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Strengthening Canadian Charities (Part 2)

Posted on: December 2nd, 2016 by Lanlin Bu No Comments

— What Can Individuals Do to Better Support Charities?

Lanlin Bu, Michael Bloomfield, and Adrian Southin

 

Knowledge is power. Tell your friends and colleagues about the problems highlighted in our recent paper “Unleashing the Power of Canadian Charities”, and encourage government and corporations to remedy those problems. At the same time, we can all take actions to directly help charities.

 

What can we do in our own life to help charities?

 

1. Re-examine our giving.

On average, Canadians donate $531 (CAD) [1] to charity, while Americans give $1,201 (USD).[2] Many of us can afford to give more support to the charities that keep our water clean, help those in need, run our hospitals and fight for social justice. Even if you can’t give more, you can help in other ways. Learn more about the charities you’re supporting and get involved. Online resources like the CRA database (http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/chrts-gvng/lstngs/menu-eng.html) provide financial and operational information for many charities.

 

2. Volunteer

Volunteers are essential for many charities to delivering their services. More volunteers mean that charities can offer more benefit to your community and all Canadians. Contact an organization you support directly, or find a listing for volunteer opportunities online.

 

3. Consumer Awareness

It’s important to support companies that invest in society and are good corporate citizens. Just as we expect corporations to respect human rights, maintain safe workplaces and protect the environment, we also should expect them to generously contribute to the arts, education, and social wellbeing. After all, through our tax dollars, businesses are given lots of support including research and development grants, training and access to infrastructure. It’s only fair that Canadians and the communities they live in get a return on their investment. RBC’s Blue Water Project[3] is a good example of an effort to improve the world, where self-promoting schemes like Amazon Smile[4] take away from sincere giving.

 

A strong civil society is vital to a healthy democracy, giving voice to concerned Canadians. These voices help ensure fairness and justice for all. Let’s make sure these organizations are well equipped and not being held back from achieving their potential.

Charities are too important to be put at risk by short-term political or economic trends. Governments, corporations and the public need to be more supportive in meaningful ways if we truly value the many services charities provide to Canadians.

 

Read the full research paper “UNLEASHING THE POWER OF CANADIAN CHARITIES” from http://harmonyfdn.ca/?page_id=2756

 

[1] Turcotte, Martin. “Charitable giving by individuals.” Statistics Canada. 2015. 4.

[2] Link to: http://nccs.urban.org/nccs/statistics/Charitable-Giving-in-America-Some-Facts-and-Figures.cfm

[3] Link to: http://www.rbc.com/community-sustainability/environment/rbc-blue-water/index.html

[4] Link to: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/brady-josephson/why-amazon-is-smiling-and_b_4360405.html

Strengthening Canadian Charities (Part 1)

Posted on: December 2nd, 2016 by Lanlin Bu No Comments

— What Can Governments Do to Better Support Charities?

Lanlin Bu, Michael Bloomfield, and Adrian Southin

 

Charities are essential partners in Canadian society, working to relieve poverty, safeguard our environment and health, assist children, seniors and others in need, and provide cultural, educational social and other valuable services. Given that they contribute $35.6 billion[1] to the economy each year, we’d expect that government would actively encourage these organizations, much in the same way they support business to succeed. The truth is that over the past decade, unfriendly politicians, excessive regulations, corporate exploitation and the economic downturn have hurt charities and the Canadians they serve.

 

So how do we turn the situation around and persuade governments, corporations and the public to be more supportive? The need and benefits seem clear, what actions should be taken?

 

1. End charity bashing
A strong civil society is essential to a healthy democracy. Global Affairs Canada says Canada recognizes civil society as an “essential partner in promoting transformative change,”[2] acting as an intermediary between governments and their people. If our elected leaders are serious then they should encourage public participation and discourage politicians who try to muzzle charities for political gain.

 

For example in 2012, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver declared: “environmental and other radical groups [were backed by]… foreign special interest groups… [to] hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical agenda.”[3] Shortly thereafter, then-Minister of Environment, Peter Kent accused charities of being used to launder offshore funds.[4] Both assertions were debunked.

 

Meanwhile, corporations use SLAPP suits (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) to foster fear of speaking out and bog down charities in court. Government needs to legislate against this undemocratic behaviour as many USA jurisdictions have done. If business and government promote developments that may have negative consequences public advocacy is vital to a balanced discussion.

