Thursday, March 26, 2015

Political & Economic Leaders Who Support Energy East are Acting Against Your Best Interests

TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline project will transport diluted bitumen from Saskatchewan to Ontario through a 40-year old converted natural gas pipeline, and then from Quebec to New Brunswick through a new pipeline.  With a capacity to transport 1.1 million barrels of oil per day (almost twice that of Northern Gateway), it will be the largest oil pipeline in North America, as well as one of the longest.

Energy East’s proposed route through Northern Ontario will take it through or near the communities of Kenora, Dryden, Hearst, Kapuskasing, North Bay and Mattawa. Some of these communities have sought intervenor status at Ontario Energy Board (OEB) and National Energy Board hearings (NEB). The OEB has been holding meetings now for several months, attracting both those in favour of and opposed to the pipeline. National Energy Board hearings are likely be restricted only to those individuals and organizations “directly impacted” by the pipeline, and will assess a much narrower scope of issues as a result.

"Public" Consultations?

The City of North Bay has been in the forefront of opposition to Energy East, primarily because the existing TransCanada pipeline is located in very close proximity to Trout Lake, from which North Bay derives its drinking water. At this time, it's unclear whether the National Energy Board will entertain hearing the City's submission, and that of the North Bay-Mattawa Conservation Authority, although I think it will be difficult for the NEB to make the case that the City isn't “directly impacted” by the project (see: "City, conservation authority file to NEB", the North Bay Nugget, February 26, 2015).

North Bay's private citizens, however, may not be able to participate in the NEB's public hearings. Changes made by the government of Canada to the way in which the National Energy Board operates now mean that only a very narrow segment of the public will be able to participate in the hearings. These changes were implemented after the Northern Gateway hearing was forced to entertain submissions from members of the public and First Nations, many of whom did not reside along the route but who had an interest in protecting the environment, and in mitigating climate change.

The Climate Change Impacts of New Pipelines

Of course, unlike the environmental assessment process – the sort of process just about every other western nation uses to evaluate this kind of massive infrastructure proposal – the NEB's process is scoped so that it can't assess climate change impacts from the material in the pipeline itself. The NEB insists that it has no authority to assess upstream or downstream activities associated with the development of the tar sands, but as we found out with Northern Gateway, the NEB used the transport of the material as an economic justification for the project – it just didn't want to acknowledge the climate change impacts (see: “Rethink Energy East pipeline”, Sudbury Steve May, the Sudbury Star, October 18, 2014).

And make no mistake, there will be climate change impacts. The only reason Energy East, Northern Gateway, Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain and TransCanada's international Keystone XL, are now being proposed is to facilitate the expansion of the Alberta tar sands. At current production levels, there would be no need for additional pipeline capacity. But that's not the plan. The governments of Canada and Alberta want to more than double tar sands from the present 2 million barrels per day to 5.2 million barrels per day by 2030. Former federal Minister of Natural Resources is on record insisting that new pipeline capacity is essential in order to expand the tar sands (see: “Joe Oliver on Keystone: Pipeline Expansion Still Needed Despite Price-Gap narrowing, Oliver Says”, the Canadian Press, March 18, 2013).

Some argue that since the bitumen is going to be mined and find its way to market anyway, that there's really no point in assessing the climate change impacts from an expanded tar sands. While this argument is pervasive (even the U.S. State Department used it in its assessment of Keystone XL), it is limited and fails to take into account Canada's international commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as well as other economic factors such as the decarbonizing of the economy which is already underway.

Canada Leads the Way Forward Into the 19th Century

Of course, those who favour mining bitumen over the health of the planet will continue to believe that any international commitment to decrease greenhouse gas emissions either doesn't apply to them, or isn't worth the paper its printed on. And with good reason. Canada's historic indifference to international climate agreements, coupled with rising emissions, has done little to dampen the spirits of those whose bottom line depends on the extraction of some of the most emissions-intensive oil on Earth. When Canada unilaterally pulled out of the Kyoto agreement, the signal was a clear one that we would not be bound by these sorts of agreements. Our subsequent behaviour at the United Nations has done everything to reinforce our lack of interest in curtailing tar sands production (see: “Green leader accuses Tories of sabotaging climate talks”, CBC News, November 29, 2012).

