I am one of those obnoxious people who constantly criticize the country they live in, comparing it negatively with other countries. Growing up in Jamaica, I looked down my nose at the island’s lack of “sophistication” compared with Britain and America. When I lived in Canada, I scoffed at the lack of get-up-and-go compared with Americans and the lack of fun-loving liveliness compared with Jamaicans. I’ve lived in America for 30 years now and I frequently look back at Canada and Jamaica with nostalgia as I castigate America for its political corruption, greed and other perceived shortcomings.
As each new outrage is revealed on television or in the newspapers, I sputter and fume and tell my American-born wife Sandra that Canadians are much, much more decent than Americans. I’ve been so convincing that, recently, Sandra has been suggesting I move back to Canada and take her with me.
So you can imagine my chagrin this morning when I read an article that blasted Canada as “the urgent threat to world peace.” It’s by a British writer named George Monbiot (photo below).
Here’s his opening salvo:
When you think of Canada, which qualities come to mind? The world’s peace-keeper, the friendly nation, a liberal counterweight to the harsher pieties of its southern neighbor, decent, civilized, fair, well-governed? Think again. This country’s government is now behaving with all the sophistication of a chimpanzee’s tea party. So amazingly destructive has Canada become, and so insistent have my Canadian friends been that I weigh into this fight, that I’ve broken my self-imposed ban on flying and come to Toronto.
So here I am, watching the astonishing spectacle of a beautiful, cultured nation turning itself into a corrupt petrostate. Canada is slipping down the development ladder, retreating from a complex, diverse economy towards dependence on a single primary resource, which happens to be the dirtiest commodity known to man. The price of this transition is the brutalisation of the country, and a government campaign against multilateralism as savage as any waged by George Bush.
The Canadian government mentioned in the same sentence as George Bush? Say it ain’t so!
Here’s the core reason for Monbiot’s tirade:
In 2006 the new Canadian government announced that it was abandoning its targets to cut greenhouse gases under the Kyoto Protocol. No other country that had ratified the treaty has done this. Canada was meant to have cut emissions by 6% between 1990 and 2012. Instead they have already risen by 26%.
It’s now clear that Canada will refuse to be sanctioned for abandoning its legal obligations. The Kyoto Protocol can be enforced only through goodwill: countries must agree to accept punitive future obligations if they miss their current targets. But the future cut Canada has volunteered is smaller than that of any other rich nation. Never mind special measures; it won’t accept even an equal share. The Canadian government is testing the international process to destruction and finding that it breaks all too easily. By demonstrating that climate sanctions aren’t worth the paper they’re written on, it threatens to render any treaty struck at Copenhagen void.
If Monbiot is right, the Canadian government deserves to be publicly shamed. And this is just the latest worrying revelation about political trends in Canada. Some of the stuff I’ve been reading lately has given me second thoughts about moving back there. The country seems to be veering hard right. From what I’ve read, social programs are threatened, immigration policies are increasingly elitist, guest-worker programs are increasingly abusive, and Canadian troops are increasingly involved in fighting in Afghanistan. And now comes this attack on the environment, apparently motivated by a desire to squeeze vast riches from the Alberta tar sands.
Monbiot explains it this way:
Canada is developing the world’s second largest reserve of oil. Did I say oil? It’s actually a filthy mixture of bitumen, sand, heavy metals and toxic organic chemicals. The tar sands, most of which occur in Alberta, are being extracted by the biggest opencast mining operation on earth. An area the size of England, of pristine forests and marshes, will be dug up, unless the Canadians can stop this madness. Already it looks like a scene from the end of the world: the strip-miners are creating a churned black hell on an unimaginable scale (photo at right).
To extract oil from this mess, it needs to be heated and washed. Three barrels of water are used to process one barrel of oil. The contaminated water is held in vast tailing ponds, some of which are so toxic that the tar companies employ people to scoop dead birds off the surface. Most are unlined. They leak organic poisons, arsenic and mercury into the rivers. The First Nations people living downstream have developed a range of exotic cancers and auto-immune diseases.
Refining tar sands (photo at right) requires two to three times as much energy as refining crude oil. The companies exploiting them burn enough natural gas to heat six million homes. Alberta’s tar sands operation is the world’s biggest single industrial source of carbon emissions. By 2020, if the current growth continues, it will produce more greenhouse gases than Ireland or Denmark. Already, thanks in part to the tar mining, Canadians have almost the highest per capita emissions on earth, and the stripping of Alberta has scarcely begun.
You have to agree that Monbiot paints a frightening picture. But, even so, I think he has let his rage at the country’s about-face on climate change color his judgment. The Canadian government still has a long way to go before it sinks to the depths plumbed by the Bush administration in America.
Canada is still “the world’s peace-keeper, a friendly nation, and a liberal counterweight to the harsher pieties of its southern neighbor,” and Canadians still are “decent, civilized, fair and well-governed.” However, it seems the “well governed” part is eroding under Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s corrosive conservative policies (Harper and his family are pictured above). I think I’ll wait and see how the next Canadian election turns out before deciding whether to move back to Canada.