 

2. Cut the red tape
Govern charities with trust, not fear of unintentional wrongdoing. The overwhelming majority of charities are efficiently and honestly operated. Nonetheless, regulatory requirements have increasingly tightened in response to corporate wrongdoers such as ENRON, SNC-Lavalin and Bernie Madoff.[5]

Harmonizing oversight between the bodies that govern charities, the CRA and ISEDC, would be a good place to start. Many charities are spending a disproportionate amount of time and money to meet regulatory demands. For example, charities have to send separate annual reports, with different criteria and deadlines, to each body. These reporting requirements are the same for small local groups and major national charities like The Red Cross or Canadian Cancer Society. Why? Creating harmonized, ascending reporting requirements would free up resources spent on administrative tasks for charities to better provide their services.

 

3. Extend the timeframe to spend donations

Right now, charities must spend at least 80% of all donations for which charitable receipts are issued within 12 months of receipt as well as 3.5% of all assets. Extending the timeframe that charities have to spend donations to three years would create more sustainability and stability for charities, giving organizations the security to reach their long-term goals and mandate.

 

4. Promote giving and volunteerism

Improved public awareness of the contribution of charities will help increase donations and volunteering. Increasing the benefits for giving to charities would also help. It’s unfair that donations to political parties receive a 75% tax credit, while donations to charities receive an average of 29%, and not more than 50%, including provincial credits.[6] Let’s be fair.

 

5. Restore charities as a primary deliverer of foreign aid
In 2013, Canadian International Development Agency was terminated as part of a government decision to deliver foreign aid through corporations, rather than charities. This means using public funds to subsidize corporations to meet their social and environmental responsibilities, in addition to losing the expertise of charities in delivering aid more efficiently and effectively. Moreover, it also raises the risk of funds lost to in-country government corruption and corporate self-interest

 

6. Stop soliciting public and corporate donations 

The Canadian government has taken donations from both the public and corporations in order to fulfill its own responsibilities, such as disaster relief after the summer 2016 fires in Fort McMurray. Given that there is a finite amount of available donations, this drains money that otherwise might have gone to charities. And what expectation is created when corporations give to government? For example, what public benefit is gained when Mars Canada sponsors with Parks Canada “unique historic chocolate experiences”[7].

 

7. Review corporate giving 

While corporate giving should be encouraged it’s imperative that it is in society’s best interest, or at least balanced between society and the donors, rather than for tax write-offs and marketing purposes. For example, the Olympic games are a giant marketing event for Petro-Canada, RBC and others, not a charitable activity; and making charities compete for donations like Aviva does through retweets and Facebook likes derives a business benefit that should not be subsidized by t taxpayers. Nor does it seem appropriate that companies like Sobeys who collect public donations for charities and food banks receive the goodwill, and sometimes even tax credits, that belong to the individual donors.

 

8. Provide charities with training and support
Provide training programs or grants for capacity building to upgrade charities’ skills and capacity, as is done for corporations, such as through Canada Jobs Grants.

 

Read the full research paper “UNLEASHING THE POWER OF CANADIAN CHARITIES” from http://harmonyfdn.ca/?page_id=2756

 

[1] Haggar-Guenette et al. Satellite Account of Non-profit Institutions and Volunteering. Statistics Canada, 2007. 9.

[2] Link to: http://www.international.gc.ca/development-developpement/priorities-priorites/civil_society-societe-civile.aspx?lang=eng

[3] Link to: http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/media-room/news-release/2012/1/1909

[4] Link to: http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/environmental-charities-laundering-foreign-funds-kent-says-1.1165691

[5] Link to: http://www.accounting-degree.org/scandals/

[6] Link to: http://www.taxplanningguide.ca/tax-planning-guide/section-2-individuals/tax-credits-charitable-donations/

[7] Link to: http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/agen/partenaires-partners/national.aspx

Electric Vehicles in Victoria: Environmental Brief

Posted on: August 19th, 2014 by Harmony Foundation No Comments

 

Streams of information steer consumers on their vehicle choices, ranging from helpful facts to the self-serving (and often fictitious) statistics presented by automakers. Drivers who prioritize low environmental impact in their vehicle choice, face some confusing options, fuel being an important one 

 

 In locations with electricity produced by low carbon or zero carbon methods, the facts suggest that a fully electric vehicle is the most environmentally friendly type of vehicle on the market. This blog briefly highlights some of the environmental considerations of purchasing a fully electric vehicle (EV) as applied to an average driver in Victoria.