Of course, pulling out of Kyoto, throwing monkey wrenches into international climate talks, eliminating a real environmental assessment process for infrastructure projects and moving full steam ahead with new pipelines has all happened on the watch of Stephen Harper's Conservative government. That's the same government which promised to regulate the oil and gas industry's emissions back in 2007, and after failing to take action for 8 years, finally came clean in 2014, insisting that there would be no regulations (see: “New oil and gas regulations would be 'crazy' Harper says”, the Toronto Star, December 9, 2014).

Some have suggested that the current Conservative government has a bit of a pro-oil bent, and will do whatever it can to make sure that Alberta bitumen is mined and shipped offshore for refining. Some have drawn a connection to the fact that the Conservatives hold 85 of 87 seats in Alberta as a reason for their pro-Alberta policy shift, which has seen environmental regulations eviscerated and economic development opportunities in anything other than fossil fuels and infrastructure shunted aside in preference to oil.

The Economics of 2 Degrees C

Yet, we know that if we are to hold the line of warming at 2 degrees Celsius, which is the threshold beyond which the best available science tells us we should not go, we know that the majority of the world's known fossil resources will have to be left in the ground. We know this. Stephen Harper's Conservatives know this. But they don't seem to care – really, there's not much more than can be said beyond the notion that this Conservative government of Canada has continued to put the interests of fossil fuel companies ahead of the interests of citizens. Except maybe to say that they have successfully managed to convince a plurality of Canadians to vote against their own interests at the ballot box in the past several federal elections. And that they may be able to pull it off again later this year.

The evidence that Harper's Conservatives are acting counter to the interests of Canadians – and humanity – is starting to add up. A recent report by Christopher Glade, University College London, concluded that up to 85% of the tar sands' known reserves will need to stay safely sequestered in the ground if we are to hold the line of warming at 2 degrees Celsius (see: “Most of Canada's oil sands must stay in the ground if world to limit global warming: Report”, the Canadian Press, January 7, 2015). This builds upon earlier studies, along with comments made by former Bank of Canada governor (now Bank of England governer) Mark Carney about the need to sequester fossil resources if we the world is going to meet its international obligations to keep emissions in line. Despite the assertions from Conservative climate-change deniers, Carney refers to resources like the Alberta tar sands as “stranded assets”, meaning that the reserves which we all thought would be money-makers, will in fact prove to be essentially worthless in the coming green economy (see: "Mark Carney defends climate change economic study”, CBC News, March 11, 2015).

Carney and others have gone further. They are concerned about a looming “carbon bubble” of suddenly devalued fossil assets – assets like those the Governments of Canada and Alberta are actively planning to exploit by expanding tar sands production to more than twice its current capacity by 2030. Assets like new pipelines designed to ship bitumen to coastal ports to be loaded on tankers to be refined overseas. In the coming economy, these assets may very well prove to be worthless (see “Mark Carney: most fossil fuel reserves can't be burned”, the Guardian, October 13, 2014).

What's clear is that continuing to make investments in fossil fuel infrastructure (like the Energy East pipeline) to facilitate the expansion of the Alberta tar sands not only makes zero sense from a greenhouse gas emissions standpoint, it makes no sense at all from an economic standpoint either. Yet, the Harper government continues to plan for the expansion of the tar sands enterprise – and to subsidize some of the world's most profitable oil companies to the tune of $26 billion a year (see: “IMF pegs Canada's fossil fuel subsidies at $34 billion”, Mitchell Anderson, The Tyee, May 15, 2014).

Canadian Governments and Climate Change

With all of this in mind, it seems completely out of step with reality that the National Energy Board isn't taking into consideration the climate change impacts of what's going to travel through the pipe. It's like building a new Highway 401 and forgetting to assess what sort of impacts all of the cars and trucks will have on the asset. And of course, the NEB isn't even looking at the long-term economic impacts of tar sands expansion either – except in the most positive light.

