Dear Europe: This is not our Canada

Guest blog by Geoff Mann

There was a time, only just passed, when the word “Canada”” brought to mind not only friendly, less narrow-minded North Americans, but a kind of innocent economic and political success based on respect, natural wealth and modesty.

I am not sure that stereotype was ever accurate -it is unlikely that Goldcorp’s mineworkers in West Africa think Canadians are inherently nice – but it doesn’t matter anymore. Today, Canada is well on the way to the status of international pariah. If Canadian actions on the economic and environmental front (they are basically the same thing if you think longer than two weeks in advance) were not so incredibly destructive and arrogant, the nation would be a laughing-stock. But the collapse of Canada’s international standing is not one bit funny.

Canadian delegations are ridiculed by crowds as they pass through the high-security gates at global environmental negotiations. Canada is a brazen opponent of attempts to confront the rapid loss of planetary biodiversity, and Canadian representatives have well-earned their reputations for belligerent and baseless opposition to any plan to deal with global climate change. When not chanting jingoistic solecisms about the country’s “natural legacy” or chest-thumping over its “energy reserves”, Canada is pumping oil and loading coal for shipments overseas.

Now arrives another milestone in the disintegration of Canada’s international standing. At this very moment, Canada threatens the EU with a trade war, in “defence of its interests,” because the EU is considering a fuel quality directive (FQD) that would brand oil product from Alberta’s oilsands “highly polluting.” Again, the fact this is a horrendous joke does not make it funny.

Canada defends itself, with a whole lot of help from the British government, with the lie that there is no “scientific” basis for the designation. The stupidity of this claim borders on the offensive, largely because it is so astoundingly disingenuous. The various parties involved – the oil majors, the Canadian, British Columbian and Albertan governments, and various rent-skimming hangers-on – know full well the oilsands are an ecological disaster. The fact of the matter is they are completely aware they are trashing the land, the water, and the global climate. They know full well they are destroying ecosystems, communities and atmospheric stability. They just think it is worth it.

The most important word in that last sentence is “They.” I write as a Canadian, and I assure you they do not speak for me, or for millions of Canadians. The denialist scam presently being perpetrated in Ottawa, Edmonton and Victoria – to name only the legislative seats – does not represent me or, I dare say, millions of others. When a Canadian official tells The Guardian, “We oppose an FQD that discriminates against oilsands crude without strong scientific basis. The oilsands are a proven strategic resource for Canada; we will continue to promote Canada’s oilsands as they are key to Canada’s economic prosperity and energy security” that “we” does not include me or anyone else I know. That “we” is a tiny, arrogant, privileged, destructive cartel that has nothing to do with, and no concern for, what 90 per cent of the country or the globe thinks of when they think of Canada. They don’t even care about the people who agree with them.

Stephen Harper’s “government” – to even use the term is a form of undeserved flattery – does not and cannot speak for Canada and Canadians on these issues. It has neither knowledge nor right. The terrible fact is it does not care; indeed, this would appear to be the current federal government’s defining quality. Harper’s most recent non-clandestine involvements in environmental degradation – it seems the vast majority are hidden from view – have involved branding anyone opposed to his energy plan “enemies of Canada” or “radicals” supported by “foreign money.” The last is about the only thing that actually approaches humour – unintentional of course; humour is not something Canadians associate with the Prime Minister.

Apparently, the corporations with whom Harper’s government is coordinating – Shell, BP and Total are only the biggest – don’t count as foreign money. And somehow those who voice their commitments regarding the unacceptability of the oilsands project – the only commitments that are in fact backed-up by science – are “enemies of Canada,” while the true enemies of Canadian democracy (which should surely count as “Canada”, no?) impose a vision of a rent-soaked national fabric dripping oil onto a national and global conflagration.

Europe, if you are listening, the Canada you are being sold is not Canada. Most of us are more than aware of the destruction being wrought in our name. But their use of “Canada” is a cover, and the longer they use it, the more threadbare it becomes. Perhaps the best possible outcome of the current situation is one in which the word “Canada” becomes such a patently transparent ruse that it is exposed for the myth that it is, thus blowing their cover, and rendering the rest of the country finally visible, teeming as it is with people who understand Canadians as citizens of the world.

Geoff MannGeoff Mann is the chair of the Dogwood Initiative Board of Directors and a professor in the Department of Geography at Simon Fraser University. He has a PhD in Environmental Policy from the University of California, Berkeley.




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