Robyn Benson, PSAC

Oliver's twist


Joe Oliver, formerly the Minister of Natural Resources, is now our Minister of Finance, replacing Jim Flaherty a few days ago. This is quite a step up for a member of Parliament who was first elected in 2011.

It didn’t take Oliver long to get the hang of the Harper government’s style—shaping reality according to Conservative ideology, with a careless disregard for the facts. Every government, of course, filters events and issues through its own political position, choosing what to highlight and what to ignore in its public messages, putting itself in as favourable a light as possible. This is called “spin,” but in Oliver’s case the more appropriate word is “twist.”

As Natural Resources minister, Oliver is perhaps best known for his infamous open letter attacking environmentalists in language that was, to put it mildly, over the top. Expressing sincere concerns about the effect of runaway tar sands development was, in his view, something akin to treason. In his own words, environmentalists and their allies “threaten to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda. They seek to exploit any loophole they can find, stacking public hearings with bodies to ensure that delays kill good projects. They use funding from foreign special interest groups to undermine Canada’s national economic interest.”

But this was not an isolated case. Oliver was a strong defender of the asbestos industry, claiming, against all scientific evidence, that this substance, linked to cancer and lung disease, was perfectly safe. (Canada’s last asbestos mine was subsequently closed after a national and international outcry. Russia and Zimbabwe have now taken up the slack.)

Oliver was also a climate-change denier, claiming that “scientists” now believe that concern over global warming is “exaggerated.” His source for that statement turned out to be a newspaper columnist.

Under his watch, regulations requiring environmental assessments of oil and gas projects were slashed. This included amendments to the Navigable Waters Act that removed most of our waterways from environmental protection. Almost needless to say, this program of deregulation was buried in omnibus bills that were supposedly about the Conservative government budget.

Oliver has impeccable Bay Street credentials that will serve him well in his new post. A Harvard-educated investment banker, he served as the president of the Investment Dealers Association, and as the executive director of the Ontario Securities Commission.

A scant few days into his new role, his style is already apparent. He claimed that 85% of new jobs created under his government were full-time. He failed to mention that, according to the Chamber of Commerce, the trend is now overwhelmingly towards part-time employment—95% of the new jobs last year were part-time. He said in the same statement that a million new jobs have been created, but since 2009, the figure is only 653,400, 53.4% of them in the low-paid sales and services sector, and 40.6% were temporary. Then he went on to state that our job record is the best among the G-7 countries—a highly misleading claim by any serious measure.

And all of this within 30 seconds, in a single speech he gave in the House of Commons on March 25th. Oliver’s twist, folks. Better get used to it.

[Photo credit: Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press]

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This page contains a single entry by Robyn Benson, PSAC published on April 1, 2014 8:14 AM.

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