It's almost as if Canada never made any commitment at all back in 2009 in Copenhagen to reduce emissions by 17% of 2005 levels by 2020. Of course, given Canada's track record so far, it's questionable whether the government ever had any intention of being serious about reducing emissions (see: “Even with proposed emissions regulations Canada won't meet ghg targets: commissioner” Global News, October 12, 2014). Given Canada's desire to pursue the expansion of the tar sands and to start a new liquified natural gas (LNG) industry in Northern British Columbia, it's pretty clear that our economic policy has been completely at odds with our international commitment.

Of course, when it comes to ignoring climate change impacts, the Conservatives are in good company. Recently, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Quebec Premier Phillippe Couillard announced that their provinces would assess the climate change impacts the Energy East pipeline. This commitment was extremely short-lived, for after a whirlwind visit from Alberta Premier Jim Prentice, Wynne and Couillard backed off – and had the audacity to claim that they never actually said what they had said. Clearly, something got to these two eastern Premiers (see: “Ontario Liberals 'Blowing Smoke' on Climate Change”, Sudbury Steve May, December 12, 2014).

Follow the Money

One of the biggest contributors to the Liberal Party of Ontario has been the Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA). Between 2004 and 2011, LIUNA gave the Ontario Liberals more than three quarters of a million dollars in donations. LIUNA has been sending out its reps to stack OEB hearings in Northern Ontario communities. LIUNA believes that building Energy East makes sense – and seems to be prepared to grease whatever wheels it takes to make it happen (see: “Energy East Footsies: LIUNA, the Liberals and the NDP”, Sudbury Steve May, November 11, 2014).

Of course, LIUNA is a pretty small player when compared to multinationals like TransCanada, Kinder Morgan and Enbridge. It's not always easy to connect the dots about how some of these massive corporations operate, but every now and again their dealings come to light.

We know that TransCanada was considering engaging in a campaign to build artificial support through social media for Energy East (see: “Edelman's TransCanada Astroturf Documents Expose Broad Attack on Public Interests”, DeSmogCanada, November 24, 2014). Concerns were also raised about TransCanada's donation of $30,000 for a new rescue truck for the Town of Mattawa in Northern Ontario – a community which the Energy East pipeline will traverse. TransCanada's donation came with a gag order attached which required the municipality to remain silent on the pipeline proposal. After all of this came to light, both TransCanada and municipal officials engaged in damage control, telling the public that the gag order was nothing of the sort (see: “TransCanada donation to Ontario town comes with 'no comment' condition”, the Toronto Star, July 5, 2014).

Corporate Lobbying of Municipal Officials

What we can definitively take away from the Mattawa episode is that corporations like TransCanada are clearly engaging with municipal officials in communities along the pipeline's route. Exactly what is going on behind closed doors at our municipal offices remains to be seen, for unlike Ontario and Canada, corporate lobbyists have a free hand to do whatever they please in all but 3 of Ontario's 444 municipalities (see: "Registering Lobbyists Will Shine a Light on Back Room Deals”, Sudbury Steve May, March 10, 2015).

Indeed, both the Northern Ontario Municipal Association (NOMA) and the Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities (FONOM) passed resolutions in 2014 supporting TransCanada's Energy East pipeline. It's not at all clear why these organizations for reps from northwestern (NOMA) and northeastern (FONOM) Ontario have taken the extraordinary steps to endorse the pipeline – a pipeline which will lead to the expansion of the Alberta tar sands and act against the interests of Northern Ontarians.

In FONOM's submission to the Ontario Energy Board, the organization cites a good working relationship with TransCanada and the number of jobs the pipeline corporation has created in northern communities as one of the reasons for supporting the pipeline. FONOM's submission, however, fails to even mention the reality of climate change or how a changing climate is already negatively impacting northern communities.

