In so-called Western democracies like Canada, people often complain about corrupt and self-serving politicians but there doesn’t seem to be much fear that an individual could come along and change the very foundations of this country. A fascist government? In Canada? Never! We look at politically unstable countries and assume that we’re immune to the problems they face. But we’re not. All it takes is one person. It’s happened countless times in many different countries around the world. Some of these leaders seize power through a coup or some other violent or underhanded method. Sometimes, they’re elected.
People seem content to rest on the assumption that if a head of state ever did want to transform our nation, we would know. Somehow, we would see it coming. And granted, Harper did warn us that we wouldn’t recognize Canada once he was through with it. How far along does one suppose we’ve gotten at this point? When the Fair Elections Act was introduced, I read that only 23% of those polled indicated that they were aware of the proposed legislation. Something as important as a plan to make substantial changes to our electoral system – and one that was actually being discussed in the media – escaped the notice of so many people. Clearly we don’t even pay attention to the big things.
We’re all very busy and these announcements often occur on Fridays when we’re least likely to notice. And to be fair, so many alterations have been made that it’s almost impossible to keep up. It’s hard to know which ones are worth really worrying about. But that’s the point, isn’t it?
The next time someone suggests we’re overreacting when a new law is passed, another “action plan” is advertized, more scientists are muzzled, or additional research programs or departments are crippled or shuttered altogether, feel free to quote Adolf Hitler:
While we’re talking about Harper and Hitler, I would submit that the topic of genocide is relevant here too. Every iteration of the Canadian colonial government from its inception has either exacerbated or failed to challenge the racist nature of its policies with regard to First Nations and Métis peoples. Not a single major political party has called our government out for what it is: a tool for racist oppression. Even leaders who talk about cooperation and reconciliation are rationalizing the foundations of what is still a paternalistic relationship. The only answer is to decolonize, and that would require the government to relinquish its control over indigenous peoples in this country and thus much of the land and natural resources. Recognizing indigenous rights means abandoning a centralized economic policy that would see the extraction of natural resources as perpetual fuel for a capitalist fire. And every party wants to stoke that fire – but that does not mean that they are interchangeable. Stephen Harper is the ringleader for those who wish to do more than maintain the status quo; he seeks to address the “Indian problem” with far more malice and surgical precision via his First Nations Termination Plan [PDF]. As Russ Diabo details in this presentation, the Harper government is expanding on an aggressive program whose goal is to eliminate First Nations title, status, and rights altogether. How else can we describe this but as genocide in a neocolonial context?
Canadians should be paying close attention to their government now more than ever as it employs environmental rhetoric that is alarmingly arrogant and fundamentally undemocratic in nature. According to a Vancouver Sun interview, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver stated that the Canadian government will be limiting participation to members of the public who are “directly affected by major projects” and rejecting input from environmental groups deemed not to have specific expertise. There are several serious problems with this policy approach:
In order to make informed decisions, governments must consult with environmental professionals who have detailed and technical knowledge. But we know that academics and scientists are not necessarily subjective and it’s particularly unlikely that a government that has recently made very strong statements regarding environmental policy will select experts who aren’t sympathetic to its goals.
If the government is applying a harsh set of rules as to who can have a say, how likely are intervening parties to be taken seriously even if they’re affected or have substantial credentials?
What level of participation will the affected public and NGOs have with respect to projects that aren’t deemed major? Naturally, we’d expect even less scrutiny in those cases.
How do we know who’s objective? More importantly, what makes an expert an expert, whether it’s an individual or an organization? Who should decide what constitutes sufficient expertise? How can we ensure that vital choices are based on recommendations from experts who have demonstrated neutrality and an understanding of the concerns of all stakeholders, regardless of their financial clout or level of education?
How do we determine who judges which parties are “directly affected”? The people who are impacted, specially selected ‘experts’, lobbyists, investors or government officials? This is a key consideration because in the case of the oil and gas sector, for example, impacts aren’t contained; they extend throughout ecosystems and jurisdictions. Airborne particulates are carried vast distances through the atmosphere and settle in the soil and water. Polluted water spreads through watersheds. Contaminants are absorbed by vegetation and organisms ingested by animals (and in turn humans), resulting in the bioaccumulation of toxins. Greenhouse gas emissions have global impacts. Some chemicals, particularly those used in the mining and petroleum industries have very long half-lives so they don’t break down or get processed for many years.
Any given ecosystem, while it may affect a particular group more than others, is not the property of any one group. No one has the right to give ‘permission’ to pollute or deplete resources without the consultation of others who may be impacted even decades later. Without fair and transparent environmental assessments and the participation of a diversity of stakeholders (including non-experts and those ‘less’ affected by industrial projects), the parameters that we choose to determine what’s acceptable frame the magnitude of our results – positive and negative.
The Canadian government has never been very good at listening to Aboriginals – particularly the PCs – so why should we trust them now? Do I not have the right obligation – not only as a Canadian citizen but as a member of this planet to stand up for those factions of humanity whose voices are silenced and ignored? The officials we elect don’t have the right to tell us what rights we have. It’s for us to tell them.
A final but critical point: we are the environment’s sole defenders. We can’t afford to screw this up. Once resources are gone or damaged, there’s no turning back. We need to be absolutely certain that we’re acting in the best interests of all involved, which includes present and future generations, and that we can reasonably justify, mitigate and remedy risks and impacts. Because impacts on the environment are impacts on us. There’s a growing global movement to enshrine the legal rights of our planet (e.g. check out this article). Gone are the days when we could confidently assert our dominion over the earth. Bolivia has already passed laws to this effect and other proponents are forming new discourses around this issue that remind us that we can’t give our planet rights; we can only recognize them.