how well do you know canada?

There is an immense disparity between the Canada people know and the Canada that actually exists. Take all the positive stereotypes you know about “Canada” … and throw them out the window.

Last week a stranger sat next to me on campus and struck up conversation. Canada was the first topic. He supplied all the main (mis)conceptions – environmentally-friendly, peace-loving, democratic – and I had a hard time debunking them without sounding like I fucking loathed my country.

There are two groups of people in the world: those who see Canada as a role model and those who see Canada as an obstacle to progress. Environmentalists belong in the latter group, I’m sure, and nod in resigned agreement as Canada sweeps the Fossil Awards (most obstructive performance in climate change negotiations), wins the Dodo Award (biggest failure to evolve on biodiversity protection), and places next-to-last every single year in the OECD ranking of environmental protection. Everyone else, outside of conservatives, belong in the former, and are impressed with what they see as the hallmarks of Canadianism: international peacekeeping; multicultural societies; open immigration policies; natural resource abundance; gender equality; democratic decision-making.

The general world view of Canada seems to be “slow but harmless”.

And Canadians appear to be perfectly content – indeed, some revel – in not being ambitious, not pushing the envelope, not being a trailblazer. So what if our southern neighbour laughs at us and the world doesn’t take us seriously? We seem to prefer it that way. No pressure, eh.

A lack of ambition is one thing; an inability – or perhaps unwillingness – to criticise things that are wrong about the country is another. Canadians seem to have a weird grasp on reality such that they, on the whole, don’t know what is actually happening. True, we are only human and we humans tend to see what we want to see. But we can’t work for self-betterment unless we acknowledge that the situation can, should and must be bettered.

No one wants to be a debbie downer, but we all have a duty to point out potential areas of improvement. I preface the following myth-debunkment with the statement that my (considerable and extensive) criticisms are made out of love for my country and a hope that it can be the Canada I want it to be.

  1. On democracy: We have single-member plurality, and without boring you with the details this means the proportion of seats occupied by each party in the House of Commons does not correspond to the proportion of voters who voted for them. A majority government is able to pass any bill (see, e.g., the omnibus bill, June 2012). A minority government, when faced with the prospect of losing a vote of confidence, can prorogue parliament (see, e.g.: December 2008).
  2. On the environment: We did not sign Kyoto II last December and have abysmal greenhouse gas emissions reductions targets (17% from 2005 levels by 2020). We are the world’s 2nd largest per capita consumer of water and 4th largest per capita consumer of energy. We are nixing a piece of land (and the boreal forests that stand atop it) the size of England in northern Alberta to extract energy-intensive bitumen with nowhere to dispose of the chemical waste. Our biggest province runs mainly on nuclear power. We have no national energy strategy. Environmental activists are labeled, alongside race supremacists and religious extremists, as potential terrorists. We give C $1.4 billion in subsidies to fossil fuel companies every year.

At the risk of sounding partisan, the Green Party got it right in marrying democracy and environment in its platform. The two are inextricably linked. And speaking of the Green Party, I’d like it known that I am hugely appreciative of and impressed by the work of Elizabeth May. Model MP!



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