Connecting the Dots

Of course, elsewhere FONOM has been vocal with their characterizations of those who are concerned about the environment, referring to environmental organizations as benefiting financially from attacking the resource sector and Northern Ontario's economy, and showing a disregard for facts (see: “Northern Ontario gets a “SLAPP” in the Face from FONOM”, Sudbury Steve May,, March 2, 2015). This is the sort of extremist rhetoric which Stephen Harper's Conservative government has used in the past to describe what the RCMP now grossly mischaracterizes for the purpose of instilling fear in the populace as an “anti-petroleum movement” (see: “Anti-petroleum movement a growing security threat to Canada, RCMP say”, the Globe and Mail, February 17, 2015).

Although we can't know what's happening behind the closed doors of our municipalities, and which of our elected municipal officials are actively being lobbied by fossil corporations to take actions which will further imperil Canada's ability to achieve our international climate change commitments, it is possible in some circumstances to connect the dots. For example, Kapuskasing Mayor Al Spacek is also the Chair of FONOM. In 2011, Spacek ran unsuccessfully for the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party in the Northern Ontario riding of Timmins-James Bay, losing out to the NDP's Gilles Bisson. Other members of FONOM have affiliations with the Conservative and Liberal parties, and still a few others are associated with the NDP.

The Conservatives, Liberals, NDP & Energy East: 3 Peas in a Pod

That would seem to cover the entire political spectrum, except for the fact that it doesn't. To be clear, the federal Conservatives and provincial Liberals both support the Energy East pipeline, although each respective government will insist that they will rely on the advice offered to them from the NEB and OEB decisions – decisions which will fail to assess the climate change impacts of the infrastructure proposal.

The federal NDP has long been on record for supporting the Energy East pipeline as well. However, their position has recently become somewhat more nuanced. The NDP now appears to support the pipeline, but not the regulatory approach to allow it to be built. The NDP has recently come on board with concerns over the climate change impacts of the pipeline – impacts which the NEB insists it has no mandate to assess. What is clear, however, is that NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, in a speech to the Economic Club of Canada, laid out how the expansion of the Alberta tar sands would be a priority for his government, and how it would be facilitated by a new east-west pipeline (see: “A new vision for a new century. Our plan for a prosperous and sustainable energy future”, New Democratic Party release, December 4, 2013).

It's certainly not clear to me how a political party can be both seriously concerned about climate change on the one hand, and eager to expand the tar sands by building new pipelines on the other, but that appears to be the state of affairs with today's NDP.

The only national political party which has publicly opposed the Energy East pipeline is the Green Party of Canada. In Quebec, the new Forces et Democratie party has also come out in opposition to Energy East.

Why Your Opposition Matters

With major corporations, unions and Canada's three largest political parties, the federal and key provincial governments all on the same side when it comes to Energy East, one has to wonder whether there's any point in opposing the project. Clearly, there is. Clearly, when it comes to climate change, Canada's international commitments and holding the line of warming at the scientifically recognized threshold of 2 degrees Celsius, so many of our political and economic institutions just aren't taking things seriously. They continue to hold fast to a rapidly disintegrating economic paradigm based on non-renewable fossil energy.

The tide of history is shifting, however, and the green economy is emerging. It will take some time, and along the way we will continue to foolishly waste our scarce fiscal resources on planet-destroying fossil energy solutions. Every action in opposition, however, will slow down the rate of these bad decisions, and help build a truly sustainable economy based on renewable energy. Slowly, the paradigm will change, and the political and economic institutions which resist will either be transformed or cast aside. Change is inevitable, because it must be. Some of our political and economic leaders have already received that memo and are acting on it. Others will follow.

In the meantime, doing what we can to prevent the wasteful and dangerous Energy East pipeline will go a long way to help.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)  

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Registering Lobbyists Will Shine a Light on Back Room Deals

Shady backroom deal-makers love to operate under the cover of darkness.  Openness and transparency are the friends of an engaged citizenry, while backroom deal-makers avoid accountability by scuttling away to dark corners for secret meetings.

