Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Government directive to muzzle last words of NRTEE

Yesterday I received a bizarre letter sent to a list of undisclosed recipients - presumably people who had been members at some time, like me, of Canada's National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE). 

When Stephen Harper's government announced the upcoming closure of the NRTEE, Minister John Baird defended this by saying that the advisory body should stop calling for a carbon tax. (In fact, it called for cap-and-trade, like the Harper government at one point, but never for a carbon tax - I have read every one of its reports in this area and contributed to a few.)  So the Harper government's desire to kill this 25 year old advisory body, originally created by the Conservative government of Brian Mulroney, is understandable - unconscionable, but understandable.

Now it seems they even want to prevent access to some of the final material produced by the NRTEE, in this case the reflections written by past chairs and a retrospective essay by Bob Page, the last chair. It's difficult to imagine a more controlling and mean-spirited attitude.

If you feel as I do, please let other people know about this.  Here is the letter:

Dear colleagues;

We are writing to follow up on our parting email of a couple of weeks ago. At that time we advised you of an initiative we had underway to transfer a legacy NRTEE website to Sustainable Prosperity, who were to host the site under an NRTEE domain name, in a static manner going forward, to ensure Canadians had ready web access to this valuable body of work.

This plan has now changed. We were directed in writing by the Minister on Friday March 22nd that we were not to proceed with the transfer of the NRTEE domain name to Sustainable Prosperity, but to transfer it to Environment Canada along with the contents of our external website. He advised us that Environment Canada then intends to make the information publicly available. At this time it is not clear how this will be accomplished in the very limited time remaining before we close our doors March 28th.

At the same time we were instructed that no new content was to be added to the website. In an email from Environment Canada’s legal services unit in advance of the formal notification from the Minister, it more specifically referred to not uploading the Reflections document (from past Chairs and CEO’s) onto the website. Neither the Reflections document nor the retrospective essay on the Round Table by Dr. Bob Page had been uploaded to the web at the time of the Minister’s notification, nor have they been since.

We cannot provide any explanation for this decision – none was provided in the letter or subsequent discussions with the Department.

We apologize for the fact this communiqué is in English only but the NRTEE is in the very final stages of preparing to close its doors and translation was not possible.

As we had made this undertaking to you all, we felt it important to clarify the change in circumstances and direction going forwards. As the NRTEE goes permanently off-line tomorrowmorning we will not be able to acknowledge any replies you might make to this email.

Once again, thank you for all your support over the years.