Apr 152013
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Once known for environmental concerns, Canada now lone hold out on important treaties.

by Stephen Leahy

Canada's opposition to anything that might help developing countries is “mind-boggling,” a delegate from Mali told me during a UN conference to slow the widespread extinction of species. “Canadians are known to protect the environment. I cannot understand why they are pushing policies that are clearly unsustainable," he said.

Only a few days before, Prime Minister Stephen Harper told conference delegates that losing wildlife was an urgent and alarming issue. Then as nearly 190 nations made plans to take action, Canadian delegates blocked those plans with legal and technical manoeuvres.

“Do Canadians know what their government is doing here? You must tell them.”

That was in 2008. Since then at environmental or development gatherings around the world I've been asked dozens of times “what has happened to Canada?” And it's not just me.

What’s happening in Canada is the sacrifice of forests, rivers, wetlands and wildlife so one industry can profit by selling products that are polluting the global climate.

“Wherever I travel in Africa people ask me, ‘what happened to Canada?' ” Joanna Kerr told the Globe and Mail on March 30. Kerr, a Canadian, heads the global anti-poverty organization ActionAid.

It's no secret what's happened to Canada.

"Oil wealth has changed the culture of Canada, but there is no discussion about any of this,” says Alberta journalist Andrew Nikiforuk, author of the award winning book, Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent. His latest book is The Energy of Slaves: Oil and the New Servitude.

Canada's media have avoided the issue or acted as cheerleaders of the energy sector. The tar sands are already too big and have had enormous impacts on Canada's politics, economy and environment, Nikiforuk says.

All of Canada's newfound oil and gas wealth has ended up hurting most Canadians, as documented in Canada's illusory oil riches. Canadians are poorer — one in seven children lives in poverty — and hold enormous personal debts. Last year for every $100 earned, Canadian households spent $165. This is the highest debt ratio in Canadian history.

While Canada's GDP has nearly tripled in the last 15 years, more than half a million manufacturing jobs vanished largely due to the high Canadian dollar amped up by energy revenues.

The huge amounts of money generated by the energy sector don't seem to stay in Canada, given the evidence of huge government deficits. Even oil-rich Alberta has had deficits the last six years. The federal and Alberta government response has been to make major cuts in public services like health care, education and environmental protection.

What's happening in Canada is the sacrifice of forests, rivers, wetlands and wildlife so one industry can profit by selling products that are polluting the global climate. In a mock trial at the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, the CEOs of oil companies operating in the Alberta tar sands were found guilty of the international crime of ecocide for deliberate and extensive damage to the environment.

That verdict should not be surprising. As documented in Canada becomes a petrostate, the world's new energy superpower is betting its future on profiting from dumping two billion tonnes of climate-wrecking carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere by 2020 (Total emissions from extraction, processing and burning).

That's two billion tonnes of CO2 from Canada's energy sector alone. Add in emissions from all other sources of roughly 500 million tonnes and that's far more than India's total emissions, a country with 1.2 billion people and the world's third largest emitter.

You'd think it'd be hard to claim Canada takes climate change seriously.

“Canada is a global environmental leader…  and yes, that includes the oil sands,” said Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver last March in address in Chicago.

What Canada has actually become a leader in is gutting environmental protections and muzzling scientists. Stuffing gags in the mouths of government scientists was among the first things a Stephen Harper minority government did when they were elected in 2006. Scientists and other experts were told they had to get permission from the Prime Minister’s communications office to talk to media.

Even when studies by Environment Canada scientists are publicly available in scientific journals, reporters have to file their science questions with the communications office, who decide if scientists will answer.  The process takes days and sometimes weeks.

By 2010 media coverage of climate change in Canada declined by over 80 percent, according to internal government documents obtained by the Climate Action Network (Canada), a coalition of 80 non-governmental organizations. Incidentally only weeks after Harper's election the coalition's funding was eliminated.

Even scientists in universities and independent research institutes hesitate to speak out. Thomas Duck, an atmospheric scientist at Halifax's Dalhousie University, said he'd never again get federal funding for his research after speaking to me about the recent gutting of Environment Canada.

In 2011 the Harper government claimed financial hardship and slashed $200 million from Environment Canada’s budget. The programmes targeted were those informing Canadians about the state of the environment and will have a direct impact on the health and welfare of Canadians.

In 2011 the Harper government claimed financial hardship and slashed $200 million from Environment Canada's budget. The programmes targeted were those informing Canadians about the state of the environment and will have a direct impact on the health and welfare of Canadians, said Duck.

"I'm speaking out because these cuts will be very bad for my children," he added.

The muzzling of Canada's scientists has been widely criticized by international science organizations. This week Canada's Information Commissioner launched a formal investigation.

It may now be risky for ordinary Canadians to speak out in one of the world's most lauded democracies. The Harper government considers environmental activists potential threats to national security. Tar sands, gas wells, coal trains and pipelines are now conflated as essential to national security based on analysis of documents obtained by the Surveillance Studies Centre at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario.

Those documents show that the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) view activist activities such as blocking access to roads or buildings as "forms of attack" and depict those involved as national security threats.

It's the “new normal” for Canada's security agencies to keep a close eye on the activities of environmental organizations. Greenpeace Canada's executive director Bruce Cox has had recent meetings with the head of the RCMP but Cox insists that it is “governments and fossil fuel industry who are the extremists, threatening the prosperity of future generations."

The world is finally figuring out what's happening to Canada.

“The Harper government's decisions reflect the narrow interests of Canada’s fossil fuel industry,” said Christoph Bals, policy director of Germanwatch, a German NGO focused on development and global equity.

Bals was referring to decisions to pull Canada out of the Kyoto Protocol, the only international climate treaty, and last week's decision to abandon the UN organization fight to reduce drought and land degradation (UNCCD).

“That decision and the UNCCD decision do not reflect the majority of Canadians, in my opinion,” said Bals.

Perhaps the growing concerns by people outside of Canada will finally force more Canadians to cut through the curtains of corporate and government propaganda and ask themselves: “What has happened to my country?”

About Stephen Leahy

Stephen Leahy is an environmental journalist based in Uxbridge, Ontario.

His writing has been published in dozens of publications around the world including New Scientist, The London Sunday Times, Maclean's Magazine, The Toronto Star, Wired News, Audubon, BBC Wildlife, and Canadian Geographic.

For the past few years he has been the science and environment correspondent for Inter Press Service News Agency (IPS), a wire service headquartered in Rome that covers global issues, and its Latin American affiliate, Tierramerica, located in Mexico City.

Stephen Leahy graciously allows Straight Goods to reprint his articles. However, he earns very little compensation for his valuable work. His solution is Community Supported Journalism.

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Please contact Stephen if you have any questions. This article previously appeared on the InterPress Service wire. Website: http://stephenleahy.net

© Copyright 2013 Stephen Leahy, All rights Reserved. Written For: StraightGoods.ca

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