By Linda McQuaig
Dec 19 2011
In a review last week of the year’s best and worst, Rex Murphy offered up his choice for the most overrated politician of the year: Stephen Harper.
Speaking on the “At Issue” panel on CBC-TV’s The National, Murphy mused that the Prime Minister is not nearly as menacing a character as his enemies make him out to be: “He doesn’t have the power that they think he has. He doesn’t have the depth of animus against all the rest of the world that he’s painted as.”
Murphy, for all his posturing as an independent-minded contrarian, was delivering a message the governing Conservatives would dearly love to plant in the minds of Canadians: that Harper is not an extremist.
Rather, Murphy suggested, it’s Harper’s “enemies” — those who are “radically against him” — who are the extremists.
Since Harper’s “enemies” — arguably about 60 per cent of the Canadian public, judging by the popular vote in the last election — are given little airtime on The National these days, let’s at least take a moment here to consider their “radical” viewpoint.
We’re all familiar with Canada’s obstructionist role at international climate talks and our bulging collection of “Fossil of the Year” prizes, awarded in disdain by environmentalists. All this culminated in Ottawa’s actual withdrawal this month from Kyoto accord, the only remotely plausible worldwide effort underway for tackling climate change.
A fierce, longtime opponent of Kyoto, Harper has recently been peddling a new kind of climate denial. Teaming up with oilsands giant Suncor, the Harper government has been promoting “climate prosperity” — the notion that, in addition to the well-known negative impacts, there may be some benefits to climate change, and Canada should try to cash in.
This might be regarded as merely making the best of a bad situation — if we were merely passive victims of that bad situation, rather than one of the world’s leading contributors to it.
While distracting Canadians with this feel-good approach to the issue, the Harper team has wreaked havoc with the international process of trying to stop climate change, thereby virtually eliminating the slender prospect that the world might actually come together to rein in fossil fuel consumption.
What the Harper government is doing is disastrous for Canadians, but even more disastrous for those most directly under the heel of climate change — notably the one billion Africans who will be the first and hardest hit by climate change, according to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
So the Harper government, working arm-in-arm with some of the world’s least vulnerable people — international oil interests — has done its best to sabotage a process aimed at preventing the catastrophic climate impacts that particularly threaten the world’s most vulnerable people: food and water shortages, crop reductions, flooding and loss of land.
Such callous disregard for the plight of the globe’s most defenceless citizens — it’s not really a stretch to label this an “animus” toward the world — is distinctly out of line with Canada’s traditional approach as a leading nation working with other nations to advance international goals.
Veteran Canadian diplomat Carolyn McAskie argues that the Harper government has largely abandoned this kind of multilateralism and the UN, and instead focuses on advancing the government’s narrow short-term objectives.
“Compromise, coordination and consensus, Canadian values which gave us influence, are seen as contrary to a new aggressive Canadian posture,” she wrote in a paper for the McLeod Group, a new association of diplomatic and development professionals seeking to restore Canada’s leadership role.
McAskie notes that, in our earlier incarnation as an admired and skilful middle power, we truly did “punch above our weight.”
Sadly, we’re now using our considerable power to destroy any hope of heading off climate disaster. It turns out that we’re just as effective at undermining attempts to solve the world’s problems as we once were at attempting to find solutions.
Canada is still punching above its weight. But, under the animus of the Harper government, those punches are now low blows, landing on some of the most vulnerable people on the planet.