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Offshore, corporate capture and the federal election

When the federal election results first started rolling in October 21, I was overcome with a feeling that nothing was really changing. In Atlantic Canada, we barely broke the Liberal stronghold from the 2015 election with only one seat flipping in Nova Scotia. But as the results continued coming from the rest of Canada, I felt more optimistic. With a minority government, we have a new opportunity to work for the sustainable and just future we need and want. In Nova Scotia, that means a new opportunity to fight offshore drilling and perhaps, bigger picture, the corporate capture that put us in this situation to begin with.

Oil and gas exploration and drilling contributes significantly to the climate crisis. We need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions if we want future generations to have a planet to live on, and we have to do that without leaving anyone behind. Regardless of how you feel about the climate and our dependence on fossil fuels, we should all be able to agree that the subsidies and investment in this industry show that our governments are captured by corporate interests.

The Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board, or the CNSOPB, is an arms-length federal-provincial body that was established by something called the Accord Acts back in 1990. This board has the conflicting mandate to promote offshore oil and gas in Nova Scotia waters, and to regulate the industry. It is predominantly run by former industry leaders who already support the industry and as such, it’s hard to imagine this board regulating the offshore industry effectively.

Last year the Trudeau government (then holding a majority government) passed Bill C-69, which made big changes to environmental assessments, energy regulation and navigation protection along with many other things. Mainstream media coverage happily adopted the language of pro-fossil fuel governments and organizations called this the “pipeline killing bill” even though it gave way more power to the CNSOPB that it had before. Now, the Board leads environmental assessment processes for offshore drilling. You read that right –  the people who promote the industry now also get to decide if companies have sufficiently considered the environmental risks of their proposals.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, an industry lobby group, met with Senators 224 times about Bill C-69 as compared to environmental organizations at 36 meetings, according to The Narwhal. And when established industry threatens to leave a community, all levels of government scramble to appease them so they’ll stay – reducing property taxes, providing forgivable loans – whatever it takes.

These are all examples of corporate capture: governments are restricted in their ability to make decisions in the public interest because industry and major corporations have taken control of so many government processes. But how is this in the public interest? How is giving tax breaks and grants to corporations helping us meet the needs of our society? How is meeting with industry lobbyists during 80 per cent of Senate’s meetings about a bill reflecting a democratic process? How is cutting taxes for the ultrarich helping us fund hospitals and water infrastructure?

Our politicians seem to think that the only way to have an economy is to support mega-projects with mega-consequences without any long-term consideration for the environment. We saw the Trudeau government exhibit this belief when it decided to buy a pipeline instead of protecting the land, waters, Indigenous rights, or the multitude of small-scale, less polluting economies and communities along the TransMountain route. Instead of protecting the marine environment and respecting the voices of coastal communities and fisheries, the government stands on the sidelines and watches the provincial government beg for (and in some cases pay for) Big Oil to come drill offshore Nova Scotia.

The reality is, when corporate capture runs as deep and is as entrenched as it is now in our society, we can’t change things overnight. But when it comes to offshore oil and gas, the threats to coastal communities are very real. Livelihoods depend on fisheries and tourism, our spirits look to the ocean for fulfilment, and we know that destroying our marine environment will have devastating effects on future generations. For centuries the backbone of our economy has depended on the wellbeing of the ocean, and so communities are saying no to the offshore industry and its high risks, poor safety records and the government’s weak regulations.

We all want to be in control of our own lives, to make our own decisions and have true representation at all levels of government. Municipal governments seem to be the only level of government listening in recent years, but having a minority government at the federal level provides us with an opportunity to take back some control from corporate interests! People and communities should demand more of their elected representatives, and that includes protecting our environment in every way possible, including saying no to offshore drilling and exploration. 

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