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No Souls but Lots of Cash

Cartoon by Ingrid Rice.

BC’s crucial environmental battles pit citizens against politicians’ love of corporate money.

Call out the militia! The capitalist hordes are at the gate!

Corporations have a legal body but no conscience or soul. They look out for themselves alone and don’t give a rat’s posterior for anything else.

Do I sound like a radical to you? Permit me to examine my own education on large corporations which, I admit, was at a turtle’s pace.

My maternal grandmother, Jane Macdonald from Cape Breton Island, came to Vancouver when she was a young woman and brought with her a solid distrust of corporations and Toronto where most of them lived. She wouldn’t permit Campbell’s soup in the house. This was not just because of the massacre at Glencoe when the Campbells massacred the Macdonalds in their sleep, but also because they were an eastern corporation based in Toronto, and thus in her view didn’t give a damn about people.

When in my living memory, Eaton’s bought out our made-in-B.C. Spencer’s department stores, she forbade us from ever darkening Eaton’s door. I must admit that when I did disobey her injunction — as the memorable day I tried in vain to buy a jock strap, to the horror of the help — I would have a problem and I would walk out, eyes towards heaven where Gram surely is, and say “Gram, you were right!”

The reality is that if a board of directors and senior leadership of a corporation were (without compulsion from unions or the government) to put decent and safe working conditions, concerns for the environment and the well-being of the public-at-large ahead of corporate profits, they would be dismissed.

When you see international corporations bleating about their records in these areas I have one blinding thought: None of those things would happen without union and government action. Then I would ask, do you behave the same way in third world countries where the dictators are your partners?

This isn’t cynicism but realism.

When corporations give ‘gifts’

What about those corporate and personal philanthropists building all those hospitals?

First, these things are scarcely done anonymously. Vancouver General Hospital has new wings named after the philanthropists. These donations are in part paid for by me and thee, since they are tax exempt or nearly so.

Often they are made against the wishes of the recipient.

How?

Let’s suppose a wealthy person wants to give an MRI to a certain hospital; we’ll call it Spuzzum General. That hospital may not be in line for an MRI yet because there are others ahead of them with a higher priority.

What this means, then, is that the minister of health must say to those higher up the ladder, “Sorry, even though all our expertise and common sense tell us that you have a far more pressing need than does Spuzzum General, it gets the MRI because Daddy Warbucks wants it that way.” Sometimes the “Friends of Spuzzum General” raise half the required amount and get Daddy Warbucks to advance the other half, leaving the health ministry to pay the substantial costs of running it.

The political pressure on the ministry is enormous even though Spuzzum General would jump the queue. Often the government must contribute to the exercise. I know whereof I speak as a former health minister.

When you read or listen to a company spokesperson telling you that it will behave responsibly toward the environment, that person simply is not to be believed. Corporations will behave responsibly only to the extent the law forces them to be. They will, in the spirit of George Orwell’s 1984, call what they do “green” and fund “independent” organizations who also call themselves “green”.

Fish farms, IPPs and pipelines

Am I being harsh?

Here in B.C., let’s look at the fish farmers. They initially denied there were escapes, next that sea lice from the pens were slaughtering wild salmon, and now they deny that they have and spread disease. All along, of course, with the denial that there are tons of fish shit, uneaten food and chemicals spreading out from the farms. The biggest shareholder in the largest company has stated that they shouldn’t be in areas wild salmon spawn but inch by inch their flacks have fought against this notion and against any regulation that would dilute their profits by a dime while our wild salmon, our precious trademark, are sacrificed.

Let’s look at private power producers (IPPs). They have persuaded politicians (I leave it to you as to how) that they are environmental saints spreading employment and money and associated largesse throughout our province. In fact they harm rivers and the employment they create is mostly short term and low paying.

(By way of aside, IPPs cannot use more than a certain amount of power. Who do you suppose monitors this? The officials who allowed geoducks and clams to disappear from many of our beaches, monitor fish farms and keep rivers from being over-fished is my guess.)

Then we have the pipelines.

Enbridge is embarking on a huge ad campaign to convince British Columbia that pipelines are good for them. Public relations flacks are there to avoid the truth and paint a wonderful image of their client. In Enbridge’s case they will not be telling you that they have an appalling safety record with well over 400 ruptures since 1998, or that ruptures are not risks but realities waiting to happen.

These “good corporate citizens” have complicated procedures for dealing with spills but neglect to say that they have no way of getting to spills along their route from Alberta to Kitimat, given the difficult terrain crossed. They also hope you miss the fact that even if they can get to the spill, bitumen, unlike traditional crude, sinks like a stone, thus is all but impossible to clean up.

If you doubt what I say I suggest you “google” Enbridge, Kalamazoo, and see what the company said was “not a major spill.” It’s still not cleaned up and in fact is not capable of being cleaned up.

They talk about employment but don’t tell you that most of the jobs come from out of province companies with only menial labour from B.C., leaving a handful of computer watchers as permanent help.

Can we be bribed?

There’s no point in building a pipeline if it doesn’t connect with a tanker at the receiving end. Enbridge fails to tell you that disastrous tanker spills are also certainties, the damage from which likely will make the Exxon Valdez catastrophe pale into insignificance.

What astonishes me, but I suppose shouldn’t, is the shallowness of attitudes by government MLAs and MPs. My MP, a Conservative backbencher, with an eye no doubt on a Cabinet seat, told me that not only should Enbridge get its pipelines, but the more the merrier!

We the long suffering public have no protection from the agendas of corporations because our governments, federal and provincial, are bought and paid for by industry. There are 3,500 industry lobbyists in Ottawa, all of which are handsomely paid, meaning, of course, that they’re getting the job done.

The feds and Enbridge are now looking at ways to bribe us, pay off First Nations and give B.C. a piece of the action.

Do we have a price? Are we like the joke where a man asks a woman to go to bed with him for $50,000? She muses about her obligations to her kids, etc., and blushingly agrees. The man then asks if she will go to bed with him for $50 to which the indignant woman exclaims, “What do you take me for, a common prostitute?” To which the man replies, “We’ve already established that, madam, now we’re dickering over the price.”

Will we neatly fall into cynicism that prompted Oscar Wilde to say “they know the cost of everything but the value of nothing”?

We in British Columbia, over the next couple of years, will find out just what stuff we’re made of.

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