O Canada

Today is Canada day, and lately my thoughts have been turning more and more often that other (largely) English speaking country with a small population spread across a vast landmass.

Sadly, most of those thoughts are about the tragic state Canada finds itself now in, and how likely it is that we will soon be following the same path.

It is very easy for moderate right-wing Australians to shake their heads at the US Republicans but say they will still be voting for Abbott, because the Australian Liberals represent a different form of conservative politics. The government of Stephen Harper should shake that confidence. Any one who thinks, for example, that Abbott’s “direct action” policy on climate change indicates an intention to do something about the problem should think again.

Canada’s tradition of liberal politics, defined to some extent in contrast to America, has even deeper roots than Australia’s. Yet Harper is ripping that up at a truly astonishing rate. If you have any doubts take a look at this post: The Canadian War on Science. It is, as the subtitle says, a long and devastating chronological indictment, and as far as I am aware not exaggerated either. As always these cuts to science are justified by the need for austerity measures, but even if you accept that macroeconomic perspective this claim sits poorly with the money Harper has poured into religious groups, including extremist organisations. True the funding in these areas is small compared to the cuts to science, but it offers a clear indication that the belt-tightening is a fig-leaf. Harper just hates science. (Oh and if you think paying for science is expensive, what about sending Soviet style “media relations contacts” to a conference to ensure the scientists don’t actually talk to to the media, or are bugged when they do).

In particular, he hates the science of climate change, and will do whatever he can to silence those who practise it, or believe we should act on their word. That job got a little harder with the election of a leading climate scientist to the British Columbian parliament recently. Although the Canadian Constitution was designed to make the provinces weaker than the Australian states it left taxation powers more strongly in their hands, effectively making them stronger. The fact that British Columbia has a long-standing and strong price on carbon pollution, and that other provinces are moving in that direction, albeit at glacial pace, means there may be some progress in the fight against Climate Change in Canada despite Harper’s efforts.

But from the Australian perspective what is most significant about this is it gives us a clear indication of the behaviour of a true opponent of the enlightenment in full flight in a country similar to ours. For the first five years of Harper’s government he was kept in check by having a minority in the the Canadian Lower House, but since gaining a majority (with just 38% of the vote!) we have seen him unleashed. The difference represents the gap between Abbott in power, but lacking a majority in the Senate, and one where he is “constrained” only by right-wing extremists such as the DLP’s Senator John Madigan, who will be only too eager to egg him on to ever more vile policies.

It might be argued that Canadians have rather more reason than Australians to welcome a warmer climate. However, the chaos that has now enveloped Calgary should give pause to that argument. Moreover, Canadians have far less excuse than Australians for harbouring doubts as to the long term climatic trend.

* A few years ago a Canadian radio announcer called for nominations for an alternative national anthem. The overwhelming winner was Stan Rogers’ NorthWest Passage. I share the love of this work from an outstanding songwriter cut down tragically young. Rogers reminds us Franklin’s expedition was far from the only one to end in tragedy seeking a way through the then barely penetrable pack ice. These days there would be no problem. For months at a time the Beaufort Sea is largely ice free. This has certainly not happened for thousands of years, possibly millions. Glaciers leave a record of their passage that has no arid zone equivalent. Canada’s warming is written there for all to see.

Perhaps this is why more than 60% of Canadians voted for parties with a commitment to tackling climate change at the last election. Future generations will be able to blame what happened on a dud voting system and the incapacity of the Liberals and New Democrats to co-operate. If we give Abbott control of the Senate Australians will not have the same excuse.

*Anyone know why these videos sometimes embed and sometimes don’t? It’s very annoying.


About Stephen Luntz

I am a science journalist, specialising in Australian and New Zealand research across all fields of science. My book, Forensics, Fossils and Fruitbats: A Field Guide to Australian Scientists is out now through CSIRO Publishing. I am also a professional returning officer for non-government organisations. I'm very politically active, but generally try to restrict this blog to scientific matters.
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