The Source: Powering Electric Vehicles

 

A major environmental concern around electric vehicles has been the source of the electricity that charges their batteries. In regions where electricity is generated by coal or other fossil fuels, the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from EV production can outweigh the lack of tail-pipe emissions. One study notes: “If the energy used to recharge the electric car comes mostly from coal-fired power plants, it will be responsible for the emission of almost 15 ounces of carbon-dioxide for every one of the 50,000 miles it is driven—three ounces more than a similar gas-powered car.” In BC, however, electricity comes primarily from hydroelectric  projects, which, while not completely eco-friendly, are generally far better than the fossil fuel produced electricity that powers EVs in places such as Ontario or Australia. Over the coming years, BC is expected to see an increase of electricity sourced from smaller solar and wind projects, further decreasing the lifecycle emissions of EVs.  

 

Another low impact component of the EV is that plug-in electricity demand is reduced through the breaking system. Unlike gas/diesel engines, EV’s have regenerative breaking systems that recharge the battery when going downhill or breaking, utilizing energy wasted in conventional vehicles.

 

The Battery: Production, Life, & Recycling

 

EV batteries today are increasingly made of lithium-ion, making them more efficient and longer lasting than earlier forms of battery. These batteries, however, pose certain challenges.

 

Estimates suggest that the typical battery life for an EV is 12-15 years, with Nissan saying that after five years, reduced effectiveness for the batteries in a typical Leaf brings the range down from 80 miles/128 kms to 55 miles/88 kms. That range, however, is quite adequate for the driving needs of the majority of urban dwellers in Canada who drive an average of 50 kms a day. Thankfully, when the battery does fall below an acceptable range, EV owners aren’t stuck with a non-resell-able auto heading to scrap. Nissan now offers replacement batteries for about the same cost of putting a new engine and transmission into a gas car, around $5,500, making replacement or resale of EV’s a feasible option albeit a relatively expensive one.

 

But what happens to the old batteries? Only a few companies in North America currently recycle EV batteries. This is done by freezing the batteries to -160 degrees Celsius to defuse the lithium and then shearing, shredding and separating batteries into their different components, which can be resold. But the most sustainable scenario is one where batteries aren’t immediately sent from a 14 yr old EV to the recycling plant, or worse yet the trash, but instead are given a “second life” in some other function. Currently, groups within tech industry, academia, government, and the environmental sector are working toward developing second life options for EV batteries. These ideas include using the older batteries as back up generators for houses and neighbourhoods (a used Chevy Volt battery could provide about 3 hours of electricity for 3-5 typical American homes) or for municipalities, where batteries could store excess energy to be provided back to the grid at high demand periods.

 

EV Infrastructure

 

On  South Vancouver Island, we currently have several electric charging stations, with more promised to come on line over the next five years.

 

Comparative Cost:

 

The average cost to drive 100 miles on electricity is only $3.45 compared to $13.52 for driving 100 miles on gasoline. With fewer parts than other types of vehicles, an EV requires less maintenance. However, battery replacement should not be overlooked.

 

Disclaimer: Hold Your Horses

 

While EVs are likely the most eco-friendly choice of automotive for the average Victoria driver, consumers must remember that building and operating of cars uses water, energy and other valuable resources and their disposal also heavily impacts the environment and public health.

 

As well, the bigger the vehicle the bigger the impact. Our best environmental option remains to choose vehicles that use less material and fuel. Better yet, we need healthier people who are less reliant on their cars and more likely to walk, bike and use public transit.

 

It’s important to consider the life-cycle impacts of what we purchase. A study by Climate Central stated “emissions from producing the battery and other electrical components create a 10,000 to 40,000-pound carbon debt for electric cars that can only be overcome after tens, or even hundreds of thousands of miles of driving and recharging from clean energy sources.” This large carbon debt is due to activities such as the lithium mining necessary for EV battery production. By contrast the amount for making a conventional gas powered car is 14,000 pounds, with their carbon debt increasing primarily through tail-pipe emissions.

 

A life cycle analysis by the Journal of Industrial Ecology suggests that if an electric car is driven for 144,000 kms and the owner stays away from coal-powered electricity, the car will produce about 24% less carbon-dioxide emission than its gas-powered cousin. That’s a worthwhile improvement but not the cure-all being promoted. 

 

We need to choose cars that are much more fuel efficient, far-less polluting and are more proficient in their use and disposal of metals, plastics, and other valuable materials. The trend towards buying SUVs, even those with some sort of flex fuel exhibits a lack of responsibility by government, car manufacturers and purchasers.   

 

The most important steps we can and must take now are those that get us out of our cars out into our neighbourhoods building healthier, more sustainable communities with public transportation that reduces the pollution and urban sprawl caused by cars.


