STOP: Stop Tar Sands Operations Permanently

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Target Tar Sands

Posted by mhudema on September 10, 2008

Layton targets tar sands
Globe and Mail Update
September 8, 2008 at 7:04 PM EDT
FORT SMITH, NWT — The plane carrying New Democrat Leader Jack Layton and his NDP entourage swooped over the Alberta tar sands Monday to show vast expanses of northern wilderness despoiled by development.

Ponds filled with chemicals that remain from oil extraction, forest that have criss-crossed with strips that have been cleared of trees, mines that rise out of nowhere.

Linda Duncan, the environmental advocate who is running for the New Democrats in Edmonton-Strathcona, offered a running description of the devastation below. Wildlife has been displaced, she said, and ground water has been drained.

In Fort Smith, more than 300 kilometres north of the tar sands that lie outside Fort McMurray, Alta., people fear the chemicals they say may be flowing their way.

“It’s depressing to see untrammeled development with significant environmental consequences taking place with no action by the government to address it,” Mr. Layton told reporters at park overlooking the Slave River in this community of 2,500.

“The consequences of this development are not just limited to the narrow areas that we have been travelling over in our voyage here. The polluted water that can flow from the toxic development that is taking place without controls ultimately flows to the North through the river system that we see behind us here.”

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper paid a recent visit to the north to talk about what his government would do to ensure Canada’s arctic sovereignty. He has also spoken about the importance of the region to the country and to himself personally.

But Mr. Layton accused Mr. Harper of fast-tracking tar sands development without proper controls.

“When we see Mr. Harper claim to be standing up for the North and to have a vision for the North, he’d better start by controlling the pollution and taking action to protect the north from the toxic discharges of his friends in the big oil companies.”

The NDP, he said, has demanded that no new permits for oil sands development be issued until a plan for that development has been put in place. Mr. Layton said he also wants the oil companies to explain what they are going to do with the toxic lagoons and how they will ensure the integrity of dams protecting the Athabaska River system.

The oil sands are the largest single contributor to greenhouse gases in Canada. They are also provide the livelihood for thousands upon thousands of Canadians who have flocked to places like Fort McMurray to take advantage of the energy boom.

But Mr. Layton said the destruction of the Canadian north will come back to haunt future generations and it is time to end the $1.4-billion in federal tax subsidies that go to the oil and gas companies exploiting the tar sands.

“You can see here is that it’s far from benign. It looks like a suburban subdivision,” he said of the hectares and hectares of developed territory that passed beneath the wings of the plane.

“Massive amounts of energy are being used to draw out these fossil fuels, we spend twice as much energy, sometimes three times as much energy, as we produce just to get the energy out,” he said.

Dean Del Mastro, the Conservative MP from the Ontario riding of Peterborough, responded to the Mr. Layton’s criticisms by saying that the NDP Leader knows full well that the government, under Mr. Harper, increased the level of scrutiny on industry in all sectors of the economy.

In addition, said Mr. Del Mastro, the oil-sands industry is making huge investments in an effort to improve its efficiency.

Billions of dollars in procurements will flow to Ontario and Quebec in the coming years, he said, as the energy companies invest in the goods that will be required to retrofit their operations.

And tens of thousands of people rely on the tar sands for their jobs, said Mr. Del Mastro, so Mr. Layton is “attacking people where they work.”

Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion has made the environment a prime plank in his election campaign with his proposal to introduce a carbon tax offset by income-tax cuts.

Mr. Layton is aiming to position his party as the foremost defender of the same issue – one that ranks high on the list of Canadian concerns.

“The first nations who have lived here for thousands of years already can no longer really eat the fish,” he fish, he said. “Is no one going to say this is going to stop?”

Cec Heron, a lifetime resident of Fort Smith who works on land and water issues for a local aboriginal band, said thee people of this area cannot drink oil.

“We’ve survived without oil in the North for thousands of years by living off the land. We didn’t need it for vehicles and everything else,” Ms. Heron said.

“We used to be able to dip a cup into any lake out here and drink fresh water. It terrifies me to think of what is going to happen to people who are downstream from the oil sands. It’s going to be horrendous for us.”

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