Friday 29 March 2013

Lakes and deserts

Related to my last post, I received this this in my inbox yesterday:

Media Advisory
March 28, 2013

Council of Canadians plans on-site protest at the Experimental Lakes Area this weekend

The Council of Canadians will stage a protest this weekend at the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) in a last-ditch effort to save the institution.

Mark Calzavara, the Council of Canadians’ Ontario organizer, will be on-site at the protest and available for interviews via satellite phone.

“Canada needs the ELA’s scientific research to develop sound and long term policies on water, climate and public safety,” says Emma Lui, Council of Canadians water campaigner. “Despite the Harper government’s reckless water policies, we’re not giving up yet.”

The ELA – a world-renowned water research facility – costs as little as $400,000 per year to keep open.

If a protest takes place in a forest and nobody is there to film it, are people still angry?

I hope that the media does turn out because I think it's an issue worth attention. Given the remoteness of the location and the Easter weekend timing I'm not sure how it will work out. In any case, I wish them well and hope people take notice.


Something else that came out recently -- the Canadian Government's decision to back out of the UN droughts and deserts convention -- is not unlike their move to cut the ELA.

The move was ostensibly to save money. "It’s not an effective way to spend taxpayers’ money" says PM Stephen Harper, but the amount of money being saved is negligible. The government has spent $283,000 over the past two years on this program according to the Maclean's article, although our commitment is for $350,000.

Harper claims that only 18% of the funds are being spent on anything useful. My question is: how is this different than any other UN program? In fact, with 18% of the funds surviving the UN bureaucracy and getting applied in a productive way, I would consider this astonishingly successful.

The point, of course, is not the money. The real story here is how this reflects the priorities of the current administration, the optics that a move like this generates among the public, and the impression it leaves on the other 193 countries (every other country in the UN, in case you're wondering) that are signatories to the convention.

The damage done to Canada's goodwill among other nations as a result of not being a team player on this matter, whatever that damage may be, must certainly exceed the $350k that we're saving, if one were able to quantify it.

I also find it bizarre that a government that spends $21 million per year on Economic Action Plan advertising would risk the negative publicity that a move like this generates to save a paltry $350k.


The government might argue that these small and supposedly wasteful expenses add up to a significant amount, and at a time when the government is struggling to return to a balanced budget every expense needs to be carefully vetted (except Action Plan advertising apparently).

I agree that small things add up. Small polarizing decisions such as the two mentioned above, as well as others like the Conservative's reluctance to stop the importation of shark fins, combine to create a growing distaste of the government and it's intransigent approach to the environment and social issues.

This may be a miscalculation on the part of Harper. The negative impressions that these actions leave could accumulate to the point where they threaten to overcome people's fear of what Justin Trudeau might do to the country, and could spell the end of the conservative majority next election.

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