 

Articulating a Sensible Energy Strategy for Canada

Posted on: March 27th, 2014 by Harmony Foundation No Comments

 

When it comes to energy resource development in Canada, the two views most often heard are maximalist positions, one arguing that there is an economic imperative to pursue development, with social and environmental impacts as the price for progress, and the other saying that we develop fossil fuels at our peril, they must be left in the ground.

 

It’s hard for a reasonable person to deny that the world would be better off if we stopped using fossil fuels. There is no honest way to avoid the fact that continuing (and expanding) their development compromises our air quality, contaminates our water and destroys a significant amount of wildlife habitat. As well, increases in our greenhouse gas emissions will only make the situation worse. Along with people concerned about the environment and public health many of Canada’s First Nations and rural communities oppose such development projects which threaten their way of life.

 

So what’s the way out of this dilemma? First, we should accelerate our transition to clean energy alternatives. Governments should incentivize these efforts as they withdraw subsidies to fossil fuel industries.

 

However, the truth is we are a long way from clean energy becoming a major supplier let alone our principal energy source and it’s naïve to believe that fossil fuels are not needed or going to be developed. So let’s come up with a long-term strategy that makes environmental and social health a priority and meets our responsibilities to future generations, public health and the environment.

 

Let’s use fossil fuels efficiently. Fossil fuels are finite, their development and use is hazardous and that they are too valuable to waste is well established. Driving to the golf course or movie theatre in a 2.5 ton, gas-guzzling SUV is selfish. We also need to respect the rights of future generations to their share of these resources.

 

There also are compelling economic reasons for slower, more sustainable development models that creates long-term jobs, community investment and environmental protection. Our current break neck pace of development may enrich corporations and their investors but these assets are going to become more valuable over time. Who benefits from burning them away in a few generations or shipping them overseas, risking environmental disaster and the health of people in other countries? For example, China where shortages of clean water already are a crisis.

 

Let’s develop fossil fuels in a way that seriously prioritizes minimizing environmental impacts. Canada has incredible natural inheritance; it’s our responsibility to protect it.. Secondly, Canada has international responsibilities and commitments to human rights and traditional societies to uphold.

 

Let’s develop them close to home. Lac Megantic starkly reminded us it’s risky to transport fossil fuels. We should develop these resources close to the source to reduce risks increase jobs and other benefits to local economies. It’s also important to ensure Canada’s long-term self-sufficiency. When governments consider the various pipeline proposals risk reduction and self-sufficiency should be of greater importance than short-term economic return. Arguably, the Northern Gateway pipeline poses greater risk and lesser benefits on environment, human rights and self-sufficiency than Keystone and the eastern corridor, the later seemingly the best choice of the 3 major proposals. Shipping by rail or ocean seems a disaster waiting to happen.

 

Let’s export the cleanest versions possible, if we do export. The risk of environmental degradation is too great for us to be shipping unrefined oil, especially diluted bitumen from the tar sands. As responsible people we should use the dirtiest versions closest to home where we can be regulate and monitor responsible behaviour rather than export environmental risk to countries that may have weaker regulations and enforcement as well as little or no ability to deal with environmental disasters.

 

We’ve covered a lot of ground in a short opinion piece. In a nutshell, fossil fuels will be developed for the foreseeable future. Whether we like it or not all of us live if the fossil fuel era. The fundamental question is whether development is motivated by short-term economic gain, the rights of the people and environment be damned, or whether we develop and use these resources wisely, giving priority to long-term benefits for the greatest number of people and the protection of human rights, public health and the environment. Now it’s time for an intelligent discussion.

Canadians Deserve an Energy Strategy that Better Serves the Public Interest

Posted on: January 28th, 2014 by Harmony Foundation No Comments

 
In a recent column in the National Post, Michael Den Tandt heaped scorn on Neil Young and his “fellow oil sands critics” for protesting without offering “a single viable alternative”. The article, which also calls Young a “moral coward”, leaves a foul smell in the air to anyone eager for sustainable resource development and civilized debate.
 
Den Tandt’s article exemplifies the sad shape of public discourse on resource development, where boosters attack anyone who disagrees with them. The job versus environment formula is a cunning tactic used to arouse anxiety and discord rather than inform a healthy debate. It also prejudices the way that resource decisions are presented to and perceived by Canadians.
 
 What we need is a rational and respectful debate that produces an energy strategy that best serves Canadians. Everyone should be able to participate without being intimidated or demonized.
 
