Sunday, December 06, 2009
Canada’s Hang Dog Shame
Alberta Tar Sands - the total area such as this is the size of England.
There are many, many flights going back and forth daily between Newfoundland and Alberta. Some have it that Alberta keeps Newfoundland’s economy afloat right now with all the Newfoundlanders who work there. Part of their substantial earnings package is a flight between the 2 provinces: 22 days in barrack-like camps on the oil fields and then 8 days back here where the money is spent on luxurious new homes and boys’ toys (think Hummers, huge quads, jumbo screen TVs, etc.). Many such Newfoundlanders contribute greatly to the support of outport economies. Some have it that the Newfoundland economy would collapse without the Alberta money pouring in.
The impact on their home-based families here is huge – it is usually the father who’s away so he loses physical contact with his children for 1/3 of their growing up years. Some of the away fathers establish secretive relationships with Albertan women. And their wives are the last to find out. I know of a few such cases.
The money is enormous and there is nowhere to spend it in Alberta unless one succumbs to vices: alcoholism, gambling, drugs et al. Most don’t. These talk of getting enough money out of Alberta to start a business here, or take early ‘retirement’.
Meanwhile, the toll on families is immense. The effect on the children left behind is immeasurable, apart from the loss of the mainly absentee parent there is also the impression that money is the only goal in life of which huge toys and rampant consumerism are the rewards. A very alien concept to most Newfoundlanders who place enormous value on community and the self-sustaining life style (fishing, hunting, growing food, gathering of fruits) of their ancestors.
All of this is laid at the feet of the oil sands. Was there ever such a pit of devastation and degradation on the landscape of Canada? And I mean that both physically and metaphorically. Was there ever such a brutal and environmentally destructive way to squeeze out oil from the earth?
George Monbiot is a writer whom I’ve admired for years. He writes brilliantly of the impact the oil companies and their stooge – our conservative government – are having on this land and its people. He maintains that Canada is the greatest threat to world peace. He is right. He calls us a corrupt petro-state. And he is right.
A tiny, glimmering ray of hope is Maude Barlow who happens to be one of my heroes. She heads up the Council of Canadians who fight tooth and nail for our rights to a clean environment, water and the commons – not just for Canada, but for the world. She has been advocating vociferously against the tar sands project and has been behind documentaries floodlighting this environmental disaster.
On days such as these, I am ashamed to be a Canadian.