billing by doctors. OCAC worked with Dr. Henry Morgentaler and in 1983 he opened a clinic challenging the federal criminal code. The clinic became a symbol of women’s resistance to an unjust law. A long campaign against two levels of government and an organized anti-choice movement began.”

Anti-choice backlash
This campaign continued to challenge the anti-choice backlash after the 1988 Supreme Court decision—from the Tories trying to re-criminalize abortion through Parliament, to “Operation rescue” swarming the Morgentaler clinic in Toronto, and anti-choice violence against abortion providers.

Dr. Romalis was shot in 1994 and stabbed in 2000: “I had been a medical doctor for 32 years when I was shot at 7:10am, Nov 8, 1994. For over half my life, I had been providing obstetrical and gynecological care, including abortions. It is still hard for me to understand how someone could think I should be killed for helping women get safe abortions. I had a very severe gun shot wound to my left thigh. My thigh bone was fractured, large blood vessels severed, and a large amount of my thigh muscles destroyed. I almost died several times from blood loss and multiple other complications…These acts of terrorist violence have affected virtually every aspect of me and of my family’s life. Our lives have changed forever. I must live with security measures that I never dreamed about when I was learning how to deliver babies.”

The movement continues
But the anti-choice failed to stop Dr. Romalis and the movement. He continued to provide abortions and to inspire future generations of providers, like Medical Students for Choice: “My life had changed, but my views on choice remained unchanged, and I was continuing to enjoy practicing medicine…I love my work. I get enormous personal and professional satisfaction out of helping people, and that includes providing safe, comfortable, abortions. The people that I work with are extraordinary, and we all feel that we are doing important work, making a real difference in peoples’ lives. I can take an anxious woman, who is in the biggest trouble she has ever experienced in her life, and by performing a five-minute operation, in comfort and dignity, I can give her back her life.”

Dr. Romalis was very courageous and risked his life to provide the life-saving procedure of abortion. Through the process he inspired a new generation of reproductive freedom fighters—who continue to challenge the Tory attacks on choice, and to connect access to abortion with the broader struggle for reproductive justice.

On February 11, join a screening of Young Lakota, about indigenous youth fighting for reproductive justice. 7pm at Innis Town Hall, 2 Sussex ave, Toronto. Screening followed by a speaker from the Native Youth Sexual Health Network (NYSHN). Presented by Medical Students for Choice, the Ontario Coalition for Abortion Clinics, and NYSHN. Facebook event here.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Doctors’ orders: raise the minimum wage

Minimum wage in Ontario has been frozen at $10.25 for three years, which is now 19% below the poverty line. Inspired by fast food and retail workers in the US, there is a growing campaign across Ontario to raise the minimum wage to $14/hr. January 14 will be a province-wide call-in day to Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, to demand a $14 minimum wage for health reasons.

The health impacts of inequality
There is a growing rediscovery of the ways in which poverty and inequality undermine health. As an article in The New England Journal of Medicine explained in 2004: "On the whole, people in lower classes die earlier than do people at higher socioeconomic levels, a pattern that holds true in a progressive fashion from the poorest to the richest... Unhealthy behavior and lifestyles alone do not explain the poor health of those in lower classes. Even when behavior is held as constant as possible, people of lower socioeconomic status are more likely to die prematurely."

The same is true in Canada, as the Ontario Medical Review explained in a series of articles last year: “Income is a well-recognized social determinant of health, and people living with low incomes experience higher burdens of illness, decreased life-expectancy, and higher rates of mortality than high-income earners. Health declines as one moves down the income gradient, with differential health outcomes at every level of income. A recent Statistics Canada report on cause-specific mortality rates by income quintile highlighted these health disparities. Each successively lower income quintile was associated with an increase in age-standardized mortality rates for almost all causes of mortality.” This has a disproportionate impact on indigenous communities and racialized groups, women, people with disabilities and others groups whose oppression concentrates them in lower incomes.

Capitalism makes us sick
Social and economic inequality and its health impacts do not abstractly exist, they are actively maintained. In The Conditions of the Working Class in England, Friedrich Engels wrote in 1845 that when society places hundreds of workers in such a position that they inevitably meet a too early and an unnatural death, one which is quite as much a death by violence as that by the sword or bullet; when it deprives thousands of the necessaries of life, places them under conditions in which they cannot live – forces them, through the strong arm of the law, to remain in such conditions until that death ensues which is the inevitable consequence – knows that these thousands of victims must perish, and yet permits these conditions to remain, its deed is murder just as surely as the deed of the single individual.”