In his article, Dan Tant tells us that we must accept oil sands development as ultimately “a social good”.  Why? Oil development, transport, use and disposal pose hazards to public health and the environment. How far are we willing to go if it means contaminating water and air, destroying wilderness and wildlife or trampling the rights and traditions of First Nations?
 
What about our international commitments to cut rather than increase our greenhouse gas emissions? Severe weather is already costing the economy billions as droughts threaten food supplies, floods and ice storms devastate communities and millions around the world move in search for survival.
 
Presenting our choices as ‘all or nothing’ and “environment vs economy” is perhaps Mr. Den Tandt’s greatest disservice to his readers. The “environment vs economy” dichotomy is based on an outdated understanding of economics and ignores crucial social and environmental considerations. Rapid resource development makes some rich and leaves many more struggling with rising housing, food and energy costs. It does little to diversify our economy or energy supply. As everyone knows it’s unwise to put all of our eggs in one basket.
 
Instead, we should adopt a strategy that leads to sustainable energy, a diversified economy and a healthy society. First, let’s pursue resource development which prioritizes building strong, healthy communities, protecting the environment, and ensuring that the economic benefits extend to all Canadians, including future generations. It’s unfair to develop public resources for the benefit of only one generation and a small group of wealthy investors.
 
Second, we must combine oil and gas development with a serious commitment to conservation and the development of clean energy alternatives. Canada’s petroleum resources will grow more valuable over time, why liquidate them in one generation?
 
Finally, companies that develop, refine and ship these public resources (and the governments that regulate them) need to do a better job of protecting public health and the environment. That means pipelines and tankers built to the highest standards and performance bonds so that when leaks and spills occur it’s not the public left holding the bag when companies file for bankruptcy.
 
These are sensible alternatives that many Canadians support. They favour developing our resources at a pace that is safe and efficient and secures the future for us and our children and grandchildren too!
 
Some may agree with Den Tandt that if we were to sit idly by, watching market economics play out, we would likely see oil drilled, produced, and transported around the world for generations to come. Ok, but why would we choose to base our energy security and economic future, let alone our health and social and environmental well-being, on the whims of the stock market or the self- interest of the oil industry? Why would we support a self-fulfilling prophesy that disregards the possibility of self-determination and leaves our country with a ‘one crop’ economy based on a resource that will eventually become depleted ?  
 
Maybe as Michael Den Tandt opines we must accept oil sands development for now, but shouldn’t we do it as part of a comprehensive energy strategy that includes conservation, careful development, investment in healthier alternatives and meeting our responsibilities to future generations and the environment? After all, the oil belongs to us. Why not use the revenue to diversify our economy and provide top-quality education, culture, health care and economic opportunities for everyone.

 

 

 

 

Pricing out Consumerism: Just in Time for the Holidays

Posted on: December 16th, 2013 by Harmony Foundation No Comments

 

It’s that time of year again. The holiday season has arrived in full force, bombarding us with messages of “buy this” and “buy that“ in order to ensure happiness for us, our families, friends and work-mates. That message, however, seemed out of focus as we frantically trample the holiday spirit in our pursuit of discounted products. Onlookers have cause to wonder: Does the year-end frenzy of consumerism really bring happiness? We don’t think so.

Our consumer choices this season will impact not only us but people and environments the world over. So, as both consumerism and feelings of compassion and goodwill reach their yearly peaks, here are a few thoughts we wanted to share with you in the true spirit of the season:

 

Consider the impact of your purchases on people and the environment.
In a world of over 7 Billion people, it is estimated that only 1.4 billion people could sustainably consume like they do in the United States. In order for all the world’s citizens to live this way, we would need 4 planets! Obviously, this is not possible. Make sure that whatever you buy was produced responsibly and is safe for user and environment alike.

Consumer choices also come with a social impact, as seen in the devastating Joe Fresh factory collapse in Bangladesh earlier this year. Support companies that provide fair wages, safe working conditions, and environmental protection.

 

Consider what you are giving  and why.

Why do most of us feel compelled to provide our friends and family with commercial gifts to show them we care? Unfortunately, this good intention can lead to last minute, less-than-thoughtful purchases for the sake of loved-ones having something to unwrap. As a result, millions of people in North America receive gifts they don’t want. According to one study, around 50 percent of our Christmas gifts are dumped within a year, generating tons and tons of unnecessary waste.

 

So instead of  rushing into Walmart on your way to your annual family party,  why not choose a gift that truly says you care such as:

 

– Gifts of Time- certificates entitling the recipient to fun activities, home-made meals, or help with household chores or errands.

– Gifts Made with Love- baked goods, preserves, teas, spice mixtures, candles, bath salts, terrariums etc.

