Sites go dark in C-38 protest, Tories launch campaign
Published Monday, June 4, 2012 9:30PM EDT
Last Updated Monday, June 11, 2012 6:37PM EDT
Hundreds of websites went 'dark' across Canada Monday as a protest against the government's new environmental legislation, while Conservative MPs fanned out across the country to sell the bill to Canadians.
"Black Out, Speak Out," a protest by a number of environmental groups against the federal government's C-38 budget implementation bill kicked off Monday with as many as 500 websites either darkening their pages or linking to the main protest page.
Among its proposed changes, if passed, the legislation will revamp the approval process for massive energy projects and will eliminate funding for Canada's National Roundtable on the Environment and Economy.
The groups taking part in the Monday protest say the legislation threatens both the environment and democracy.
"Right now, Parliament is pushing through a bill to weaken many of the country's most important environmental protection measures and silence the voices of all Canadians who seek to defend nature. Today it's our voice; tomorrow it could be yours," said a statement from the group.
Organizations participating in the protest include the David Suzuki Foundation, Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, Environmental Defence, Sierra Club of Canada and Greenpeace, among others.
Participating groups are asking supporters to "speak out for nature and democracy" by emailing political leaders, changing their Facebook or Twitter profile picture to the protest logo and posting messages of support on social media with the hashtag "#blackoutspeakout."
Bruce Cox, executive director of Greenpeace Canada, told CTV News Channel over 500 organizations across the country have replaced their websites with the Black Out, Speak Out message, and a link to the group's website.
Meanwhile, Environment Minister Joe Oliver launched a campaign Monday, along with nine MPs across the country, to counter the "exaggeration, distortion and outright falsehoods" of critics, and promote the positive aspects of the changes.
That includes a 'one project, one review' approach that will streamline approvals and cut red tape for major energy projects.
The government maintains that resource development is too vital to the Canadian economy to be tied up in unnecessary red tape -- a message that was front and centre when the Conservatives unveiled their federal budget earlier this year.
The changes would apply to new projects as well as those that are already underway, such as the Northern Gateway pipeline which would run from Alberta to the Pacific. That project has faced multiple reviews at the federal, provincial and municipal level, but under the new system only one approval would be needed.
Speaking in Quebec at the office of a geo-imaging company, Oliver said Monday the government is open to compromise on the proposed changes, but won't consider a wholesale rewrite of its legislation.
"We're always open to improvements," Oliver said, "but if people are wanting to gut the legislative change then we're not going to be impressed by that."
Oliver has said that the government aims to strike a balance between environmental protection – which he insisted won't be compromised – and boosting the Canadian economy with lucrative development projects.
But NDP's energy and natural resources critic Peter Julian said that's not the case.
"This is not balanced in any shape or form," he told CTV's Power Play on Monday, adding that the Conservatives are "feeling the heat" from Canadians who are upset about the changes to the environmental assessment process.
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May accused the federal government of "gutting environmental regulation under the cover of a budget bill."
But Michelle Rempel, parliamentary secretary to Environment Minister Peter Kent, told Power Play that numerous stakeholders have expressed their support for the omnibus bill because it will create more jobs and speed up natural resource development.
Cox, however, said that the government is "in damage control" and that Oliver's public awareness campaign is a direct response to the Black Out protest.
"They've dispatched 10 ministers across the country, they've all got their speaking notes... this is a government that's responding to the initiative."