Instead of challenging this economic model, mainstream medicine came to reflect it—reducing people to isolated individuals removed from their environment and society. This biological reductionism has provided ideological justifications for colonization in Canada and around the world, and for a rise in fat-phobia that attributes declines in health to people’s body size instead of their social and economic conditions. 

The social model of medicine is reasserting itself. In 2008 the World Health Organization raised the alarm that “social injustice is killing people on a grand scale”, and we need to “tackle the inequitable distribution of power, money, and resources.” But austerity measures have done the opposite: prescribing massive bailouts for banks and corporations while taking a scalpel to jobs, wages and services. There are claims that recent job numbers show this is leading us to prosperity, but as economist Joseph Stiglitz recently wrote this month, “we should curb our euphoria. A disproportionate share of the jobs now being created are low-paying – so much so that median incomes (those in the middle) continue to decline. For most Americans, there is no recovery, with 95% of the gains going to the top 1%.”

Prescription for health: tax the rich, raise wages, and support unions
Physicians are starting to follow the advice of Rudolph Virchow, one of the founders of social medicine: “if medicine is really to accomplish its great task, it must intervene in political and social life.” Last year the Canadian Medical Association held a public consultation process about the social determinants of health. Their findings: “poverty is the most important issue and must be addressed” and “governments need to be pressured to take action.”

Doctors for Fair Taxation has called on the Ontario government to increase taxes on the wealthy: “Ontario physicians see the adverse health impacts of growing inequality in our patients and our communities. As the government grapples with its financial difficulties, we urge all political parties to spare the province’s poor, sick, and vulnerable residents. We think high earning Ontarians are prepared to pay higher taxes for a fairer society. We say to Premier Wynne and Finance Minister Sousa: Tax us, Ontario is worth it!”

Health Providers Against Poverty have developed a clinical tool kit to factor poverty into clinical decision-making, considering the evidence of how poverty predisposes to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression, suicide, cancer, hypertension, arthritis, COPD and asthma. As Dr. Gary Bloch explained, “Treating people at low income with a higher income will have at least as big an impact on their health as any other drugs that I could prescribe them.”

Unions are another mechanism to prescribe equality, which is why they are under such sustained attack—from Ontario Tory leader Tim Hudak’s threat of “right to work” to the federal Conservatives’ recent party convention. As The National Post wrote recently, “Forget Duffy. Harper’s war is with unions.” Unions defend wages and conditions, and support broader social justice causes—all of which promote health. Which is why fast food and retail workers in the US—part of the 99% who are suffering from austerity—are combining demands for a higher minimum wage with unionization to provide them with democratic structures to resist austerity.

Take action for your health
The campaign to raise the minimum wage is part of a broader struggle to change the world and through the process change ourselves. As psychologists studying protesters found, social justice is good for our health: “The take-home message from this research therefore might be that people should get more involved in campaigns, struggles and social movements, not only in the wider interest of social change, but also for their own personal good."

*Health Providers Against Poverty will hold a press conference at 10:30am at the Queen’s Park Media Studio at the Ontario Legislature
* Join the phone-in day on January 14th to tell Premier Kathleen Wynne we need a raise, by calling her office at (416) 425-6777 and then your local MPP.  Find your MPP contact info here.
* Tweet @Kathleen_Wynne: Raise minimum wage to $14/hr in 2014 #14now #OnPoli
*On January 24 the Campaign to Raise the Minimum Wage is holding a public forum with organizers leading the fight for fair wages in the US.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Mandela and anti-colonial struggles

Millions around the world are mourning the loss of the symbol of the anti-apartheid struggle, Nelson Mandela. But people are mourning for different reasons. Most are mourning a freedom fighter who spent 27 years in jail for his opposition to colonialism and racism. Most are mourning a symbol of international solidarity, who spoke out against the Iraq War, supported people with HIV/AIDS and likened the Palestinian freedom struggle to his own. But others are using his death to hide the history of anti-colonial struggles.

Apartheid: a Canadian tradition
According to The National Post, Conservative Prime Minister Mulroney “spearheaded Canadian push to end apartheid in South Africa and free Nelson Mandela.” Mulroney welcomed Mandela into the House of Commons on June 18, 1990, later claiming that “the very notion of South Africa’s apartheid was anathema to me…I viewed apartheid with the same degree of disgust that I attached to the Nazis…I was resolved from the moment I became prime minister that any government I headed would speak and act in the finest traditions of Canada.”