In the recent provincial by-election in Sudbury, we saw first-hand how exposing backroom deals to the light of day can have an impact.  Former Liberal candidate Andrew Olivier blew the whistle on senior Party officials who made what he thought were inappropriate overtures to him to drop out of the by-election race.  Had Olivier remained silent, it’s doubtful that these problematic backroom practices would have ever been exposed. 

For others who might think of speaking out on matters of local importance, silence is often ultimately deemed the safest course to take.  By speaking out, citizens expose themselves to all sorts of repercussions, from appearing offside on a popular issue, to experiencing full-blown smear campaigns orchestrated by rivals.  Deep-pocketed opponents have even been known to threaten and file lawsuits in order to silence engaged citizens who are expressing an opinion as part of a public process.

Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation – known as “SLAPPS” – have forced citizens and non-governmental organizations to rethink their public opposition to development projects being reviewed by authorities like the Ontario Municipal Board or the Environmental Review Tribunal.  Often, SLAPP lawsuits have no merit, and are filed only to silence opponents.  After the public process unfolds to the satisfaction of the corporate bully, the suits are quietly dropped.

In December, the government of Ontario re-introduced a bill to curtail SLAPP’s.  Anti-SLAPP legislation would better protect citizens from vexatious lawsuits, while continuing to allow valid defamation suits to proceed to trial.   While this initiative enjoys broad public support, there are some who are nevertheless concerned that citizens and grassroots environmental organizations might gain the upper hand over multinational corporations. 

Resolute Forest Products has been quietly lobbying the provincial government to kill the anti-SLAPP bill.  Resolute, which in May 2013 filed a $7 million defamation suit against Greenpeace and two of its directors, has paid a number of different lobbyists to meet with provincial officials over the past two years.  We know this because in 1999, the Province of Ontario became the first province to require lobbyists to register and record their meetings with elected officials. 

In the interests of openness and transparency, the federal government has a similar registry for lobbyists. 

What about Ontario’s municipal governments?

Currently, municipalities aren’t required to register and record the activities of lobbyists, although Toronto, Ottawa and Hamilton have created registries on their own initiatives.  While lobbying is a legitimate activity, citizens would clearly benefit from knowing exactly who is trying to influence our elected officials, and about what.

Two large northern-based organizations comprised of municipal council members, the Northern Ontario Municipal Association (NOMA) and the Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities (FONOM), have been urging the Province to amend or kill the anti-SLAPP bill.  Using extremist language to suggest that foreign-funded environmental groups are attacking the North’s economy and way of life, FONOM and NOMA’s opposition to anti-SLAPP actually runs counter to the interests of northern citizens who want to actively and fearlessly engage in public processes to improve their communities.

It’s unknown whether northern municipal politicians have met with corporate lobbyists who have urged them to oppose anti-SLAPP legislation.  Without the benefit of lobbyist registries at our City Halls, northern Ontarians are left in the dark about what discussions are taking place between paid lobbyists and our elected officials.   Municipal politicians who are concerned about accountability should demand transparency and shine a light on secretive backroom deals by requiring the details of lobbying efforts be made public.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)

Originally published in print as "Registering lobbyists brings transparency", the Sudbury Star, Saturday, March 7, 2015. 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Northern Ontarians Get a SLAPP in the Face from FONOM

Did you know that Northeastern Ontario’s municipal leaders are petitioning the government to enact legislation which will silence the participation of environmental organizations who oppose clear-cutting and bitumen pipelines? It may come as a surprise to voters in centres like Greater Sudbury and North Bay that their tax dollars are going towards a lobbying effort which puts the interests of corporations ahead of citizens – but that’s just what’s happening.


In December, 2014, the Province of Ontario re-introduced “The Protection of Public Participation Act”. Bill 52, is the successor to Bill 83 – a bill which died on the order paper when the 2014 provincial election was called in May of last year. Also known as the “anti-SLAPP” bill, Bill 83 enjoyed broad support for striking a more favourable balance between the public’s right to participate in public processes, and the rights of individuals and corporations to protect their reputation. The reintroduction of anti-SLAPP legislation was identified by Premier Kathleen Wynne as a priority for her Minister of the Attorney General, Madeleine Meilleur, in the MAG’s mandate letter of September 25, 2014.

