* 500 groups shut down websites for a day in protest
* Government wants to speed process for approving pipelines
* Ministers fan out across Canada to defend policy
By David Ljunggren
OTTAWA, June 4 Hundreds of environmental and
activist groups in Canada shut down their websites for a day on
Monday to protest Canadian government policies that will make it
easier to build pipelines to transport oil from Alberta's vast
The groups - joined by U.S.-based groups such as the Natural
Resources Defense Council - say the Conservative government is
also trying to silence opponents of the pipelines from the tar
sands, the world's third-biggest oil reserve and the subject of
much environmental concern.
The Conservatives, determined to make Canada what they call
an energy superpower, want to speed up reviews of resource
development projects, cut back laws that protect fish habitats,
strip key veto powers from the federal energy regulator, and
give the government the final say on approving major pipelines.
"Why is this all happening? Quite simply, because the oil
industry wants it. (This) is Christmas come seven months early
for the oil industry," said Rick Smith of Environmental Defence.
"The more a country becomes a petro-state, the less it
values free speech," he told a news conference in Ottawa to
launch the "Black Out Speak Out" day of action.
Green groups are particularly opposed to two planned
pipelines: TransCanada Corp's Keystone XL, which would
take tar sands oil to Texas; and Enbridge Inc's
Northern Gateway, which would run from Alberta to the Pacific
Coast. Critics say tar sands oil is particularly dirty since it
requires more energy to extract than regular crude.
Ottawa says the current regulatory system is too complex and
could threaten up to C$500 billion ($480 billion) of new
investment in the oil and mining industries over the next
Shortly after the green groups launched their campaign, 10
government ministers fanned across the country to stress the
importance of natural resource development and deny charges
Ottawa's moves would gut environmental protection.
"This is a false assertion ... that the choice is between
environmental protection 100 percent or the economy and growth
100 percent. That's nonsense, of course," Finance Minister Jim
Flaherty told reporters in Toronto.
"I think most Canadians realize we can have environmental
protection - reasonable steps, reasonable processes on a timely
basis - and at the same time have significant economic growth."
The government brands some green groups as foreign-funded
radicals and it plans to give more power to the tax authorities
to crack down on charities that fund political campaigns.
"(This) is reflective of a deeply troubling pattern of
intimidating, punishing, insulting, side-lining and ultimately
seeking to silence voices of criticism," said Alec Neve,
secretary general of Amnesty International's Canadian branch.
Green groups complain about the close ties between the
Conservatives and the oil and gas industry, which both have
their roots in Alberta. The Canadian Association of Petroleum
Producers dismissed the suggestion its members were dictating
"The blackout campaign is part of activist groups'
continuing attack on the oil and gas industry, but ignores the
fact that regulatory reform is necessary and applicable to all
Canada's major projects (and) industries," said CAPP spokesman
The organizers of Black Out Speak Out said 500 groups were
involved, including major not-for-profit and social justice
organizations, trade unions, scientists, artists, businesses,
faith groups, First Nations, and all four federal opposition