But South African apartheid was based on Canadian tradition. According to Shannon Thunderbird, a Coast Tsimshian First Nations elder, “It is ironic because the Canadian Indian Act formed much of the basis for the oppressive apartheid policies in South Africa. It’s kind of an understood custom and practice that Canada’s Indian Act came to be known as the acceptable role model for apartheid policies and there are books and websites that outline all of this. It’s actually hypocrisy for Canada to stand forward as a kind of bulwark of protest against atrocities going on in other countries while at the same time we turn a blind eye to our own people.” Mulroney welcomed Mandela while the genocidal residential school system was still operational, and two months before sending thousands of Canadian soldiers to confront the Mohawk blockade at Oka.

It is not only the Conservatives whose tributes to Mandela reveal their hypocrisy. Liberal leader Justin Trudeau and former Prime Minister Jean Chretien called Mandela’s life inspiring, but Mandela certainly did not inspire the White Paper. In 1969—five years into Mandela’s incarceration, when Canada still supported South African apartheid—Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and his Minister for Indian Affairs Jean Chretien proposed the White Paper to forcibly assimilate First Nations. As the Cree activist Harold Cardinal wrote in his book The Unjust Society (exposing Trudeau’s claims of Canada’s supposed “Just Society”), “In spite of all government attempts to convince Indians to accept the white paper, their efforts will fail, because Indians understand that the path outlined by the Department of Indian Affairs through its mouthpiece, the Honourable Mr. Chrétien, leads directly to cultural genocide. We will not walk this path.”

Anti-colonial struggles
The Red Power movement emerged to challenge Canadian colonialism and defeat the White Paper, and later solidarity with Mandela and the anti-apartheid struggle swept the country. Mandela was part of a mass movement against apartheid that included student and township uprisings, armed resistance, mass strikes, and international solidarity. South African apartheid depended on black workers for profits, so the wave of unionization—including the founding of COSATU in 1985—provided a powerful weapon to organize strikes of millions against apartheid. It was South Africans themselves who spearheaded the push to end apartheid and free Nelson Mandela, not the “humanitarian intervention” myths about Mulroney.

But there was widespread solidarity against South African apartheid, which has inspired a similar movement against Israeli apartheid. Western elites are eager to detach Mandela from the struggle, counter-posing the South African freedom struggle with other anti-colonial struggles. Prime Minister Harper claims that Mandela “demonstrated that the only path forward for the nation was to reject the appeal of bitterness.” But it was the bitterness of fellow Conservative Rob Anders—who in 2001 called Mandela a terrorist—that best expressed how Western elites view anti-colonial struggles. That this label was imposed on South African freedom fighters should lead us to challenge the criminalization of other anti-colonial struggles—from Palestine to Tamil Eelam to Turtle Island.

South Africa after apartheid
Mandela’s rehabilitation in the eyes of the elites, from terrorist to inspiration, is not because of newfound solidarity with his anti-apartheid past but rather the neoliberal policies of the ANC government. Reacting to news of Mandela’s passing, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund offered their sympathies to the South African people—sympathies that were lacking when these financial institutions imposed structural adjustment policies in the 1990s.

According to South Africa’s Anti-Privatization Forum and Coalition Against Water Privatization, “The majority of South Africans, made up of the poor and working class, fought and died not just for political freedom from apartheid, but for socio-economic freedom and justice, for the redistribution of all ‘national wealth’…This popular mandate was captured in the Reconstruction & Development Programme (RDP), which formed the basis of the ‘people’s contract’ with the new democratic government. However, it did not take long for the ANC government to abandon that popular mandate by unilaterally deciding to pursue a water policy that has produced the exact opposite result… Following the neo-liberal economic advice of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and various Western governments (and heavy lobbying by private multinational water companies, such as Suez and Biwater), the South African government drastically decreased grants and subsidies to local municipalities and city councils and supported the development of financial instruments for privatised delivery. This effectively forced local government to turn towards commercialisation and privatisation of basic services as a means of generating the revenue no longer provided by the national state. Many local government structures began to privatise and/or corporatise public water utilities by entering into service and management ‘partnerships’ with multinational water corporations. The immediate result was a massive increase in the price of water that necessarily hit poor communities the hardest.”

But the struggle for socio-economic freedom and justice, against the ANC government and global corporations, continues—from the Treatment Action Campaign for people with HIV/AIDS, to the protests outside the UN climate talks at Durban, to the strikes at Marikana and beyond. As Mandela himself said in 1993, “You must support the African National Congress only so far as it delivers the goods, if the ANC government does not deliver the goods, you must do to it what you have done to the apartheid regime.” The best tribute to Mandela is to continue the movement he represented—of anti-colonial resistance, protests and strikes, and international solidarity.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Labour against Line 9

Last year thousands joined a sit-in in Victoria against the Northern Gateway pipeline. As Susan Spratt, organizer for what was then the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) said, “The ongoing risks that these tar sands pipelines and tankers pose aren’t worth any price. Tens of thousands of unionized and other jobs depend on healthy river and ocean ecosystems. We will be standing in solidarity with thousands of working people in BC and our First Nation sisters and brothers.”

