Sunday, August 11, 2013

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Simon Lewchuk makes the case for genuine participatory budgeting in contrast to the little-known and unduly-narrow means for Canadians to even make suggestions for our country's public spending priorities:
Operating under the guise of “consultation,” in June the federal finance committee announced its annual pre-budget process (don’t worry if you missed it, most Canadians did too). People were invited to “share their priorities for the 2014 budget” via an online form but, with an Aug. 5 deadline, it was unlikely that many Canadians were able to take the committee up on its offer (even if they were aware of it).

The parameters of the pre-budget consultation process are becoming increasingly narrow. In 2011, for example, respondents were asked to provide their views on how to “create quality, sustainable jobs, ensure relatively low rates of taxation and achieve a balanced budget.” To start from the premise that low taxes are non-negotiable doesn’t leave much room for an honest, frank discussion.
Not that the real decision-making power rests with the finance committee: our current government has been criticized for shrouding the budget process in secrecy, something they explicitly campaigned against in 2006. Budget decisions are being made behind closed doors and forced through the House of Commons as part of massive omnibus legislation.

It all leaves one seriously doubting the value and integrity of the current budget consultation process.

What we do with our money — as families, communities or countries — reflects our priorities, commitments and vision of the sort of world we want to live in. Budget decisions demand a broad, inclusive decision-making process.
- Sarah Frank highlights the consequences of a budgeting process utterly disconnected from representatives and citizens alike, finding Dean Del Mastro telling the City of Peterborough to apply for funding under a program which his own government eliminated last year. But considering the Cons' well-established practice of bombarding Canada's airwaves with advertising for programs past, future or outright imaginary, I'm only surprised their MPs haven't been caught more often doing the same in person.

- Susan Delacourt discusses housing as a matter of public policy - with particular reference to the Cons' lack of interest in acknowledging the importance of rental housing even as they make home ownership less affordable.

- Jody Porter reports that the Cons aren't the least bit sorry for the use of hungry First Nations children as involuntary test subjects.

- Meanwhile, the Hupacasath First Nation is rightly challenging the Cons' disregard for Canada's duty to consult in negotiating the FIPA.

- Finally, Graham Thomson discusses the effect the Cold Lake blowout is bound to have on attempts to greenwash the tar sands:
For the last three months, 7,300 barrels of bitumen have uncontrollably bubbled to the surface from deep underground and seeped into muskeg and water on four sites at the company’s operations, creating an ecological mess, killing wildlife and damaging the reputation of CNRL in particular and the oilsands industry in general.

The company has cut down trees, hauled away tons of oily muskeg and put containment booms on a contaminated lake. But the bitumen keeps coming, seeping out of the ground through long, narrow fissures. Not only has CNRL been unable to stop it, the company doesn’t know for sure why it keeps coming.

The Pembina Institute based in Calgary disturbingly describes the leak as an “uncontrolled blowout in an oil reservoir deep underground.”
There remains the possibility the problem was the result of a crack in the overlying cap rock created by the high-pressure steaming process. That would be a much larger problem for CNRL. It’s one thing for the company to plug up an old cracked well bore, but quite another to deal with cracks in a geological formation.

It would also be a much larger problem for the oilsands industry that is moving away from open pit mining to in situ methods designed to be less environmentally disruptive. The CNRL incident is raising troubling questions and providing ammunition for environmental groups to once again attack the industry.

Also troubling is the fact this is the second CNRL leak in the same area. In 2009, 5,600 barrels seeped into the environment. A cause was never conclusively reached, but the provincial regulator said “geological weakness, in combination with stress induced by high pressure steam injection” may have contributed to the incident.
It doesn’t matter if you call it a leak or a spill or an underground blowout — we need to know what caused it and what it means to the integrity of the oilsands industry.
And it's of course always worth a reminder that the Cons have gone out of their way to make sure that Cold Lake-style disasters can happen without any warning or mitigation strategies - having excluded in situ steam injection projects (geological implications and all) from any environmental assessment.

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