Big oil is the big winner in today’s federal budget. As expected, the Harper government announced that it will dismantle environmental laws that help protect our forests, air, water and wildlife from uncontrolled industrial activity like tar sands mines and pipelines. Adding insult to injury, but also expected,  are the budget cuts to key ministries that will reduce their capacity to enforce the environmental laws that still exist.

We still don’t know how they will go about gutting eco-laws. It would be a particularly egregious affront to democracy to bury such far-reaching changes to laws Canadians depend upon to protect our environment in the budget implementation bill in order to avoid public scrutiny. But I wouldn’t put it past them

There were, however, a couple of surprises.

The first was that the changes to the environmental assessment processes will apply retroactively to Enbridge’s proposed tar sands pipeline through BC (to be kept up to date on our campaign to stop this pipeline, sign up here). Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised, given the fevered pace of Enbridge lobbying on this – but I was.

This amounts to changing the rules to favour the oil industry mid-game, and will only fuel the large and growing opposition to this project and others like it.

The government likes to say this is simply about making the process more efficient, but it’s really about shutting out the public and letting the companies get their approvals without any fuss or muss. And certainly without having to entertain the possibility that they might not get approval for that new tar sands mine or pipeline because it’s a bad project.

The second surprise (to me) was the all-out attack on environmental groups that are charities. The government is not only going to change the law to make it harder to engage in (legal) “political activities”, but also allocated a whopping $8 million for auditing groups it doesn’t like.

Greenpeace isn’t a charity for the same reason we won’t take money from governments or corporations: we value our independence too much and know that if you are successful at social change you can expect this kind of reaction from the defenders of the status quo. But we are concerned about the chill this will send through other environmental groups, and how this government is trying to intimidate those who disagree with it and shut down democratic debate.

We’ve got some ideas of our own, but we’d love to hear your thoughts on how we should fight back (comment below).