A similar movement is emerging against Enbridge’s plan to pump toxic tar sands through the 38-year old pipeline Line 9. Last month hundreds of people—including indigenous communities, environmentalists, students, faith groups, musicians and trade unionists—marched and rallied against Line 9. Next week the Ontario Federation of Labour is holding its convention in Toronto, and a number of unions have submitted resolutions against Line 9.

But there are a number of myths about Line 9 that threaten to drive a wedge between labour and the rest of the climate justice movement. Some claim that Line 9 is a progressive tool for controlling energy resources, making the transition to a less carbon-intensive energy regime, and providing good jobs for energy workers. Some counter-pose the Northern Gateway and Line 9 pipelines, claiming Line 9 is a smaller and safer pipeline, intended for domestic use instead of export, and part of a national energy policy that will ultimately reduce carbon emissions through regulation and respect for First Nations. None of this is true.

* Not for domestic use: Enbridge’s Line 9 project is an effort to revive its 2008 Trailbreaker project, which aimed to pump tar sands through Ontario and Quebec to Portland, Maine for export. The Trailbreaker proposal was composed of three parts: increase flow through Line 6B (Chicago to Sarnia), reverse flow through Line 9 (Sarnia to Montreal), and then reverse flow through the Portland/Montreal Pipeline (jointly owned by Suncor, a major tar sands producer). Enbridge is slowly recreating this project, first gaining approval for Line 9a, and then 9b. If Enbridge gets its way, it could then reverse the Portland/Montreal pipeline to carry tar sands to the US for export.

* Not a job creator: As climate justice activists have explained, “The 'jobs' argument for tar sands creates a fictitious division between the economy and the environment, attempting to pit employment against health and environmental concerns. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) has projected that about 6335 jobs in Ontario would be related to tar sands by 2035. While seemingly substantive, this would represent less than 0.1 per cent of jobs in Ontario should an unemployment rate of 10 per cent be maintained with continued population trends -- hardly a boom for a rapidly declining economy. For Line 9 specifically, Mike Harris wrote to the Financial Post suggesting, ‘Ontario will gain 3,250 person-years of direct and indirect employment, and Quebec will gain 1,969 person-years [over three decades]." Breaking down the math, this translates at best to 108 jobs per year for 30 years related to Line 9 in Ontario, and about 66 in Quebec.’” According to the report “More Bang for our Buck: how Canada can Create More Energy Jobs and Less Pollution”—by Blue Green Canada, an alliance of labour and environmental groups—the $1.3 billion of federal subsidies to the oil and gas industry could create 18,000 more jobs in the clean energy sectors. According to Dave Coles, past president of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP), “we need to get serious about the transition to clean energy, and that includes a plan for putting people to work.”

* Not an economic benefit: Enbridge and the Harper government don't calculate cost of cleaning up inevitable spills, or the cost that we and future generations will pay for catastrophic climate change. The 2010 spill from Line 6B has cost a billion dollars and is still not cleaned up. The Toronto floods are estimated to have cost $600 million, and the annual cost of flooding in Canada is estimated to become $17 billion by 2050. Line 9 might make money for Enbrdige, but it will do so by undermining the planet on which all our lives and livelihoods depend.

* Not safer: Line 9 is the same size and old age as Enbridge’s Line 6B—which resulted in a massive spill that contaminated the Kalamazoo River. As Toronto city counselor Anthony Perruzza warned, “The City of Toronto sits at one of the biggest freshwater supplies in the world. These pipelines cross the city, traverse it completely. Any leakage, any rupture, any break, any undetected leaks over time will have disastrous consequences for us and for our water.”

* No regulation: as the City of Toronto wrote in its submission to the National Energy Board (NEB) last month, “Neither the TTC, Toronto Fire Services nor Enbridge appear to have any specific contingency plan to manage a leak of petroleum should this occur near the TTC entrances.” Furthermore there has been no federal of provincial environmental assessment of Line 9, as provincial NDP Environment Critic Jonah Schein highlighted: “a study by Toronto Area Conservation authorities concluded that a spill from Line 9, like the one in Kalamazoo, Michigan, would constitute a significant threat to drinking water in the GTA. Under new federal rules the project will not receive a federal environmental assessment. But Quebec has committed to conducting a provincial assessment to protect Quebeckers. Why will the Ontario Minister not stand up for the safety and drinking water of people in our province? Why won’t he launch an environmental assessment that allows full public participation and full consideration of the environmental impacts of line 9?”

