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Home > English > Alternatives International Journal > 2013 > March 2013 > For Sale: The Canadian Identity

For Sale: The Canadian Identity

Friday 1 March 2013, by Michael Reford

A young, adolescent country, Canada often struggles with what it is. The rich, exciting, history of other Western nations is absent because of the few historically defining moments. As such, the Canadian identity is passive but still proud, multicultural and still protectionist, humble, sometimes nationalist, but constantly trying to find itself. The current chapter has added some new qualities to the mix usually reserved for ruthless, industrial, ultra capitalist countries, like our southern neighbour. Our identity is changing, but this time, for the worse.

Resource-rich Canada has relied on the exploitation of its valuable natural landscape since long before the country was founded. Domestic responsibility is essential to a government’s success. The lack of voters abroad creates a disregard for responsibility, which has manifested itself at the expense of ordinary Canadians.

A recent report commissioned by the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada suggests that four times as many mining abuses are committed abroad by Canadian mining corporations. The long-standing rhetoric as resource companies began to explore abroad blamed a minority for bad behaviour, spoiling the party for all. This is clearly not the case.

Aside from flimsy corporate responsibility codes, there is nothing to keep mining companies in check as they ruthlessly search for profits in foreign lands. Policing these companies abroad is difficult. Unreported crimes and denial of accusations seem to be the norm when conflicts arise. Remote communities in sometimes shady, politically unstable countries are subject to violence, local militias, and frequent human rights violations. It is all too common to hear of Latin American peasants being pushed off their land, local activists gone missing or gruesomely murdered at the benefit of a proposed resource operation. A clean corporate statement denying involvement usually follows and blame is placed elsewhere. The difficulty for poor rural, sometimes uneducated and unorganized locals, is fighting such abuses in an arena where Canadian companies are not being held accountable. The cases rarely get through corrupt judicial systems in local nations and do not make it to Canadian courtrooms. In a recent case, Canadian miner Hudbay is being sued by Guatemalan peasants. These victims of rape and murder may change this, but the road ahead is long. The recent Bill C-300, to combat bad corporate behaviour, is a poor attempt to save face. The innocent, humble perception of Canada has eroded, and the prestige of a Canadian citizen diminished.

Environmental destruction—a by-product of any resource extraction operation—occurs abroad, but domestically as well; outsiders can only gasp at the destruction and mismanagement of tar sand operations. Contamination of the Athabasca River, used by aboriginal peoples, the contribution to rising CO2 levels, and the expanding network of pipelines prone to leaks is a major concern. The Northern Gateway pipeline proposed by Enbridge is rightly opposed, as the company has a track record of irresponsibility and leak accidents. Shoddy scientific data presented by the company and no solid plan in case of spills are testaments to the arrogance of Enbridge as well as the Harper government.

Harper and his Keystone XL pipeline mission, proposed to run from Alberta to Texas refineries, would secure higher revenues for tar sands operatives but leave devastation in its wake. An environmental crisis and irreparable destruction in exchange for short term revenues seems unnecessary. Our Kyoto drop-out is yet another blemish on the already tarnished Canadian image. Lobbyists’ pressure on a government that almost enjoyed rejecting the commitment for the sake of its beloved oil polluters has prevailed. A world leader’s necessary understanding that Kyoto affects all, was clearly disregarded, and a major opportunity was missed. The small value placed on our precious environment for economic gain comes at a time when global leaders shifting their policies towards environmental consciousness.

It is necessary that Canada develops a clear energy. There is no denying that consumption of natural resources is essential. The importance lies in the method of extraction, conservation of environmentally important areas, responsible decision-making, and accountability. An energy strategy would greatly aid those in the industry at maintaining operations for the interests of all Canadians, not just their own. A national energy strategy would enable for parameters and clear goals to be set in order to foster a better future for Canadians in a post-tar sands scenario. The lag in coming to this realization and the lack of proactive measures can only prolong the damage done by maintaining the status quo.

The economic priority of Prime Minister Harper’s government is evident. The numerous trade pacts and opportunities sought in Asia, South America, and Europe have only come at the expense of something of greater value. A leaked report by the Foreign Affairs ministry, if taken at face value, indicates Canada’s focus abroad is strictly economic. Without the acknowledgment of anything else, the sacrifice of such Canadian values as multiculturalism, human rights and democracy, are the victims of what can be described as a very short sighted plan.

The decades following World War II are plagued by neocolonialism and the potential for its ugly consequences has surfaced. American anti-democratic behaviour and involvement in 1950s Central America is a testament to its negative repercussions. As Steven Harper travels the world negotiating Free Trade deals, the pristine innocence of our country slowly decays. Under the guise of mutual interests, Canadian companies invade foreign lands. The corporate fist is powerful as its influence has led to accusations implicating Ottawa in the 2009 Honduras coup. Colombia can serve as another case where any sense of responsibility and integrity was traded in for a few dollars. In a country where government forces, paramilitaries, and rebels have operated for a half-century, Canadian miners ply their trade. The recent agreement to open Colombian trade to Canadian manufactured automatic weapons is an affront to human rights. Arms aside, government forces with only economic interests in mind and who are guilty of countless civilian murders among other human rights violations, are intolerable. The future is alarming.

The casualties around the world at the hand of shifting Canadian policies and increased exploitation of big Canadian business are dangerous. The precedent that has been set in the last ten years differs drastically from the classic Canadian identity; one known for humility, meaningful contribution, peacekeeping, and true democracy. The Harper government has played an accelerated role but the seeds had been sown before his arrival. As Canadians, we are victim to our own pacifist and apolitical nature. But the real casualty in all of this: a change in Canadian identity, which has taken years to find but only a few to undo. Is there a chance to rebuild our pride after this hiccup, or will it last and serve to guide future generations toward the dark abyss of unethical behaviour?