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.

Sorry, world.


  1. That article by George Monbiot is astonishing and shocking. I had no idea Canada was up to such tricks and doing so much environmental damage. We must forward the article to our cousins in Toronto, to see if they're aware of what's going on.

  2. I had no idea of the gravity of it all either Nick, I thought it a small area and there has been a greenwashing by the offending oil companies who stand to make billions out of this moonscape of polluted water and dying species. No idea of what the human toll will be.
    Yes, send it to everyone you can think of.

  3. What they are doing in Canada is bad enough, but if their plan to scupper the Copenhagen climate change talks they are affecting us all.

    It's not easy to find a positive side to this kind of thing, but you've pointed out one ray of light in Ms. Barlow, and there are sure to be others, less well known alerting people to what's afoot.

    We have to hope and will the Copenhagen talks to come up with something...and something as stringent as possible. This might be our last best chance to address climate change before it changes us, irreversibly.

  4. It would mean letting go of the tar sands project for Canada to get behind any meaningful positive climate change policy and in spite of being inundated by emails from citizens such as myself, I doubt it will happen. Stephen Harper, as I've always maintained is Bush-Lite, completely controlled by Big Corp.

  5. I'm sorry to hear such negative news about Canada. I guess no country is safe when it comes to the big corporations wanting to squeeze all the money out of it that they can. This should be a major outrage. It's good that you bring ii to our attention. But what about those Dutch dairy farmers that immigrate to Canada and are allowed to build up huge lakes of sewage from their farms, which they are not allowed to do here in the Netherlands? That's another thing I'm interested in.

  6. Yet another total environmental outrage to fill the coffers of Big Corps. I wrote an article recently, on this very subject, at Sparrow Chat. The more of us who publicize this sin against the planet, the greater chance of raising public outrage. Though I admit, as I grow older my mind despairs of any hope for our children's future.


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