* Not sustainable: According to NASA climate scientist James Hansen, “exploitation of tar sands would make it implausible to stabilize climate and avoid disastrous global climate impacts. If the tar sands are thrown into the mix it is essentially game over.” All tar sands pipelines, including Line 9, aim to expand tar sands production, which threatens planetary survival and local health. According to the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, “air pollution kills about 20,000 Canadians a year and with tar sands expansion, it will only get worse. If we care about our health we need to leave tar sands oil in the ground.” This health threat reaches genocidal proportions when it comes to indigenous communities most impacted by tar sands production and refining. According to Ron Plain from the Aamjiwnaang First Nation, near Sarnia: “the lands these companies operate upon were stolen from my community and turned into a toxic wasteland without our consent or consultation. Shell’s plant is located directly on my father’s hunting ground and today, instead of feeding my family these lands kill my community. Shell’s plant to expand bitumen refining in an area already devastated by pollution is effectively a death sentence for our culture, lands and people.”

Indigenous communities are leading the movement against tar sands—opposing tar sands production, the Northern Gateway and Keystone XL pipelines, and Line 9—and the climate justice movement is expanding to include the labour movement. As Jim Britton, then Regional Vice President of CEP said in the lead up to the Victoria sit-in, “we want a transition from dependence on fossil fuels that is fair to the workers in the sector, as well as a national energy strategy that includes good green jobs and long term energy security to Canadians.”

This means opposing Line 9—out of solidarity with indigenous communities and as part of a green jobs strategy that is central to rebuilding the trade union movement and averting climate catastrophe. As Naomi Klein said at the founding of Unifor, “If we want to lower our emissions, we need subways, streetcars and clean-rail systems that are not only everywhere but affordable to everyone. We need energy-efficient affordable housing along those transit lines. We need smart electrical grids carrying renewable energy…The renewal of the public sphere will create millions of new, high paying union jobs – jobs in fields that don’t hasten the warming of the planet. But it’s not just boilermakers, pipefitters, construction workers and assembly line workers who get new jobs and purpose in this great transition. There are big parts of our economy that are already low-carbon. They’re the parts facing the most disrespect, demeaning attacks and cuts. They happen to be jobs dominated by women, new Canadians, and people of colour. And they’re also the sectors we need to expand massively: the care-givers, educators, sanitation workers, and other service sector workers. The very ones that your new union has pledged to organize.”

Monday, November 4, 2013

Austerity and the politics of the Ford scandal

Considering all his budget cuts and bigotry, it’s no surprise people are taking pleasure in the scandal surrounding Rob Ford. But while 60% think he should resign, polls also show his popularity has increased from 39% to 44%. The scandal seems to present opportunities for the left, as the Toronto Sun anxiously wrote in its article calling for Ford to resign: “Ford’s enemies on council, beyond calling for him to resign, are going to use his personal troubles and controversies to try to discredit his agenda of fiscal conservatism.” We certainly do need to discredit his agenda, and have through a series of mobilizations. But the scandal can just as easily erase these memories, and substitute right-wing moralism that fuels his support and reinforces his agenda. We should remember why he was elected, how he was challenged, and the real scandal of the Ford agenda if we want an alternative.

Why was Ford elected?
Ford was elected in a landslide victory, which confused many. Two years into the economic crisis there was visible resistance to austerity—24,000 city workers went on strike in 2009, and 40,000 people marched against the G20 in 2010. Any left candidate giving electoral expression to this sentiment could have won the election. But the left in office, supported by the left candidate, did the opposite: David Miller fought against the city workers, and then passed a unanimous motion applauding the police for the largest mass arrest in Canadian history during the G20. The silence of the left on council opened up a right-wing backlash that Ford rode to office—similar to the Tea Party’s emergence in the wake of disillusionment with Obama.

With no left alternative to the crisis, Ford articulated a right-wing populism that tapped into people’s anger against austerity (defending “the people” and “the tax payer”, demanding “respect”, and calling for an “end to the gravy”), but channeling it into a right-wing direction. As a result the millionaire mayor was elected by contradictory groups—the 1% eager to impose austerity, and much of the 99% with a confused opposition to it.

