Culture Fail: Were Conservatives Right About Canada?

Every four years you hear the same refrain from liberals: “If (Republican presidential candidate) is elected, I’m moving to Canada.” Sure, Canadians speak funny and pay homage to the Queen, but they also have cherished liberal programs: near universal health coverage, reasonably tough gun laws, gay marriage, and a strong belief in multilateralism.

But you know what? Canada kinda sucks right now. It’s not a liberal paradise. Far from it.

For proof, look no further than one Stephen Harper, current Prime Minister and leader of Canada’s Conservative party. Harper, an oilman from Alberta—sometimes referred to as “Canada’s Texas”—has led the Conservatives to their third consecutive election victory. He’s wielding the enormous power granted to a Prime Minister under Canada’s parliamentary system to impose his oilman ideology.

Even before he was prime minister, Harper pushed both Albertan tar sand projects and Arctic drilling. He pulled Canada out of the Kyoto protocol, dismissing it as a “socialist scheme.” He co-wrote a letter to The Wall Street Journal in which he condemned the Canadian government’s unwillingness to participate in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. According to the World Affairs Journal, Harper has “repeatedly castigated Canada’s alleged social democratic system in the harshest of terms.”

Since gaining a majority government in 2011, Harper has had an even stronger hand with which to weaken or outright abolish scores of environmental laws. He gutted the Fisheries Act, Canada’s strongest freshwater protection law. He amended the Coastal Trade Act to explicitly encourage oil companies to drill for oil in the Gulf of St. Lawrence—the world’s largest estuary and home to a unique ecosystem. Even though Canada’s economy is relatively strong, he cut $160 million in environmental spending, decimating projects set up to monitor and mitigate the damage caused by tar sand refining and drilling.

The tar sands are currently making headlines in the U.S., as the proposed Keystone XL pipeline will move oil from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico. Harper’s government is putting enormous pressure on the Obama administration to greenlight the pipeline, all in line with Harper’s fervent desire for Canada to become an “energy superpower.” Last summer The Guardian cited Andrew Weaver, a climate scientist at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, who claimed that Harper “has an ideological agenda to develop the Canadian economy based on the extraction of oil out of the Alberta tar sands as quickly as possible and sell it as fast as it can, come hell and high water, and eliminate any barriers that stand in their way.”

Unfortunately for the rest of the world, the extraction of tar sands oil will push us far over the edge in terms of climate change. James Hansen, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, wrote in a New York Times op-ed last year that “if Canada proceeds, and we do nothing, it will be game over for the climate.”

No, not a liberal paradise at all. Canada, it seems, is taking after its southern neighbor.

by Nathaniel Brodie