Is Manitoba's New Government Already Failing the Environment? (Editorial)

by Larry Powell
Well, another Manitoba election has come and gone. And we got the change we wanted. 

Or did we?

To me, it still seems like the goal of “evidence-based” policy-making, often promised by politicians of every stripe, remains as elusive as ever.

Take climate change, for example. 

Except for the cranks, the pseudo-scientists pimping for Big Oil, those living on the moon or the stupid, the science is now accepted. It’s settled. Our earthly home is warming dangerously because we’re burning too much fossil fuel. This is already creating conditions that have, for one thing, been making wildfires happen more, come earlier and last longer. (And oh, by the way, as I write this, Fort McMurray is burning.  

Wildfire @ Fort McMurray, Alberta. Wickimedia Commons photos.
Seven new wildfires started yesterday in Manitoba, including two major blazes burning in the southeast, straddling the Ontario border.

Yet our new Premier, Brian Pallister has just announced a new cabinet, without a Minister of the Environment! This surely places him in one of the categories I have just mentioned above. 

While I'd like to give him the benefit of the doubt, let's face it, this is no "oversight." And it’s hard to view it as anything but the act of an utterly contemptuous climate denier.

One of Pallister's new Ministers, now my own MLA, made it clear at a forum with two other candidates before the election, that she was not that familiar with climate science or the Energy East pipeline. That’s a plan for a massive new project that would use an aging pipeline which already crosses Manitoba, to deliver highly corrosive and polluting Alberta tar instead of the natural gas it now carries. 

But the other two candidates didn’t even think the science was settled yet. While one did express the need for greener energy, the other actually called a carbon tax, already used successfully in some jurisdictions to reduce fuel consumption and greenhouse gases, “the work of the Devil.” 

Religion is never far away from political discourse, especially in these parts. Each of the three made it clear their "thoughts and prayers" were with the family of a little boy, missing from a rural residence to the south at the time. One even thought a "Biblical miracle"might intervene. Sadly, his body was recovered a short time later.

If the Biblical prophets had been as accurate in predicting disasters like Fort McMurray as our modern climate scientists have been, they might have won a Nobel prize, too! But somehow, I don’t think their warnings of dragons spewing floods from their mouths, walking sticks turning into serpents, or Jesus riding a horse out of the clouds, would (or should) stand the test of rigorous scientific analysis. Do you?

The three local candidates (all card-carrying members of the Conservative Party of Manitoba, as it turns out), also thought pipelines were better than tanker-trains, because they’re safer. Not only was it the wrong question, their answer was highly debatable. 

In a ten-year period, Enbridge of Calgary recorded more than 600 spills of crude oil from its pipeline into the States. 132 thousand barrels escaped, fully half the amount spilled in the infamous Exxon-Valdez tragedy in 1988. Then, in 2010, 2.4 million litres of bitumen (tar) spilled from an Enbridge facility into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. That cleanup has proven incredibly difficult, lengthy and costly and was the worst spill of its kind, ever. Last July, five million litres of bitumen mixed with water and sand, leaked from a pipeline south of Fort McMurray, It proved to be one of the biggest oil spills in Alberta’s history. Oh, and just last month, there was a spill of more than 70 thousand litres of crude from TransCanada’s Keystone pipeline in South Dakota. In Russia, an oil pipeline ruptured under a river recently, causing a huge explosion. 

I could go on. But, you get the idea.

So why is the question, “Which is safer, rail or pipeline" the wrong one?  Despite the Lac-Mégantic tragedy (or perhaps because of it), we should be asking, instead; “How can we wean ourselves off fossil fuels and find sustainable, alternative sources of energy, before it’s too late for our kids and our planet? "

For the first time in a very long time, I did not vote in a provincial election. And there'll need to be more and better choices before I do again.


John Fefchak said…

New Manitoba Cabinet -but no Minister for water or Conservation.

Lake Winnipeg and Manitoba's water sources are certainly not a high priority for our new provincial Conservative government.

New Government -Got what you wanted?
Congratulations Manitoba; you've voted for change.

But you forgot to be careful what you wished for because now you’ve got a government of business, by business, for business.
No Conservation and Water Stewardship Minister in this cabinet!
What does sustainable development really mean for that new Minister's title?
Well according to Brandon University professor, Joe Dolecki, speaking from the perspective of economy, tells it this way: "Sustainable development means that we can continue, as in the past, to rape,pillage and plunder the environment ; we just call it something nice so that we can feel good about what we;re doing".
With a loss of Premier Selinger and Ministers, you can rest assured, the future state of Lake Winnipeg and
protection of our Manitoba waters will be condemned to insignificance.

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