– Up-cycled Gifts- A quick search on sites like Pinterest will give you dozens of options!

 

– “Greener” Gifts– Buying items that are locally made, recycled or up-cycled, choosing electronics that are battery free or perhaps native plants for the garden

 

-Donations– So many wonderful organizations doing great work for people in need, animals, and the environment need your support.

 

A note on wrapping paper: Many people recycle their wrapping paper. That’s a good start, but the production and transport of wrapping paper requires water, trees, and energy and some of the paper still ends up in the  garbage. Try wrapping presents in reusable  materials or go with a simple bow.

 

Consumerism is addictive, and many of us fall victim to messages that define our value by what we own. Nonsense! We could easily learn to buy used, trade, and live with less. At the very least we need to buy with a conscience about how the production and disposal of products affects other people and the environment.

So when it comes to drafting your New Year’s resolutions, along with making plans for increased fitness and family time, remember our responsibilities to other people, nature, and future generations. That may do more for you and friends and family than all the cheap electronics and disposable junk we have been indoctrinated to believe will make us happy.

 

Wishing everyone a great winter holiday and a happy and healthy New Year.

 

 

 

Re-Assessing Our Values: Questions of Social Equity and Environmental Integrity Around the ‘New’ Prosperity Mine

Posted on: November 5th, 2013 by Harmony Foundation No Comments

 
August 23rd marked the end of the second round of public hearings over a proposed mine development for the Chilcotin region. The Prosperity Mine project, first proposed by mining giant Taseko Limited in 2007, is located 125 km southwest of Williams Lake, in the interior of British Columbia.
 
Taseko has proposed to mine gold and copper from a deposit straddling Fish Lake, traditionally known as Teztan Biny by local First Nations. The project would include a 125km power line, a 2km access road, an open pit mine, and a large tailings facility.


Local First Nations, particularly the Tsilhqot’in, have had major objections to the project since it was first proposed, saying that it would not only infringe on rights and title by impacting traditional ceremonial, burial, hunting and fishing grounds, but also threaten the ecosystems that they have depended upon and cared for generations.



After undergoing a federal environmental assessment in 2010 by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA), the federal panel concluded that the Prosperity Mine project would result in “significant adverse environmental effects on fish and their habitat, navigation, the current use of lands and resources for traditional purposes by First Nations and on cultural heritage”.
 
The company responded to the panel’s highly critical report by submitting a second proposal, in 2012. The proposal for this ‘New’ Prosperity Mine, presented Mine Development Plan #2, which attempts to ‘preserve’ Fish Lake. This plan was previously dismissed due to its greater long-term environmental risks and for not being economically feasible.

A major environmental concern continues to be the impacts of sub-surface leachate on groundwater quality. Because Fish Lake is located downstream of the proposed tailings area, contaminated leachate will likely make its way into the hydrological system of the lake. Similarly, wetland and grizzly bear habitat will be severely compromised throughout the development area.


The company claims it has listened to the concerns of local First Nations and the broader Canadian public, and has altered their development plan to address issues raised. In this new plan, the company has promised to construct its own tailings pond, have a shorter operating life for the mine (from 33 to 20 years) and implement watershed reclamation. The provincial government has weighed in citing the benefits such a project would bring for the local economy, which, having always been heavily forestry-based, has been all but decimated from the mountain pine beetle. But the Tsilhqot’in Nation, along with experts from Resource Canada as well as environmental professionals across the country, are more than skeptical of the companies promise to protect the lake from detrimental contamination, and question whether the project is feasible at all.
 
On Halloween 2013, the report from the federal environmental assessment panel was released. Unsurprisingly, concerns and criticisms which had been raised from environmentalists and First Nations are echoed throughout the report, which concluded that Taseko had an unrealistic contingency plan for water treatment, that the mine would infringe on the rights and title of the Tsilhqot’in, and threaten grizzly bear and fish habitat. An approval of the project at this stage would represent not only a complete disregard the federal environmental assessment panel’s findings and the expert advice of those who presented to the CEAA but more importantly the values, opinions and rights of local First Nations.
 
Another key question often overlooked in the mining review process is how much do Canadians and British Columbians care for our environment and the communities that depend on it? BC prides itself in being the province with the highest percent of protected land. Pride is one thing, but actions speak louder than words. We need to ensure that protected land is actually safeguarded from resource extraction, and continues to support flora, fauna, and traditional use.
 
