Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Will Canada enable "the elephant in the room" too long?


It was a retired Canadian military man who, upon hearing the topic of the United States opened, blurted, “They don’t think global warming and climate change are real; they think it’s a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese…. And they also think ‘their shit don’t stink’,” a phrase Canadians use frequently  to describe people (individuals or groups) they consider arrogant, snobbish and inhabiting their own tower of status.

While the Canadian government is spending hours in cabinet meetings, attended by former Prime Minister, Brian Mulroney, who served as PM when the NAFTA treaty was signed, in preparation for negotiations with the American administration, individual Canadians share a both a contempt and a fear of the gang now in charge in Washington. Of course, at the street level, feelings are broad, generalized and a kind of inarticulate gestalt, that, if they were to be asked to paint their feelings about the Trump thugs, would likely grab a brush, dip deeply into midnight black and draw random strokes across the canvas.

We are, for the most part, a decent, civilized, orderly lot, as Canadians, and we do not tolerate either the unpredictable or the secret from our leaders, unless there is a new threat and no one really knows what to expect. We are normally patient when asked or expected to line up for services. We hate bullies, and there are too many stories about our children being bullied on line, too often leading to the suicide of the victim. We are currently engaged in an extradition of a bully from the Netherlands who allegedly targetted a Canadian co-ed. We do not have, and are not likely to acquire a large military fleet of planes or frigates, nor do we have a large cadre of military personnel.

 Our history, rather, has been focussed on peacekeeping, although yesterday the country celebrated the 100th anniversary of the battle of Vimy Ridge, in the First World War, when some 3000 Canadian soldiers were slaughtered,  as they captured the ridge.
We are proud to send military and police trainers, peace-keepers, and communications experts to nations facing threats yet we go into open combat only very reluctantly, as in Afghanistan and through bombing fly-overs in Iraq and Syria. A small number of Canadians enlisted to join the Americans in Viet Nam, and a larger number fought in Korea.

We have abolished the death penalty, taken suicide out of the criminal code, legalized gay marriage, and more recently death with dignity with doctor assistance. The federal government will introduce on Thursday this week, their long-promised bill to permit the sale of marijuana for recreational purposes, nationally, targeting July 1, 2018 when the sale will begin. Our crime rate, thankfully, is relatively low, and our streets are generally safe, although there are  frequent incidents of shootings in our biggest cities. We are witnessing a growing opioid drug crisis, with too many deaths, in Vancouver and more recently in Toronto.

Our convention attitude to  provincial and national political candidates is neither star-struck awe nor violent contempt. Detached cynicism, insouciance, a carelessness head-in-the-sand approach, rolling our eyes, as if government of whatever colour or stripe is neither about to accomplish anything really big and important, nor is it likely to plunge the nation over a cliff are our probable attitudes. We are, politically and historically, a country of minimal increments, preferring slow and persistent evolution to radical storms.

Our storms come from our weather, especially in the last few years, with the obvious and indisputable influence of global warming and climate change. And these storms have increased in both frequency and intensity in recent years and months. And just as it was back in the 1980’s when the subject of discussion between the United States and Canada was the spread of what was then called “acid rain” from the mills and factories in the northeast U.S. being blown north-east over the Canadian landscape including our rivers and lakes, today reports again indicate a significant impairment to the water quality in the Great Lakes from the run-off of salt used to prevent or eliminate ice from winter roads.

So while Canada steps gingerly into the theatre of taxing carbon emissions, in a federation in which the provinces seek to take their  own steps to control carbon emissions, the United States administration moves to ‘deconstruct’ the EPA, rendering most of the Canadian efforts mute, given the tidal wave of U.S. emissions.

So these two neighbours are walking in opposite directions on the North American continent. We are also taking radically different approaches to the migrating masses of refugees: last year, under Obama, the U.S. admitted 12,000, while Canada admitted some 44,000. Canada is abandoning coal-fired electricity production, while the U.S. under Trump is “restoring coal” (with its mere 65,000 workers) to the production of electricity.

And yet, Trudeau and the Canadian government is twisting and turning in the wind of the Trump hurricane in its attempt to dodge, or at least deflect the wrath of the monster in the Oval Office:

· Ju mping to declare Assad has to place in a future settlement of the civil war in Syria,
·      declaring that Canada has a trade “surplus” with the U.S., (as compared with deficits with Mexico and other countries like China),

·      endorsing the recent missile attacks on the Syrian airbase,

·      today joining the ban on digital tablets and computers from the passenger compartments in aircraft (initiated by the U.S. in a blatant and perverse ruse to enhance American airline revenues from Africa and India without providing a single degree of passenger security, as these devices can still explode in the cargo hold)

·      reminding the U.S. administration of the $2B in trade that crosses the 49th parallel every day, as a way to underline the fact that at least  9,000,000 American jobs that depend on the Canadian market

·      studying (without protest, in fact while pointing to the similarity to other years) the trickle of refugees seeking safe haven in Canada on foot to escape the potential threat that awaits them in the U.S.

·      investigating the refusal to permit entry into the United States of Canadian citizens who have made the same trip for several years, once again without the outrage and demand for justice felt by those rejected admission

·      sending troops into Latvia as a physical and fiscal step to support NATO in the face of Russian hegemony, to demonstrate that Canada is paying its fair share to NATO,  in the face of Trump’s “pay-up” demand.

Canada, different from the United States does not have or put a price tag on everything. Water is, for the most part, still a shared public resource (except the Nestle grab of stream water in southern Ontario for a mere $1.73  for a million litres, only to turn around and sell it in bottles for an exorbitant profit.) It is when the Americans come to Canada for our water that Canadians can only hope Trump is no longer in the White House and there are no co-dependent cabinet ministers in the Canadian government, including especially the Prime Minister. 300-plus thirst Americans could down the zillions of fresh water from the Great Lakes in a very short time and one has to wonder what is there in the way to stop or at least to slow them down.

And yet, Canadians continue to hold our nose, while we participate in an almost daily water-cooler conversation about the dangers of Trump, the threat of his unpredictability, the increasing threat of an accident  in Syria where Russian fighter jets and American fighter jets (and their respective crews) fly bombing missions, especially now that the Russians have abrogated the agreement to co-ordinate those flights, the statements from Medvedev in Russia that the recent missile strike increases the danger of Russia and the U.S. could be on a military collisions course.
We have no evidence, nor does the rest of the world, that the Trump gang of compulsive competitors have either the will or the intellectual capacity to design a strategy and to announce it to the world, really on anything, but this week on Syria.

 While Trump “trumpets” his obsession to maintain unpredictability, we are more and more convinced that this is just another ruse for not having to do the hard work of policy planning and execution. It reminds one of the senior English examination on which the student had written only these words, “There is already too much word pollution in the world; I do not intend to add to it.” Nifty dodge, for which he received a “0”. (True story, you really can’t make this stuff up!)

And you really can’t make the stuff up about the Trump dangers. As Canadians, we are watching closely, nervously and less and less optimistically every day. From this side of the 49th parallel, we can see that he has not, and is not likely to “become presidential” in spite of the repeated echoes of that hollow hope by American pundits.




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