How was Ford challenged?
This contradiction, revealing the limits of right-wing populism, was important to recognize. In the opinion polls Ford had massive support, leading many to claim Toronto had surged to the right, and that people were unwilling or incapable of resisting austerity. But seeing opposition to austerity—even in a section of those who voted for Ford—was crucial to mobilizing against him. On International Women’s Day, in March of 2011, thousands marched for jobs and services, and on April 9 a labour and community mobilization brought 10,000 people into the streets, to demand “respect for communities, public services and good jobs.” As John Cartwright, president of the Toronto and York Region Labour Council and one of the speakers, said: “This is not a rally against an individual politician. This is a rally that talks about the kind of city we want to have together, the kind of city we want to invest in together, the kind of city we want to build together.”

This was also important for distinguishing between the right and the wrong reasons to be against Ford. When he announced he was running, NOW Magazine wrote about it under the title “fat chance”, and early in his term had a cover of the mayor naked—aiming to make fun of his body size. As I wrote at the time, “There's plenty of reasons to criticize Rob Ford—from his racism and homophobia to his attacks on transit workers and public services—but his weight is not one of them. NOW defended itself on freedom of speech grounds, but that's besides the point. Free speech shouldn't pander to fat phobia or any other form of oppression.”

A focus on Ford’s policies continued to mobilize people throughout the summer—at Pride, through a Toronto library petition that went viral, at marathon deputations and neighbourhood meetings. As a result of sustained mobilizations, a poll in September 2011 found Ford’s popularity fell from 60% in February to 42% in September, with a majority of Torontonians in all wards against the cuts. Left counselors reflected the anger in the streets, and right-wing counselors like Karen Stintz began trying to differentiate themselves from Ford. Ford announced a delay in cuts, but resistance continued—including a video against the cuts, a second labour/community rally on September 26, and marches by the Occupy movement in October and November—when Ford’s approval rating was at its lowest. But the tendency to personalize Ford’s policies continued—through slogans like “stop the crazy train”, which depoliticize the austerity agenda and reinforce the oppression of people with mental health issues.

In January 2012, with a third mass rally outside, city council passed an amended budget dampening the austerity agenda. Ford then went after city workers, hoping for a repeat of the right-wing backlash that catapulted him to power. But the library workers fought back in the spring of 2012, receiving strong public support. A year ago, opposition from below and splits from above made Ford vulnerable to legal challenge, which almost removed him on a conflict of interest charge; since then the right-wing have been increasingly anxious about his ability to impose austerity.  

What's the real scandal?
The Toronto Sun’s call for Ford’s resignation began with a glowing tribute to him for having slashed budgets, contracted our garbage and revoked transit workers’ right to strike, but concluded: “He is now a liability to his own agenda of fiscal conservatism, because the longer he stays in office, the more City Hall will become a circus, preoccupied with the mayor’s personal issues and credibility rather than with spending taxpayers’ money wisely…That’s why we will continue to support Ford’s fiscal agenda, even though we can no longer support the man.”

The liability to his agenda of fiscal conservatism should be…his agenda of fiscal conservatism, which sparked mobilizations of thousands of people, who fought back against his policies and undermined his support. But the mainstream media’s main target has not been his scandalous policies, but his size, drug use and denial.

Fat phobia is in full swing, through cartoons and the front page of the Toronto Sun exclaiming “Dead weight”, with a photo of Ford’s abdomen. The media’s moral outrage over drug use is rekindling support for Ford, as a pollster exclaimed: “if you saw him during that media scrum yesterday, it might have generated some sympathy.”

It’s certainly hypocritical for a millionaire mayor to escape justice. But it’s the “justice system” itself that is the greater scandal: disproportionately incarcerating poor and racialized people, and criminalizing drug use and people with addictions. The police have taken advantage of the anger over the killing of Sammy Yatim to give more tasers to police, and could use the Ford scandal to reinforce the “war on drugs.” The media praise for the police chief—who presided over the G20 mass arrests and an epidemic of extra-judicial killings of people of colour and people with mental health issues—shows how a drug scandal amidst the 1% can still reinforce the 1%.

What next?
For the right-wing, this is Ford’s crime: that he sparked opposition to austerity, and drew attention to the hypocrisy of the system. That is why they want him out, so they can calmly continue to impose brutal austerity. As Karen Stintz explained in her mayoral announcement: “I believe in the fiscal agenda of Rob Ford, but I worry that another four years of Rob Ford may not move the city forward.”

For the left, this means that moral prescriptions—that Ford “must take responsibility for his actions” and “face up to the truth”—ignore the real austerity scandal, and let Ford off the hook. Ford simply announced on his radio show that he is apologizing but will weather the storm, will run in the next election and that people can judge him on his record. That has appeal for people disillusioned by mainstream politics, cynical about media scandals, and wooed by Ford’s statements about implementing the policies he promised.