Some of these precious areas have been and should be set aside for higher values than what we can get out of the ground. There is no second chance for the environment or the first peoples on the land. There will always be corporations and economists telling us that the destruction of the natural environment is necessary for economic development, that the degradation of our pristine landscapes and the sacred spaces of First Nations communities is a worthy tradeoff for the money derived from resource extraction. At what point do we, as British Columbians, tell them: “find an alternative, you already have access to more than 85% of the province and your stewardship of those lands does not engender confidence”.

 

Canadian Mining Companies Must be Accountable for Their Actions Abroad

Posted on: October 25th, 2013 by Harmony Foundation No Comments

 
The results of mining benefit every Canadian, found in virtually every product we use and throughout our economy. Through private pensions, the Canada Pension Plan, mutual funds and individual investments, most Canadians have a stake in Canadian mining operations, and the industry itself accounts for over a fifth of total domestic goods exported (MAC, 2011). Internationally, 20% of Canada’s direct foreign investment is in mining operations and over 50% of the mineral companies listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX) are based in Canada (MAC, 2011).
 
Regrettably, however, there is a dark side to Canadian mining. A major player around the world, Canada’s mining industry has also increasingly come under scrutiny for issues of transparency, corruption; human and labour rights and environmental damage.

 

Why should Canadians care about this? Firstly, because those of us who benefit from this industry also share responsibility for it. More than that, Canada is a country with many blessings; a peaceful well-educated population, and tremendous natural, cultural, economic and social capital that are the envy of many. We don’t need to harm others and the environments upon which their lives depend to increase our wealth and profits. Unfortunately, that is exactly what we are doing around the world.

 

The Impact of Canadian Mining

 

Much of the mining done by Canadian companies occurs in developing countries. Low operating costs due to negligible protection for workers, communities and the environment make these places attractive for Canadian and other international mining companies. Despite the existence of best practice guidelines, many Canadian companies are still failing to invest adequately in local consultation, community development and environmental protection. In fact, Canadian companies have the highest incidence of conflict relative to their global competitors (CCSRC, 2009).

 

As a result of poor company behaviour we are seeing increasing protests against Canada over issues of public health, worker safety, environmental damage and human rights. In a new paper entitled Canadian Mining Operations Around the World: Respecting People and the Environment, we examine recent cases in Guatemala and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

 

Tens of thousands of Colombians taking to the streets of Bucaramanga in March of this Year to protest a mining project owned by Vancouver-based Eco Oro Minerals Corp. Retrieved from: http://news.ca.msn.com/world/canadian-mining-companies-subject-of-worldwide-protests

 

Why is This Happening?

 

We see these failures as the result of four key weaknesses:

 

First, the lack of mandatory international standards for corporate social responsibility allows companies to take advantage of the weak regulatory and enforcement systems and corruption present in many developing nations.

 

Second, many companies only adopt CSR policies in the face of external pressure or to placate investors and shareholders and do not adequately engage local communities and groups impacted by the company’s operations. Far too often, marketing and public relations are given much higher priority than meaningful action.

 

In addition, companies that do develop CSR policies rarely undergo independent audits to assess public benefits or effectiveness nor do they reliably provide public reporting on labour and environmental practices, social development investment or financial transactions abroad.

 

Finally, there are no structures in place in Canada to hold mining companies legally accountable for harmful practices abroad. The Office of the Extractive Sector Counsellor, created by the Government in 2009 has potential but currently only provides a non-binding forum where resource conflicts can be resolved among stakeholders. It is not within the power of the office to legally ensure that fair and workable solutions are met between the stakeholders.

 

How Can Canada’s Extractive Industries, and Indeed All Canadian Companies Better Represent Canada Abroad?

 

In order to address these problems we call upon the Canadian Government to convene as soon as possible a process for drafting legislation which would create legally binding standards for Canadian companies operating internationally, beginning with the mining industry. We believe that this process should include the provinces, business, and civil society in order to earn social license and broad support. The standards should require all companies to uphold no less than the best of Canadian standards for worker health and safety, community consultation, social development, labour and human rights, environmental protection and financial transparency wherever the operate in the world.

 

If we Canadians are satisfied with achieving our wealth and comfort at the expense of the well-being of people and environments around the world, then let’s stop pretending to a higher code of conduct. If, however, we are truly committed to human rights, social justice and environmental stewardship it’s time for Canada and Canadians to make some serious changes. We can start by ensuring that the companies we support as taxpayers, investors and customers treat other people and their environments with fairness and respect.

