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It has long been a pleasant consistency to be well received as a Canadian the world over. This year, that generally well-earned reputation has become soiled. It is still a beautiful country, with friendly folks and a lot of talent, but several high profile events have begun eroding its cherished character as champion of peace and the environment.
Certainly, Canada was a global example of environmental progress: North America’s west coast is widely considered extremely health-conscious, with some of the first anti-smoking laws in the world. Canada is consistently listed among the cleanest, nature-loving countries, with cities topping the lists of ‘best places to live.’
The current Conservative government, led by Prime Minister Steven Harper, has withdrawn Canada from the Kyoto Accord. The government’s antagonistic behavior, as well as its policy, was roundly criticized at the climate talks in Durban, South Africa. Indeed, Canada was awarded the ‘Fossil Award’ for its inaction against climate change. Sadly, the country’s emission levels have “risen by 30 percent over 1990 levels,” according to beloved geneticist, environmentalist, and broadcaster David Suzuki.
China expressed regret over Canada’s decision to withdraw. Among the vocal critics was Nobel-Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu: “Canada, you were once considered a leader on global issues like human rights and environmental protection. Today, you’re home to polluting tar sands oil, speeding the dangerous effects of climate change.”
The Keystone XL Pipeline proposal, to run from the oil-rich province of Alberta into the U.S., has further stained Canada’s reputation over environmental concerns, including the plan to pass across the U.S. Ogallala-Aquifer, which provides drinking water for over two million people in eight states. On a smaller scale, Toronto, Canada’s largest city and host of the respected Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), elected mayor Rob Ford, who slashed his own popularity along with funding for public transportation, the arts, libraries, day-cares, and other popular services.
Archbishop Tutu’s reference to human rights is particularly poignant to a country with a long and proud tradition of peace-keeping and its reputation as a gentle and humane nation. As leader of the opposition at the time, Harper’s minority supported the invasion of Iraq. After the Conservatives became the ruling party, they deported U.S. war deserters. The party later defeated an attempt to end the deportations on humanitarian grounds.
The world-famous Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) also fell into considerable disrepute. After several years of recent scandals involving a Taser death and the fatal shooting of a man in custody, this year saw more outrage involving sexual harassment, incompetence, and negligence in the handling of the famous ‘Pickton’ serial killings.
Not last, nor least, is Vancouver. Often credited for its beauty, its cultural and culinary diversity, and its high living-standards, the city became the media focus this year for its riots following the local team’s loss in the ice-hockey championship. Over all, it was a conspicuously poor year for Canada, marked by a loss of the respect and fondness it had earned for so long. What will happen in the following years depends largely on the patience and shifting attitudes of the Canadian people.
However, there have been many positive Canadian events. Its economy did not slide significantly, as did many others, and has held strong. Moreover, the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement began with a blog by Canadian magazine ‘Adbusters.’ Canada’s combat role in Afghanistan ended. Charitable donations increased.
There is a consistent swing of the pendulum in Canadian politics. The RCMP has begun to focus on cleaning its image and its house, and hockey is undergoing intense scrutiny. Next year might not be the disaster the Mayans predicted.