The problem is that he did implement the policies he promised, and it's that record that needs to be challenged. It’s his policies (shared by the rest of the right-wing on council) of cuts to jobs and services that he should apologize for, and reverse. To weather the rest of his term, and beat him and Stintz, in the next election, the left needs to return to the issues that mobilized so many people in the first two years: not moralism about drug use or attacks on Ford as a person, but opposition and alternatives to austerity. 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

9 reasons to stop Line 9

Without even an environmental assessment, oil giant Enbridge wants to use a 38-year old pipeline to pump toxic tar sands through the most populated corridor in the country, promoting the tar sands and contributing to climate change. As Toronto enters a two week calendar of events for environmental justice, culminating in a rally on October 19, here are 9 reasons to stop Line 9.

1) challenge the tar sands
Line 9 will encourage the development of the tar sands, which are devastating indigenous communities. According to the Indigenous Environmental Network, “Northern Alberta is ground zero with over 20 corporations operating in the tar sands sacrifice zone, with expanded developments being planned. The cultural heritage, land, ecosystems and human health of First Nation communities including the Mikisew Cree First Nation, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, Fort McMurray First Nation, Fort McKay Cree Nation, Beaver Lake Cree First Nation, Chipewyan Prairie First Nation, and the Metis, are being sacrificed for oil money in what has been termed a “slow industrial genocide”. Infrastructure projects linked to the tar sands expansion such as the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline and the Keystone XL pipeline, threaten First Nation communities in British Columbia, Canada and American Indian communities throughout the United States.” Stopping Line 9 would support communities resisting the tar sands, and prevent its spread eastwards.

2) reduce climate change
As former NASA climatologist James Hansen has warned, “If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted, paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced ... to at most 350 ppm.” This year, for the first time in human history, atmospheric concentrations of CO2 reached 400ppm. In this context we’re seeing increasing climate disasters—from hurricane Sandy to epic floods in Alberta and Toronto.

According to a Canadian scientist and coordinating author of the recently released IPCC report, “evidence for a warming climate is getting stronger and stronger, and the evidence of the influence of human activities on that climate change is getting stronger and stronger…Climate change and warming in particular is amplified—that is, it’s larger—at higher latitudes. So warming over Canada is larger than the warming that has been experienced [worldwide] and it is projected to continue that way. That warming over Canada will continue to be more rapid than the global [average] warming.” 

The tar sands are Canada’s fastest growing source of carbon emissions, and both its local and global affects disproportionately affect communities impacted by poverty and racism. Stopping Line 9 and other tar sands pipelines is critical to reduce climate change.

3) prevent oil spills
Pipeline spills happen all the time--including Enbridge’s Line 6B that spilled 3 million litres into the Kalamazoo River in 2010, the spill of millions of litres in Lubicon territory in 2011, the spill last March in a residential neighbourhood in Arkansas, and the spill this June in Alberta from Enbridge’s Line 37. As an Arkansas resident said: “I didn’t even know the oil pipeline was there…she called me and said, ‘Honey, something’s wrong.’ I came out and smelled it. Then I saw it coming down the street.”

This is what’s in store for communities along the Line 9 route. According to the city of Toronto’s submission to the National Energy Board, “Neither the TTC, Toronto Fire Services nor Enbridge appear to have any specific contingency plan to manage a leak of petroleum should this occur near the TTC entrances…The top stair of the Bishop Avenue stairwell is at grade and provides no barrier to the flow of the product should there be a release. If any petroleum product was discharged either down the stairs or the escalators, or by other routes into the TTC concourse, platform or track level, there would be an enormous risk to thousands of daily passengers and TTC workers.”

These bitumen spills can’t just be “cleaned up”: some components evaporate and poison the air, while others sink and poison the earth and water. Three years and a billion dollars in clean-up fees later, and the Kalamazoo River is still contaminated. We need to stop Line 9 before it spills.

4) protect water
Massive amounts of water are wasted in tar sands production, which then contaminates the local water while pipelines threatens distant water. In the words of Toronto city counselor Anthony Perruzza: “The City of Toronto sits at one of the biggest freshwater supplies in the world. These pipelines cross the city, traverse it completely. Any leakage, any rupture, any break, any undetected leaks over time will have disastrous consequences for us and for our water.” With the pipeline running down Finch avenue--and not Bay Street or wealthy neighbourhoods in Toronto--oil spills would add to the poverty and racism already imposed on these communities. The best way to prevent these disastrous consequences is to stop the pipeline.

