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EU Members of Parliament: Tar sands aren’t so rosy, and neither is CETA

This morning I joined a breakfast meeting between First Nations Representatives from tar sands impacted region, Members of European Parliament and author of a new legal opinion on how CETA may impact the development and regulation of tar sands production.
Present were four MEPs as well as staff visiting Canada with the European Parliament delegation for the relations with Canada. They just returned from Alberta where they met with the provincial government and took a tour of the tar sands.

As reported in the Edmonton Journal, there was a lot at stake for the Albertan government in this tour: “”Our department has hosted some 46 delegations, and I consider this a hugely important one, not only because of their relationship to other member countries, but because of their leadership role on a number of frontiers,” said International and Intergovernmental Relations Minister Iris Evans.”Our fear is that if something happens in the EU and it is spread in other countries — not only members of the EU — we could have roughly one-third of the world’s population subscribing to regulation or legislation that mitigates against our oilsands.”

The precedent Evans is likely referring to is the proposed European Fuel Quality Directive which could see tar sands crude labeled as a dirty – or high carbon – fuel.

This directive is one subject touched on by the new legal opinion commissioned by the Council of Canadians and the IEN which Steven Shrybman, Trade Expert, Lawyer and Council of Canadians board member, spoke to at the meeting.

Shyrbman expressed that there is a conflict between action on climate change and the trade liberalization agenda. Trade liberalization is meant to reduce government intervention in the market, while turning the corner to a sustainable future will require this type of intervention. The Canadian and Albertan governments have already referred to trade rules in questioning the recently passed California fuel standard and in raising concerns with the proposed EU standard.

Media reports from yesterday suggest MEPs were influenced by the meetings and tours, although the delegation chairman, European Parliamentarian Philip Bradbourn recognized some ongoing concerns. Also reported in the Edmonton Journal, ”But questions remain on whether the Europeans received a complete picture of the environmental issues in the area. Bradbourn [the delegation chairman] said government tour guides never discussed a recent David Schindler report that found the oilsands boosts the concentration of dangerous metals in the Athabasca watershed. Instead, the group was told any pollutants were naturally occurring, which is the position taken by government scientists and an industry-led monitoring program.”

  It is our hope that today’s meeting helped to give MEPs a fuller picture than provided by the Alberta government and tar sands industry.

Important accounts heard:

Present this morning were Assembly of First Nations-Vice Chief Eric Morris-Yukon Region,Environmental Stewardship Portfolio, Chief Jackie Thomas Interior- Saikuz First Nation-Alliance of Six Nations, Chief Al Lameman- Beaver Lake Cree Nation, Eriel Deranger who spoke as a delegate of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation.

 Everyone extended thanks to the MEPs for hearing their accounts and for leadership in signing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples – Canada is one of two countries that continues to refuse signing – and the proposed EU Fuel Quality Directive which stands to be an important precedent in recognizing the high carbon content of tar sands crude.

Assembly of First Nations-Vice Chief Eric Morris talked about the need to recognize that we are borrowing land from out great great grandchildren and reflect on how we create a legacy for generations to come. He shared that the AFN is not against development, that it is a matter of finding cooperation between ourselves and the land, animals and ensuring the health of future generations. In reference to so called ‘reclaimed land’ he reminded MEPs that the forests and land can not ever be fully replaced or replicated.

Chief Jackie Thomas represents one of five communities in an area 700 kilometres west of the tar sands that stands to be impacted by the proposed Enbridge pipeline meant to bring tar sands crude to B.C. coastal waters. She shared a 400 year old story about predictions of a time when water will be bought and the world will shift and the need to see with our hearts, not only our eyes. She asked the MEPs present to share the message with the European parliament that the pipeline project and tankers it will bring into coastal waters, is moving forward without their free prior and informed consent.

Chief Al Lameman shared accounts of disappearing and dying caribou on their land. He expressed that government is ignoring this problem which is central to their food security. The Beaver Lake Cree Nation is currently engaged in a legal battle with the Canadian and Albertan governments regarding the meaningful right to hunt and traditional way of life (find out more here).

In addition to addressing the EU Fuel Quality Directive and conflict between action addressing the climate crisis and trade liberalization agenda, Shrybman also shared the potential for a proposed CETA to give European companies invested in the tar sands significant rights. He referred specifically to the example of the vulnerability of potential government restraints on water use (tar sands are predicted to double and triple input of oil – the Athabasca river is already ecologically under strain) to EU-based corporate challenges (such as Shell and BP) under certain investor rights scenarios in a CETA.

You can read Shrybman’s legal opinion here as well as a press release here

The Council of Canadians will continue to track the progress of the EU Fuel Quality Directive, share analysis of how CETA stands to complicate measures that address the tar sands along with the other critical questions and demands raised in the Open Civil Society Declaration on a proposed CETA by the  Trade Justice Network,  as well as commit to ongoing work with the IEN and First Nations directly impacted by tar sands operations.