OTTAWA – Opposition parties and environmental groups accused the Conservative government Monday of kowtowing to "knuckle-dragging" oil giants with its proposal to streamline environmental reviews.
But the Tories launched a multi-minister, cross-country media blitz to counter those claims and hammer home their message that resource development is key to Canada’s long-term prosperity.
Some 500 groups – backed by opposition parties – took down or darkened their websites Monday to protest proposed environmental provisions in the Conservatives’ omnibus budget bill.
Rick Smith, a former federal NDP staffer now with Environmental Defence, said some industries in the resource sector – such as forestry and mining – have "common cause" with environmental groups.
"There’s one industry in this country that is knuckle-dragging, that is aggressive, that is used to getting its own way," he said, referring to the oil industry as "crybabies" who demanded the federal government step in after Washington put the Keystone XL pipeline project on ice earlier this year.
Critics charge the proposed changes gut the environmental review process and muzzle the rights of Canadians to raise concerns about resource development projects.
Amnesty International’s Alex Neve went so far as to suggest the government’s crackdown on foreign money flooding into green charity coffers to fight oilsands development is similar to tactics used in countries like Ethiopia, Russia, Zimbabwe, Belarus and Algeria.
"It’s in the same vein," he said.
But industry and some labour unions have a different take on the proposed changes.
Christopher Smillie, a lobbyist for Canada’s building trades unions, said Canadians stand to gain thousands of jobs in the construction industry if the legislation passes.
"Nothing in the natural resource sector gets built without construction workers," he said. "We sit around and we wait for these big projects to be approved. It’s a challenge."
If it passes, then "we’re not beholden to oil politics in the United States," he said.
Speaking in Gatineau, Que., Monday morning as 10 cabinet colleagues fanned out across the country to promote resource development, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver denied the Conservatives are on the defensive over the blackout campaign.
"We want to present the facts to Canadians," he said, calling the muzzling charge "over-the-top rhetoric."
Meanwhile, MPs on the finance committee held the first of two marathon sessions Monday looking at every clause of Bill C-38, the omnibus bill.