More than 500 organizations – green advocates, church groups, political parties, social justice associations, first nations and private companies – are taking part in an Internet protest against a massive omnibus bill they say threatens both free speech and the environment.
Visitors to their websites on Monday are being redirected to another site at BlackOutSpeakOut.ca, which says Canada's land, water and climate are all threatened by the 425-page bill that returns to the Commons for final deliberations this week.
The co-called web "blackout" took place as 10 Conservative cabinet ministers were dispatched to cities across the country to defend Bill C-38, saying it will ensure natural resources are developed in a way that contributes to continued economic growth and jobs while strengthening environmental protection.
"The strategy basically is to get the facts out to the population," Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said Monday as he headed into the House of Commons. Earlier, he was one of the 10 ministers who extolled the benefits of the budget bill in a bid to counter the protest.
"It's very important that, on an issue that is so crucial to economic growth and to job creation for the Canadian population to have the facts," he said, "the facts about how important resource development is for jobs, for economic growth, for revenues to government, and what we are trying to achieve with Bill C-38, our responsible resource development legislation, how it will enhance environmental protection and, at the same time, modernize the regulatory system to the 21st century."
But the groups participating in the web blackout say the opposite is true
"The amazing thing is that when these 10 ministers speak, you can barely see big oil's lips moving," Rick Smith, executive director of Environmental Defence, told a news conference attended by five of the organizations participating in the blackout.
Mr. Smith said the bill will gut long-standing environmental laws, dismember any effective federal oversight of environmental protection, put the decision around development into the hands of cabinet based on "whimsical" criteria, and eliminate many of the best sources of advice around environmental issues.
"There's one industry in this country that is knuckle-dragging, that is aggressive, that is used to getting it's own way, and that, clearly, in the wake of the [decision to halt the Keystone XL pipeline in the United States] went, like a bunch of crybabies, to the federal government demanding that the government do something to push through these pipeline projects at all costs," Mr. Smith said.
But the groups are not just concerned about the ramifications for the environment. They are also angry about what they say is the government's smear campaign against organizations that have opposed pipelines and other projects.
Conservatives have accused some environmental foundations of laundering money for U.S. groups and the budget bill provides $8-million to enforce existing restrictions on the political activities of Canadian charities.
Alex Neve, secretary-general of Amnesty International Canada, told reporters the federal pushback against charities "is reflective of a deeply troubling pattern of intimidating, punishing, insulting and sidelining and, ultimately, seeking to silence voices of dissent and criticism in Canada."
Mr. Neve said these are the types of actions his organization has seen in repressive states like Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and Belarus.
Despite the protests, there is little chance the government will relent and break up the bill so some parts can be further scrutinized as requested by the opposition parties. And the Conservative majority means there is no real way of stopping the bill from being passed before the House rises for its summer recess. But opposition members will do their best to delay it.
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May raised a point of order in the Commons Monday, saying it should be set aside because it is not properly an omnibus bill and is therefore "imperfect."
And Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae told reporters his party will also try to obstruct the bill.
"This is not just about C-38, it is not even about a specific piece of legislation," Mr. Rae said. "This is about a government that is literally out of control and it's about a culture of intimidation and a culture of bullying that starts at the top and goes right the way through the administration."