When I was growing up, I was fairly patriotic. I loved Canada and felt a very special connection with its vast wilderness, incredible biodiversity and beauty. Somewhat naively, I assumed that most Canadians felt this way, especially politicians, who arguably had good reason to protect Canada’s precious natural resources.
I’ve lived outside of Canada for over 20 years now, so perhaps I’m forgiven a bit of ignorance of how politics has changed since I last lived there. My first inclination that things weren’t quite what I had hoped they’d be came when I subscribed to CBC Radio’s World At Six evening news podcasts on iTunes. The Canadian slant on international news was much as I expected. The political manoeuvrings regarding those aforementioned precious resources were anything but.
Back in May, I was shocked to learn that the Harper government intended to rewrite the Fisheries Act, which is pretty much the foundation of environmental law in Canada. The planned changes were outlined in leaked documents, where the nearly 140-year-old laws would be disembowelled to no longer focus on environmental protection and, instead, shift to only fish with “economic, cultural, or ecological value”.
That very same day, parliament tabled a report that recommended doing away with environmental assessments wherever possible. And with these news accounts, I slowly awoke to the reality that Canada is heading for an environmental self-destruct of epic proportion. In Canada, it seems, the environment is no longer something to be protected; it is something to be used up and sold to the highest bidder.
If we turn back the clocks to the ’90s and the Kyoto Protocol, Canada was one of those pioneering countries who ratified an agreement to roll back its CO2 output by 6% by 2012. Canada ended up thumbing its nose at the agreement, renouncing it outright in the 11th hour, December 2011. Its track record of reducing its CO2 output garnered it an F- grade. Instead of cutting output by 6%, it increased it by 24.1%. It was a horrifying and shocking failure.
Franke James is a Canadian activist and artist who has taken a strong stand against such environmental mismanagement. Her compensation for her hard work has been blacklisting by the Harper government, effectively censoring her speech from the international community. With the withdrawal of support from Ottawa, her exhibition in Croatia was cancelled. Calls directly from the Canadian government to private sponsors created enough fear of damage to company reputation that they pulled the plug on her sponsorship.
Such blacklisting effectively amounts to censorship. Since when is peaceful environmental activism anti-Canadian? Since when is taking politicians to task over anti-environment/pro-business practices anti-Canadian? To my way of thinking, selling your natural resources to the highest bidder in the name of the unholy trinity (tar, oil and bitumen) is anti-Canadian. To me, cutting out all the meaningful parts of the Fisheries Act is the epitome of anti-Canadian behaviour.
In June, approximately 3,000 barrels of light sour crude oil leaked into Jackson Creek near Sundre, Alberta. The leak prompted changes to fishing regulations in the surrounding areas, limiting anglers to catch-and-release for the duration of the 2012-2013 fishing season. It’s estimated that it would likely take the duration of the summer to clean up the bulk of the spill. Historically, it wasn’t the first oil spill. And we can all pretty much count on it not being the last. When will we learn that oil and pipelines don’t mix?
So, the upshot of all of this is that I’m rather perplexed about the New Canada that I’m discovering. It sure as heck doesn’t seem like the land of “O Canada” in which I was raised. When I was a teenager, we were all tremendously concerned about acid rain, garbage in our rivers and lakes and ensuring that the legacy we left to future generations was worthy. I remember the great excitement of Torrance (just up the highway from where I lived in Gravenhurst) being designated a Dark Sky Preserve. It seemed as though Canada was taking great pains to ensure that nothing could possibly go wrong.
Fast forward a few decades and it seems that those in power are hell bent on doing everything they can to rake in a buck. While I understand that Canada has these fossil fuels, mining the tar sands is dirty business. Yes, we’re all going to be reliant upon oil for the foreseeable future, but we need to work towards sustainable strategies. Pipelines through BC to the coast or down into the US just don’t meet with the requirement of sustainable practices. Oil disasters are just that, disastrous. The environment can’t take those kinds of hits. When it comes to oil, leaks are a matter of when rather than if. Between 1990 and 2005, there were over 16,000 pipeline oil spills. Sixteen thousand of them.
Frankly, if we wreck the environment, all the money we’ve made in the meantime won’t count for squat. Oh, Canada … It’s time to wake up and do the right thing.