 

For more on this issue, read our recent report:  Canadian Mining Operations Around the World: Respecting People and the Environment

 

Works Cited 

Canadian Centre for the Study of Resource Conflict. 2006. Corporate Social Responsibility: Movement and Footprints of Canadian Mining and Exploration Firms in the Developing World. Retrieved from: http://www.miningwatch.ca/sites/www.miningwatch.ca/files/CSR_Movements_and_Footprints.pdf

Mining Association Canada. 2011. Facts and Figures of the Canadian Mining Industry. Retrieved from: http://www.miningnorth.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/MAC-FactsFigures-2011-English-small.pdf

Observations for North American Association for Environmental Education 42nd Annual Conference

Posted on: October 21st, 2013 by Harmony Foundation No Comments


On October 8, 2013, after a long trip, we arrived to Baltimore, Charm City, and buckets of rain. We were there for the 42nd Annual NAAEE (North American Association for Environmental Education) Conference. While it I was my first time attending NAAEE’s conference, Michael Bloomfield attended NAAEE in 1987.

 

For a first timer, the scale of NAAEE’s conference was impressive. Thanks to NAAEE and its affiliates’, the five-day conference is likely the biggest conference on environmental education, gathering thousands of academics, teachers and practitioners and offering hundreds of presentations from USA, Canada, Japan, India and other countries. It was tough to choose one session to attend out of over a dozen during each time slot.

 

Our attendance provided many ideas, insights and new contacts and for that we are grateful. However, we also saw opportunities for improvement.

 

First, more programs are needed that emphasize action rather than just awareness and its long past time environmental education connects environment with social justice, peace and public health. There were too many presentations from academics studying teaching methods and classroom layouts, and not enough sessions from people helping schools, students and society deal with pressing issues, such as climate change, water and declining bio-diversity, and their links to poverty and social justice.

 

Second, there was too much nature as art appreciation. It is a good start for kids to love nature, but more important we all need to realize that the environment is where we live, study, and work, not just a pretty place where we visit or take refuge.

 

Third, we’d like to see a stronger connection between physical operations and content. C’mon, disposal cups, one-sided copies and leaving empty rooms lit up like a Christmas tree don’t model good environmental habits.

 

In addition, there were some troubling sessions as well, including two looking at the impact of the tar sands development on the first nation’s communities in northern Alberta where their traditional way of life is threatened. One session profiled OSLI, an industry funded program for youth leadership development. While a laudable endeavor the unbalanced relationship between the communities and business raise concerns.

 

Last but not least, there should be more young participants and presenters at the conference. Even though there were opportunities for students and other youth to participate through volunteering, the registration fees for students are too high, especially when travel is required. We’d love to see more young people at round table discussions, making presentation and hosting poster sessions.

 

Nevertheless, we attended some excellent sessions and were especially impressed by ones that combined learning and doing. Youth Greening New York City was one of them. Molly Delano from Global Kids and her young colleague delivered an interactive and insightful presentation about their campaign, led by youth, to create and implement a plan to expand green roofs on schools. The young woman, 19 year old, was shy and excited about what she’d done with Global Kids for environmental justice. It was inspiring and hopeful to hear from her how the campaign changed her life and shaped her future. She now plans to work at the municipal level so that she could help with local environmental and social justice issues with closer connection to local communities.

 

Another one was Perceptions and Choices. Colin Waite from Cooper Center for Environmental Learning at University of Arizona introduced their Sunship Earth Program, a successful residential environmental education program for middle school students to help them understand energy use and other environmental issues, and improve their life styles to use fewer resources and produce less waste.

 

The environmental education community is vibrant and important, and the NAAEE conference is much more than a platform for practitioners to exchange ideas and share experience. It is also a place to test and acquire creative ideas, find partners for future work, as well as a great opportunity to embrace, encourage and empower younger generations to get involved and make a better future.

 

We look forward to NAAEE’s 43rd annual conference which Ottawa will host in 2014. And we will be encouraging NAAEE and their Canadian partners to ensure, unlike the past, that the program showcases Canadian success rather simply staging an American program here. We also will urge NAAEE to increase sessions with practical content and the participation of youth and first nations; at the same time, we will ask them to set a good example and eliminate the disposal cups and other wasteful habits. Surely everyone has their own mug by now or NAAEE can sell them one.

 

 

Harmony’s CSR Guide for Multinational Corporations in China is Recognized as A Milestone for CSR in China

Posted on: August 2nd, 2013 by Harmony Foundation No Comments

The CSR Guide for Multinational Corporations in China
successfully launched. This is the first guide particularly
written for multinational companies… It will become an
important milestone for transnational companies’ CSR in
China since China has opened up over 30 years.

Click here to download