“SLAPP” – or, strategic lawsuits against public participation – has become an issue throughout the western world, and especially here in Ontario. Lawsuits have been filed with the primary purpose of achieving results outside of the legal system – including silencing citizens and citizens organizations which have been critical of a development proposal. Most often, the basis of these lawsuits has been the notion that in the course of public consultation, a corporation or individual has been libelled or slandered by a public participant, and that the lawsuit is necessary in order to protect the reputation of the corporation.

Of course, it’s the filing of the lawsuit itself which typically leads to favourable outcomes for the deep-pocketed corporation over the private citizen or citizens organization. Most often, the lawsuits are dropped when posts are removed from websites, or appeals to the Environmental Review Tribunal or Ontario Municipal Board have been dropped by citizens fearing personal insolvency trying to defend their actions. These lawsuits have led some to suggest that freedom of expression and democracy itself are being undermined (see: "Ontario must ban SLAPP suits to protect free speech", the Toronto Star, November 8, 2013). Ultimately, SLAPP suits throw up a barrier to one's Charter guaranteed right to freedom of expression.

Finding a Better Balance

Changes proposed through Ontario’s anti-SLAPP legislation would see these lawsuits fast-tracked, so that corporations filing the suit will need to prove that the suit merits the court’s continued attention. If the corporation can’t prove that there is merit to the libel or slander accusations it has made, the case will be dismissed in a timely manner – allowing citizens and citizen’s organizations to proceed with public input, consultation and taking a position on a matter of public interest without the fear of financial ruin. The Osler law firm has a good synopsis of the legislation available on its website.

Many jurisdictions in Canada and the United States have already enacted anti-SLAPP legislation. Despite good intentions, Ontario remains on the offside with this necessary protection for citizens. Interestingly, although it has been expressed that the government’s proposed anti-SLAPP legislation may enjoy broad, multi-party support, the government has been and continues to be lobbied by special interests – mainly corporate endeavours – who view anti-SLAPP legislation as a threat to their own bottom lines, most likely because it will negatively impact current corporate practices.

Corporate Lobbying Against Anti-SLAPP

Forestry giant Resolute Forest Products has employed the services of U.S.-based Edelman to lobby Ontario’s provincial government to abandon its pursuit of enacting anti-SLAPP legislation. Interestingly, Edelman, which Greenpeace describes as the “world’s largest PR and crisis management firm”, was the firm employed by TransCanada’s campaign to use a phony “grassroots” online campaigns to show support for TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline (see: "After TransCanada, logging giant Resolute employs Edelman for astroturfing and lobbying in Ontario", Greenpeace, December 8, 2014). Edelman’s astroturf campaign was exposed by the media – and quickly disowned by TransCanada (see: "Energy East pipeline 'advocates' targeted in TransCanada PR move", CBC, November 18, 2014)

It might be expected that companies like Resolute, who have been accused of filing lawsuits to silence opponents of their corporate practices (see: "Resolute sues Rainforest Alliance over 'biased' audit", CBC, May 21, 2014), might have adopted a position contrary to the interests of public citizens in their efforts to get the government to change its mind.

And of course, it might also be expected that filing this type of lawsuit in Ontario - a jurisdiction which doesn’t have anti-SLAPP legislation - makes more sense for a Montreal-based corporation which took exception to an environmental organization’s comments made regarding forestry practices in the province of Quebec (see: "Greenpeace hits back against Resolute Forest lawsuit", the Toronto Star, August 21, 2014). All of this points to the need for Minister Meilleur to stay the course on pursuing her mandate to enact anti-SLAPP legislation for the benefit of our Province and its citizens.

Municipal Opposition to Anti-SLAPP

Despite what many of us have come to expect from industry, what will probably come as a real shock to Ontarians is that an organization comprised of elected municipal councilors from northeastern Ontario have also been lobbying the government to water down its desire to protect free speech. Worse yet, this organization, the Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities (FONOM), has been using your tax dollars to lobby the provincial government to take actions counter to the interests of the public.

