Pipeline Protestors Partner to Launch Campaign to Fight Oil-Friendly National Budget
By: Meirav Even-Har, Toronto
For Canadians that keep up with news-specifically, the federal budget-it should come as no surprise that a coalition made of the country's largest environmental groups is mounting a campaign. Since the Conservative party has won a majority government a year ago, cuts to environmental research, groups and federal departments have been plentiful. In March, the budget proposed sweeping changes to environmental laws that typically would garner public consultation-but not this time. The response? Increased media attention and growing online communication from environmental groups about being targeted as enemies of the state. It doesn't help that at the same time applications for new projects to expand oil sands production are also on the rise. Welcome to the new Canada: rich in oil, poor in public discourse.
That may all change very soon. The oil is not going anywhere. When it does it'll be in the form of crude being pumped south to the US or east to Ontario, for the time being. If the Northern Gateway project goes through oil will also move west - as far as Asia. Public discourse, however, will hopefully change and for the better. A healthy debate is a good thing and in Canada we do not voice our opinion en masse very often. A new campaign, Black Out Speak Out, launched this week, hopes to change that. Tired of being labelled "radicals" and accused of "money laundering," environmental groups such as Greenpeace, Sierra Club, Équiterre and others, have come together. Black Out Speak Out is a joint initiative "to preserve two core Canadian values: nature and democracy" reads the mostly dark website. 
The Official Opposition - The New Democratic Party (NDP) - has also voiced its disappointment with the inability to discuss budget items that warrant public debate. "We can't have a Parliament that's not open to the public that elected it," said NDP Thomas Mulcair, in an interview for CBC radio. 
Media attention to the "environmental interests vs. Harper government" issue has been steady for months. "Ottawa should halt its smear campaign against pipeline detractors" is the title of a recent Globe and Mail editorial. The article provides background into some of the less than appropriate charges at Canadian charities - specifically environmental groups - over the past year, and mostly in relation with opposition to pipeline projects such as Keystone XL and Northern Gateway. "Business and the environment do not exist on two separate planes, where one matters and the other doesn't." 
Environmental groups plan to black out their websites on June 4, 2012 and invite citizens, businesses and other groups to do the same. While a symbolic and "quiet" way to protest, it is hardly the end. "Powerful oil interests aren't just changing the rules-they're disqualifying any player not on their team," said Rick Smith of Environmental Defence in a press release launching the campaign. He continued: "we're going black for a day, but we'll be speaking out for as long as it takes." 
As the world prepares for the Earth Summit, also known as Rio +20, the theme of stronger economies through healthier environments will be discussed. In Canada, that conversation is perhaps needed on a national level with everyone involved. Black Out Speak Out is likely just the beginning of such an exchange.
 Black Out Speak Out: Home page http://www.blackoutspeakout.ca/index.php
 CBC News: NDP, environmental groups rally against budget bill http://bit.ly/JnOPK9
 The Globe and Mail: Ottawa should halt its smear campaign against pipeline detractors http://bit.ly/JcxGkQ
 Black Out Speak Out: Press release, May 7, 2012 http://www.blackoutspeakout.ca/press_release.php
Image: Black Out Speak Out website