Like a bully surprised when their target hits back, the Harper government appears to be a bit back on its heels after environmental groups launched a Black Out, Speak Out campaign ("Silence, on parle" in French) to defend nature and democracy.

Eleven environmental organizations, including Greenpeace, are urging groups nationwide to join us in darkening our websites on June 4th. This symbolic action is intended to protest the federal government’s efforts to push through omnibus legislation that would weaken most of the country's most important environmental protection measures and silence Canadians who want to defend them.

We haven’t been feeling a lot of love from the federal governments since… well, never. But following the grassroots uprising that led to the cancellation of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, the Harper government started getting nasty.

In early January, Joe Oliver released his infamous open letter condemning green energy advocates as “radicals”.

Public Safety Minister let it be known that environmental groups were being added to the list of extremist organizations under anti-terrorism legislation (I was, however, somewhat amused that they had to develop a special category for pacifist Greenpeace: the “non-violent attack methodology”).

Not to be outdone, Environment Minister Peter Kent equated questioning tar sands expansion with treason and said certain environmental charities were “money laundering” – an accusation that drew a sharp response from the umbrella group representing Canadian charities demanding that he bring forward proof or retract.

But all of this was really just a prelude to the federal government’s budget implementation bill. Traditionally, budget bills are about the government’s planned spending for the year. This one, however, is being called “the biggest overhaul ever of federal environmental protections” because it includes 150 pages of legal text weakening Canada’s environmental laws. A quick summary:

  • The Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act: Gone.
  • Canadian Environmental Assessment Act: Revoked, and replaced with a pale imitation that leaves the key decisions up to the Minister.
  • The Fisheries Act and the Species at Risk Act: Key provisions are dramatically weakened, as energy mega-projects take precedence over habitat protection.
  • The National Energy Board: Loses its veto power over pipeline proposals, as the Prime Minister is givies himself the ability to overrule them if they say No.

It doesn’t get any better when you get to actual spending.

  • The budgets of ministries dealing with environmental protection were cut, reducing their capacity to enforce the laws that still exist.
  • The $1.3 billion in federal subsidies for the oil industry, on the other hand, have been left largely untouched.
  • In spite of cutbacks elsewhere, the federal government did manage to find an extra $8 million for the Canada Revenue Agency to audit environmental groups, in what the Globe and Mail has called a “witch hunt” targeting groups opposed to new tar sands pipelines.

These are the kinds of actions we expect to see in a petro-state, not Canada. And we’re not going to take it lying down.

If you want to join in – check out www.blackoutspeakout.ca for details.