Thursday, December 2, 2010

What’s wrong with Canada?

For a long time Canada – certainly in the rest of the world – had this image of a very progressive, liberal and forward looking country in terms of social and environmental responsibilities of business. This not only applies to business leaders which from an early time on championed these ideas. To mind comes Maurice Strong and his engagement for various UN led environmental initiatives in the 1970s. Or Chuck Hantho who, while CEO of what is now ICI Canada, initiated the ‘Responsible Care’ program in Canada which subsequently was adopted by the global association of the chemical industry and is now a standard for the industry in 53 countries globally. Not to forget David McTaggart, the Canadian businessman who became one of the founders and early leaders of Greenpeace. Also notable are wider initiatives such as the Montreal Protocol or, more generally, the courageous stance for human rights and integrity in the world, symbolized by ‘the last man standing in Ruanda’, Canadian General Romeo Dallaire on the UN mission when the Genocide began to unfold in the Central African country.

This all sounds like long ago now. The month of November was not a good month for Canadians with an interest in social responsibility of business. First, we saw Bill C-300 voted down by the Canadian parliament – a bill which attempted at raising the standards of environmental and social responsibilities of Canadian mining companies abroad. We might quibble about details of the bill. But it is pretty undisputable that the Canadian mining industry as a whole has a pretty dismal reputation around the world. What is conspicuous is that Canadian politicians do not even see some attempts at ‘symbolic politics’ – which the bill would have been by and large – as necessary. It makes you wonder.

Then, later in November, it was a – by all standards rather modest – attempt at addressing Canada’s more than wanting approach to climate change, which was voted down in the Senate (Canada’s second chamber of parliament). Bill C-311 was a modest attempt to close the gap between the Kyoto targets and the current performance of the country, ahead of a next round of negotiations in Cancun this month.

Of course it does not help to be governed by a party whose power base and current Prime Minster is from the province of Alberta which thrives on one of the most questionable mining operations in the world: the oil sands. But it cannot be all just old-style business interest driven political manoeuvring. This blog is triggered by reports about the work of Vancouver based consultant Patrick Moore for Asian Pulp and Paper (APP) basically legitimating the environmental record of a company that is allegedly responsible for the most rampant deforestation in Indonesia. The delicate detail – which seems to look symbolic for the country: Moore once was a director and spokesperson for Greenpeace.

All this is even more interesting as Canadians generally pride themselves on being so much more sophisticated, civilized and socially literate than their relatives ‘South of the border’. Looking, however, at the track record on the ground, the mood of the country has largely assimilated to that of their Southern neighbours. And were it not for the last bastion of Canadian’s pride in their social edge – the public health system - the Country’s practices make it look in many ways like the 51st state...

Photo by 416style reproduced under the Creative Commons Licence.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Have some thoughts you want to share about this post? We would love to hear them, so comment here (all comments will be moderated to prevent spam and random acts of advertising)...