AWARE SIMCOE MEDIA RELEASE
SOURCE- AWARE SIMCOE
World is eyeing Canada’s resources – and Harper government is ready to sell
By Kate Harries AWARE Simcoe March 9, 2012
Canadians should prepare for an unprecedented assault on our resources, Maude Barlow warned on Wednesday.
“There’s a free-for-all coming, I feel it,” the chair of the Council of Canadians told an audience of 200 at Georgian College in Barrie. “What is coming is an assault on every tree in our country, on every fish, on every mineral and every fresh-water source,” she said.
The reason: Europe and China, having exhausted their own resources are in tight competition to lock down access to raw resources elsewhere in the world. That is the purpose of trade agreements that enshrine the right to profit over the rights of communities to protect their environment and manage their own affairs.
CETA, the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Trade Agreement, sets the stage for the world’s largest water utilities to claim the right to have municipal contracts here opened up so private corporations can run our water systems.
Baupost, the American hedge fund that is behind the Highland Companies mega-quarry proposal at the headwaters of five Southern Ontario rivers, could use the North American Free Trade Agreement to challenge the decision of whether the project is allowed to proceed, or challenge for compensation.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper is all too ready to sell out, Barlow said. One example: AbitibiBowater’s Chapter 11 challenge in 2009 to be paid for water and timber rights granted by Newfoundland a century earlier. The rights were contingent on the company’s operating a mill that it had closed after declaring bankruptcy; Canada had good grounds to defend its sovereignty, Barlow said. But in 2010 Harper agreed to settle the action for $130 million. Paying the money was bad, Barlow said, but setting the precedent was worse.
Now, the Harper government is intent on reducing the power of the federal environmental assessment process. Barlow pointed to the Northern Gateway pipeline that is proposed to carry bitumen from the Alberta tar sands to the port of Kitimat in B.C. – “punching a hole through the Rockies” – to be transported by supertanker to Asia.
The National Energy Board hearings into the plan have started. Last month, as thousands of opponents lined up to make the case against the pipeline, Harper went to China, accompanied by Patrick Daniel, the head of Enbridge, the company that hopes to build it.
It was a signal that the environmental assessment is irrelevant, Barlow said. “What he’s saying to the Chinese government is, ‘You will get this oil.’ "
Among the problems we face:
-Massive pollution of essential groundwater sources
-Disruption of the hydrologic cycle by displacement of water – and consequent desertification
-The purchase of huge parcels of foodlands by wealthy corporations and governments
-The disappearance of a vibrant and alert mainstream media…
The outlook is grim.
Still, Barlow is optimistic. People are prepared to stand up and defend their land, she said.
Locally, the battle lines are being drawn. Midhurst residents told the meeting of the plan to turn their village of 3,500 into a town of 30,000 and the intended consequences for Willow Creek and the Minesing wetlands. How to fight it?
It’s about the water, Barlow responded. As humans, when we open our eyes to the issue, we get it at a fundamental level.
“When you fall in love with a body of water, when you touch the water and become committed to it, I think it makes a huge difference.”
A number of Melancthon farmers who are fighting the mega-quarry were present – among them David Vander Zaag. With only 1.5 per cent of the population engaged in farming, there’s a lack of understanding that has critical public policy consequences, he told the meeting.
“People don’t know what’s the difference between just normal land and extremely good land. There’s a real risk to us as a society because we eat three times a day and yet the policy makers don’t understand “ The difference between vegetable land and grain land is that five times more food can be grown on vegetable land. But only a tiny proportion of Ontario’s agricultural land (1.5 per cent of the land mass) is vegetable land (.0006 per cent of the land mass).
Losing that land to quarries or sprawl will be a catastrophe. “How do you get that word out is my worry for the future,” Vander Zaag said. Barlow paid tribute to the role farmers play in society. ”For us and for other species, you take care of the water, you are the backbone of our country.”
She noted that the federal government is intent of doing away with supply management, a system that helps match production to demand for a number of food commodities.
The global trade in food is a problem, she said. “When you are bringing in foodstuffs that you could be growing in your local community and you’re only doing it so that the farmers will be competitive with each other, keeping prices down and killing the small family farm - that’s the wrong model, for health, for nutrition, for communities, for farmers, and it’s the wrong model for water for sure, because it’s destroying the water.”
Simcoe County’s proud history in defending water is an example for the struggles ahead, she said. “We fought and won a wonderful battle at Site 41,” she said, to applause. It was a struggle that had been waged for more than 20 years, but came to a head in the summer of 2009 when Simcoe County began construction of the first cell of Dump Site 41.
Barlow joined the opposition that year and played a pivotal role in the campaign that led Simcoe County Council to kill the dump. The victory, she recalled, was the result of a coalition of farmers, First Nations people, youth, local residents and cottagers, and it was built on a shared commitment to non-violent and respectful protest. “We need to remember the lessons of Site 41 – the way the First Nations knowledge and traditions and worldview were honoured and became the basis for the struggle.”
Jonathon Shore, media t 705-812-0643
Jonathon Shore, media t 705-812-0643
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