FONOM is comprised of elected councillors and heads of council from many northeastern Ontario municipalities, including Greater Sudbury. For the privilege of being a part of a larger body which co-ordinates issues for discussion with provincial representatives, FONOM charges fees to each municipality, which are paid with taxpayer’s dollars.

While I believe that FONOM does some good work in advancing municipal interests to the provincial government, their opposition to anti-SLAPP legislation clearly runs against the interests of northern voters – the very same citizens who pay the taxes which keep FONOM in business.

Freedom of Expression

Recently, FONOM modified its outright opposition to anti-SLAPP legislation, by requesting that the province amend the proposed Act so that it would only protect the free speech of “volunteers” and community organizations with budgets less than $100,000. I guess in its wisdom, FONOM appears to believe that there are two standards for engaging in free speech. FONOM apparently thinks it’s ok to be protected from non-meritorious SLAPPs if you’re a private citizen, but if you’re hired by that private citizen to offer your professional opinion on an environmental matter in front of a review tribunal, well, you’re fair game. Or if you’re a citizen’s organization forced to raise a lot of money to fight applications against deep-pocketed developers at the Ontario Municipal Board – too bad.

What FONOM doesn’t seem to get is that you can’t put a price on free speech, ever. It’s either a right that you have – or you don’t have it.

Hiring professionals to provide evidence on one’s behalf is almost a minimum requirement to be taken seriously at many of the province’s quasi-judicial tribunals, including the Ontario Municipal Board and the Environmental Review Tribunal. Further, it’s not unusual for legal and other bills for citizen’s groups to climb well beyond the $100,000 threshold that FONOM wants established. An illustrative case in point regarding both of these matters played out a few years ago in the Town of Innisfil, over a development known as Big Bay Point – a case where lawsuits were filed by a developer against citizens and citizens organizations, as well against legal counsel hired by those citizens! (see: "Democracy suffers under barrage of strategic lawsuits", the Toronto Star, February 26, 2008)

And then there are First Nations – organizations of citizens which may have a different take on how consultation over resource development ought to play itself out than do some who comprise FONOM’s membership.

Extremist Rhetoric has No Place in Public Discourse

Of course, FONOM claims to be concerned about those “environmental organizations” which “have shown a disregard for facts” and who “benefit financially from attacking our resource sectors” by receiving “grants from foreign sources to attack our economy” and who put at risk our “way of life in Northern Ontario”. I’m putting a lot of this language into quotations because it’s the language which FONOM uses to voice its concerns about anti-SLAPP legislation (see: "Mayors slam groups with disregard for 'Northern way of life'",, February 20, 2015).

Does this type of over-the-top rhetoric sound familiar to anybody else? (see: "Radicals working against oil sands, Ottawa says", CBC, January 9, 2012)

It's egregious for our elected officials at any level to characterize environmentalists as being somehow anti-Canadian. It's bad enough when it's done so through the lens of party politics. But of course, in Ontario, at the municipal level, we don't have political parties. The elected officials who comprise FONOM's membership are all elected through non-partisan processes. Yet somehow the organization still believes that it's appropriate to vilify environmentalists in this manner. FONOM would do well to remember that many of these environmental organizations are comprised of Northern Ontarians who are concerned about the decisions made by those looking after our natural resources. We live in the same communities as you. Our kids play hockey on the same teams.

Greenpeace SLAPP'ed by Forestry Giant

Of course, like Canada's federal government, FONOM hasn’t offered one shred of evidence in defense of its wild accusations. I’m at a complete loss about what, exactly, FONOM means when it suggests that environmental eNGOs are attacking our economy. If FONOM is thinking about the current lawsuit filed by Resolute Forest Products against Greenpeace and two of its directors, then it remains wholly unclear to me how that might be considered an attack on the North’s resource-based economy.

