There are at least two visions of Canada. The better vision belongs to Jean Ralston Saul, author of A Fair Country, and to progressive, forward-looking Canadians. It is a vision that embraces and respects the three founding pillars of our society: the Aboriginal, the French, and the English. It sees strength in each pillar, and recognises that these three interconnected yet independent pillars make Canada a distinctive society that has been, in many ways, a model for the world. We have Quebec, with its culture and language preserved, a bilingual federal government, as well as Inuit-governed Nunavut, Nunavik, and native reserves.
Self-government in Nunavut and Nunavik strengthens rather than weakens who we are as a people. Northern aboriginal communities reinforce our sovereignty as a nation by asserting our permanent residency in the far north, and the respect is reciprocated. Chief Joseph Gosnell stated: “Once Nunavut had been created, I heard people say, ‘Now we are Canadian’.”
The native relationship to nature is founded in a belief that nature is a “circle”, to which humans belong. Mohawk Beth Brant vocalised this sentiment: “We do not worship nature. We are part of it.” Such a world-view is different from the Judeo-Christian-Islamic-Fundamentalist traditions which consider man to be the “master” of nature, but it aligns itself with modern science that tells us we must change our ways, or perish.
This is why native Canadians are at the forefront of progressive movements that respect science, nature, and the need to rein in the free-market anarchy that is threatening to destroy the planet.
The aboriginal pillar of our society is as important now as it was during the founding of our country, but Steven Harper does not share this vision of Canada. Instead, he shows disrespect.
When Attawapiskat, a native community in northern Ontario, declared an emergency and asked for help, Harper sent an accountant. A federal judge later ruled that the Harper government was “unreasonable in all circumstances to appoint an outside financial manager“.
Attawapiskat, looks like this:
Contrast the plight of Attawapiskat with the riches of the DeBeers Victor Mine, located on First Nations Land eighty kilometres away. The Victor Mine harvests 600,000 carats worth of diamonds per year.
Fort Chipewyan, a native community located downstream of the Tar Sands, is understandably concerned about health issues related to toxic discharges from industry.
Instead of showing concern and taking proactive measures, Harper suppresses realities.
Attawapiskat and Fort Chipewyan are what Chris Hedges would describe as “sacrifice zones“. These are areas where the environment and human communities have been destroyed by corporate profit. Resources are extracted, but the negative “externalities”, and the indifference to the plight of neighbouring communities, remain.
Fort Chipewyan and Attawapiskat are the front lines, but the devastation, as in the US, is extending outwards towards the rest of society and the planet. The devastation is enabled by suppression.
Instead of embracing good science, Harper’s Canada suppresses it. Key research centres, such as the Experimental Lakes Area, and the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Center, will be cut, while other vital research programmes will lose federal funding.
The scope of the cuts effectively annihilates information streams that might prove contrary to unfettered Tar Sands, or other extractive industry, development.
Instead of enabling a low carbon industry, it legislates an anti-environment “budget bill”, Bill C-38, that wipes out decades of progressive environmental protections.
To add insult to injury, Harper’s government is even offering to investigate the health effects of wind turbines, all the while ignoring (and suppressing) the clear and present health dangers from fossil fuels.
Harper disrespects, by word and deed, the essence of our country. He is obsessed with an economic system of laissez-faire and unregulated economics, which is hollowing out manufacturing. This in turn is facilitating an unprecedented transfer of wealth upwards: income inequality is growing twice as fast here, than in the US.
Combined with rising military spending, private sector bailouts, and attacks on unions, Harper is decimating the social and environmental fabric of our country for the profit of the 1 per cent.
Harper once promised to a right-wing US think tank that “[you] won’t recognise Canada when I get through with it”. Unfortunately, he wasn’t kidding.
Mark is a retired high school teacher who spends much of his time as an activist and citizen journalist.
A version of this article first appeared on DailyCloudt.