Canada is an International Pariah
Professor Michael Ignatieff, the newly-minted leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, is facing an enormous decision.
In early December, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the leader of a minority Conservative government, prorogued (or dissolved) parliament in order to avoid a Vote of Non-Confidence. It was an ignominous and gutless retreat, and many Conservative Party supporters were not impressed.
Non-confidence votes are common in any parliamentary system: we don’t elect leaders in Canada, we elect parliamentarians. And that means that any laws or bills that that are passed must garner the support of a majority of members in the House of Commons. This particular vote of non-confidence was precipitated by a horrible miscalculation by Harper who saw the current financial crisis as a way to press his advantage, and further weaken his parliamentary opposition for future elections.
Since Canadians went to the polls on October 14, Harper believed that the other parties in Parliament — the Liberals, NDP, and Bloc Québécois — were too weak to oppose any measures he might deem appropriate. After all, the opposition coffers were empty, and the Liberals were beginning the laborious process to replace Stephane Dion as party leader. So rather than working with the opposition, Harper tried to twist the knife. He refused to entertain any thoughts of a stimulus package for Canada’s ailing economy; he sought to suspend government unions’ right to strike; and he tried to cut funding for political parties.
Unexpectedly, the Liberals and New Democrats formed a coalition to replace Harper, and asked the country’s Governor-General — the Queen’s representative in Canada — to offer the coalition the chance to govern after the Conservatives were defeated in the House of Commons. The Bloc, a left-leaning party of nationalists from Québéc, promised to support the coalition in the House of Commons for 18 months to ensure a stable Parliament.
All very proper, and by the book. It’s the way our country is supposed to work.
Facing a certain defeat, Harper convinced the Governor-General to suspend Parliament until late January, despite the looming financial crisis, and the fact that parliament hadn’t passed a single piece of legislation. It’s never been done before. Meanwhile, the Liberals, offended by Dion’s lackluster performance during the early days of the constitutional crisis, have replaced him with Ignatieff — a bright, educated, and able politician.
So Canadians find ourselves in limbo. Ignatieff has been quiet, and it isn’t generally known whether he will work with Harper to pass the upcoming budget — if it includes a stimulus package —or if he will work with the NDP to bring Harper down.
I believe that Harper must be replaced with all due speed. If it was 15 years ago, I would be sitting on the fence. But we are at a crossroads, and the decisions that we take in the next two to three years will determine the fate of humanity. Although we are a bit player, Canada has been playing an ignoble role that far exceeds our limited influence on the world stage.
Although Harper talks about being more conciliatory, about playing a positive role in the world, I don’t believe him. Just one week after parliament was suspended, the Canadian delegation at the international climate talks in Poland did everything it could to scuttle progress.
As a result, Canada is now the world’s worst climate villain, and the actions of our government are — in a word — criminal.
At the most recent round of international climate change negotiations, Canada once again emerged as a leading “spoiler,” attracting scorn and condemnation from both environmentalists and foreign delegations alike.
Graham Saul, Climate Action Network
“I think Canada is seen as a spoiler role in the negotiations,” said Graham Saul. “They’ve been blocking progress in a number key areas and have been called out for it.”
Mr. Saul said Canadians would be appalled to know what their government was doing.
“In our opinion there is a real disconnect between where Canadians are at on these issues and what the government is doing at this conference,” he said. “I think a lot of Canadians would be would be deeply ashamed to learn about the role Canada is playing.”
Well it’s over. I began COP 14 with high hopes for progress towards Copenhagen and a post-Kyoto climate plan, but this did not happen. COP 14 failed to produce any significant progress. There were a few outcomes (an Adaptation Fund Board was created) but hardly the kind and number we had hoped for. It was not only Canadian NGOs and youth who left disappointed, but international delegates and NGOs as well. The world really was watching Canada actions at the negotiations to see if they would finally take meaningful action to fight climate change. But sadly for Canadians – and tragically for those whose nations will be underwater as a result of sea level rise—Canada did nothing.
Canada named Colossal Fossil
As it has at past international climate change negotiations, Canada collected a number of “awards” drawing attention to its climate change delinquency.
The “Fossil Awards” are given out by the Climate Action Network, a global network of more than 400 environmental organizations. Each day, representatives from these organizations voted on which country they think most blocked progress at the talks.
Canada received 17 fossil awards, often more than one per day, for a variety of reasons.
Among them were: opposing 25 to 40 per cent reductions by 2020, despite agreeing to these last year at Bali, failing to renew its “modest” support for wind power R&D while budgeting hundreds of millions for nuclear and carbon capture and storage research; using a GHG emission baseline year of 2006 instead of 1990, but failing to mention that in meetings.
“Canada likes to boast that it has a target for 2020. But that target is based on 2006 levels and doesn’t even reach its Kyoto commitment,” the Fossil Award website says. “Beating climate change with a target like Canada’s is like trying to play hockey with a toothpick. Which might explain why Canada didn’t even mention this target at the session yesterday—it would’ve been too embarrassing.”
For winning more daily Fossil Awards than any other country, Canada was given the Colossal Fossil award on the final evening of the conference. Canada also won the award last year. Last year, Canada shared this dishonor with the United States at the Bali conference. This year, Canada bore the award alone.
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