Indeed, up until just prior to the lawsuit, Greenpeace had been working in partnership with Resolute through the Forest Stewardship Council – up until May, 2013, when Greenpeace published a report drawing critical attention to Resolute’s unsustainable forestry practices. Greenpeace urged Resolute to reform its ways, in keeping with the spirit of the voluntary Forest Stewardship Council agreement. Instead of taking meaningful action to address criticisms, Resolute filed defamation lawsuits against Greenpeace and personally against two Greenpeace directors. (for more information, Greenpeace has documented this story on its website.

Perhaps what would have been a much better outcome for Northern Ontario’s economy would have been for Resolute to reform its business practices so that better regard was had to the health, viability and sustainability of northern ecosystems. By deciding to pursue business practices which put corporate interests ahead of the public’s and the environment’s, it may very well be that Resolute has damaged its own fiscal sustainability (see: "Resolute feud with Greenpeace drags on profits: Corporate Canada", BloombergBusiness, January 12, 2015).

Corporations Protected through Existing Laws

None of this is to suggest that it’s ok for environmental organizations to defame corporate entities. In fact, anti-SLAPP legislation won’t have an impact at all on a corporation’s ability to bring meritorious defamation suits forward – the key, though, is that there must be some merit to the suit – merit which can be demonstrated in a timely manner to the courts. If a court can be convinced to hear the argument that libel has occurred, it’s not going to shut down legal proceedings. Only those proceedings which clearly have no merit will come to a grinding halt.

FONOM Embarrasses Northern Ontarians

FONOM clearly needs to get with the times. It’s over-the-top rhetoric it is using to lobby our provincial government over anti-SLAPP legislation is, frankly, an embarrassment to all northerners. The very idea that our northern way of life could ever be put at risk by well-meaning environmentalists which advocate for the reform of outdated business practices lacks anything akin to credibility. And the notion that somehow all of this is being done in the interests of shady, monied foreign-owned corporations simply defies logic.

FONOM’s support of the Energy East pipeline, in defiance of the environmental damage that reversing existing aging natural gas infrastructure for the flow of bitumen will do, is yet another example of how out of touch with the times FONOM appears to be. In its call for the Ontario Energy Board to approve the project – without the benefit of considering climate change impacts – FONOM has clearly abandoned any ability to claim that it’s looking out for the economic interests of Northern Ontarians. Instead, FONOM appears to be acting clearly on behalf of corporations, and not acting in the interests of the citizens who elect its members – and who pay for its bills.

It’s past time for FONOM to change its ways and focus on advocacy which will meet the real present and future needs of Northerners. Impeding anti-SLAPP legislation and favouring non-renewable fossil fuel resource projects like the Energy East pipeline have no place as part of a sustainable economic development strategy for Northern Ontario. Frustrating the participation of citizens and organizations to become true partners in development will run counter to the sort of collaborative systems which are already replacing failed 20th century consultation models. Calling for the investment in fossil fuel infrastructure to allow the expansion of the tar sands at a time when it’s well known that the majority of fossil fuel reserves must stay sequestered in the ground simply defies economic logic.

Greater Sudbury's Future Role in FONOM

I, like many Greater Sudburians, would like to know whether Greater Sudbury’s representatives on FONOM, including former FONOM Director and Greater Sudbury Mayor Marianne Matichuk voted in favour of motions 2014-14 (opposition to anti-SLAPP) and 2014-17 (support for Energy East) when she represented our community on FONOM’s board. These motions were adopted by FONOM at its May, 2014 meeting in Sault Ste. Marie.

Our new municipal council representatives to FONOM must apply pressure to have these motions overturned – and indeed, to motivate FONOM to change its ways. Our elected municipal officials, including Greater Sudbury Mayor Brian Bigger, must demand that the FONOM back off of its support for the Energy East pipeline and drop its opposition to anti-SLAPP legislation. If FONOM can’t be successfully pressured to join the 21st Century and work in favour of Northern Ontarians, then our municipal councils should start questioning whether it’s past time for the use of municipal tax dollars for the continued support of FONOM.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)

(originally published at the Northern Ontario Bloggers Syndicate,, as "Northern Ontario Gets a "SLAPP" in the Face from FONOM", March 2, 2015)