5) promote health
Tar sands and the oil industry is harmful to our health. Fort Chipewyan, downstream of the tar sands, is experiencing higher cancer rates. The working conditions in Fort McMurray contribute to an array of social costs, including the exploitation of migrant workers, and increased rates of suicide, addiction and abuse; a few years ago the director of Fort McMurray’s only woman’s shelter went on hunger strike to demand more resources. Pollution from oil and other petrochemical companies in Chemical Valley undermine health in Aamjiwnaang First Nation and Sarnia. According to the World Health Organization, “Climatic changes already are estimated to cause over 150,000 deaths annually… The risks are concentrated in the poorest populations, who have contributed the least to the problem of greenhouse gas emissions.” Stopping Line 9 would be a small but concrete step towards reversing the health impacts of the oil economy.

6) rebuild democracy
There has been no free, prior and informed consent from First Nations for Line 9, or the tar sands. Harper has undermined environmental regulation, there has been no environmental assessment for Line 9, and Enbridge has given “donations” to municipalities along the route (including the Hamilton police, who arrested line 9 protesters for occupying a pumping station). The National Energy Board (an “ally” of the Harper government) has monopolized decision-making power, excluded people from contributing to hearings, and tried to divide the movement between those they allow to intervene and those they do not allow. Challenging Line 9 exposes these attacks on democracy, as part of a movement to rebuild democracy.

7) support indigenous sovereignty
As IEN states, “Just a few years ago, people in Canada, U.S. and Europe heard little to nothing about the Canadian tar sands. Today, the tar sands have become a topic of national and international discussion as stories of cancer epidemics in the community of Fort Chipewyan, massive wildlife losses related to toxic contamination, environmental degradation and increased vocal resistance from impacted communities have shattered the ‘everything is fine’ myth propagated by the Canadian and Alberta governments.”

From declaration of unity against pipelines to Healing Walks, from freedom train to speaking tour, indigenous communities are leading the movement against tar sands, and providing an environmental justice framework to understand the threat of tar sands and the importance of indigenous sovereignty and solidarity.

8) demand green jobs
The billion dollars in subsidies to the tar sands each year could provide thousands of green jobs, and the climate justice movement includes labour activists pushing for a just transition from the oil economy to one based on sustainability. Last year unions endorsed a sit-in against tar sands pipelines and tankers, and this year the Steelworkers Toronto Area Council has endorsed the rally against Line 9 and provided funding for First Nations activists to bus into Toronto to join the rally. As a CAW organizer said last year, “tens of thousands of unionized and other jobs depend on healthy river and ocean ecosystems. We will be standing in solidarity with thousands of working people in BC and our First Nations sisters and brothers.” Line 9 will only produce a few temporary jobs in an industry that exposes workers to chemicals while undermining the environment on which future jobs depend. Stopping Line 9 is part of a movement demanding good green jobs for all.

9) build the environmental justice movement
Last October 22 there was a mass sit-in in Victoria, led by Coastal First Nations with participation from environmental groups and unions. On February 17 there was a huge protest outside White House against the Keystone XL pipeline. These movements are creating major barriers to pipelines going west and south, and there is a similar movement emerging against Line 9, from Aamjiwnaang to Montreal. During the next two weeks in Toronto there is a series of events leading up to the National Energy Board hearings, where people will be intervening against Line 9 in the hearings and in the streets. Join the movement!

*Sunday October 6: Rock the Line with Environmental Defense, free concert, 2pm Mel Lastman Square

*Monday October 7: #Oct7 National day of Unity in Action, Idle No More Toronto, 5pm at Trinity Bellwoods

*Tuesday October 15: Do The Math movie screening and panel discussion, by Toronto350, 5:45pm and 8:15pm at Bloor Hot Docs Cinema

*Friday October 18: Tar Sands Reality Check Tour6pm at Bloor Street United Church

*Saturday October 19: NO LINE 9! NO TAR SANDS PIPE LINES, rally at noon outside the NEB hearings (Metro Convention Centre, 255 Front Street). “Indigenous communities, environmentalists and labour groups have united to oppose the tar sands pipelines going west and south, and we need a similarly impressive display of mass opposition to any such proposal to transport tar sands east. Stopping the Line 9 Pipeline Reversal and moving toward a clean energy economy with green jobs would be a multiple “win” – a win for communities, jobs, farms, the environment, public health, and for our long-term energy security. Join us October 19th outside the NEB hearings as we say No Line 9! No Tar Sands Pipelines!”