Doctor describes Harper government "pathology" at Kelowna JRP

Dr. Warren Bell is one of the founders of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, a family doctor with a background in psychology.  Dr. Bell spoke yesterday before the Kelowna Joint Review Panel hearings on the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, outlining "four diseased elements" that put the proposed Enbridge pipeline in context and condemning as dangerous Prime Minister Stephen Harper's concentration of power.   

Dr. Warren Bell is one of the founders of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, a family doctor with a background in psychotherapy.  Dr. Bell spoke yesterday before the Kelowna Joint Review Panel hearings on Enbridge's proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, outlining "four diseased elements" that put the pipeline proposal in a social and political context and he condemned as dangerous Prime Minister Stephen Harper's concentration of power and the apparent depth of his associations with corporate interestsWhen Bell finished speaking, he was surrounded by reporters.  Here's what he said:

I am a family physician, in clinical practice for just over 36 years in rural BC. As a professional reflex, I have a sensitivity towards the behaviour of others, and towards the impact of my own conduct. 

While still in medical school, I learned that many of the most important influences on a person's health derive not just from what doctors do, or even from the choices made by patients themselves, but from broad trends in the community – from the immediate neighbourhood right up to the planetary environment.

When I began my practice, however, the term "ecosystem" was unknown, and the term "environment" referred almost exclusively to a person's immediate social or physical situation.

Today, thanks to global telecommunications and transportation, and especially the Internet and social media, our worldview has expanded greatly. As we humans have multiplied exponentially, we have learned that we can degrade the functional capacity of our planetary home, which in turn affects our survival.

In 1995, I helped to found the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment or CAPE. Our purpose was to scientifically examine the intimate inter-relationship between human and ecosystem health, and improve the former by addressing the latter. With 5,500 members, CAPE has become the environmental voice of the medical profession. 

Today, however, I am here not as representative of CAPE or any other organization. I am speaking as just one person, and as a physician.

I want to address what one might call "structural pathology" in the governance system in Canada, which has led to the contention surrounding the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline project – which I have followed closely since its inception.

Your work as members of the Joint Review Panel is taking place in a social context. As a medical professional – with, I might add, extra training in psychotherapy – I would like to examine four diseased elements in this social context, and suggest remedies for them.

The first pathological element is historical.

Up until about 400 years ago, the land base subsumed within Canada was home to various peoples, originally from Asian roots, broadly connected by culture and race. They lived, like all our forebearers once did, seeking survival in an unforgiving but also bountiful natural world. Through a combination of force of arms, disease, mass immigration and various legalistic arrangements – including a genocidal strategy called the residential school system – the land base occupied by the original inhabitants of this country was progressively reduced, and their role in society was relentlessly marginalized. The small land base and the few prerogatives left to them thus have become critically important to their well being.

In Salmon Arm, I have patients, neighbours and friends who are aboriginal, who embody the experiences I’ve just referred to, both in their physiology and in their psyches. Many First Nations communities, with similar individual and collective experiences, are in the path of the proposed pipeline.

The second element in this structural pathology is the electoral system.

Elections to the House of Commons are based on the "first past the post" system. The elected candidate just has to get one vote more than any other candidate – even if only a minority of citizens actually vote in the first place.

This kind of selection procedure, in a community with many disparate parts, is psychologically grossly inefficient. Especially in complex or conflictual situations, it generates a mixture of cynicism, despair and anger. 

The third element in this structural pathology is the nature of the Prime Minister's Office, or PMO.

In Britain, the PMO is surrounded by powerful committees and advisory bodies whose comments and decisions have a major influence on government decision-making and cannot be readily ignored.

In Canada, the PMO has vastly more political power. It has, in fact, absolute veto power over several hundred different government bodies.

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