What Happened to Canada?
The left has long admired Canada as an enclave of social democracy in North America: for its openly socialist electoral parties, its robust welfare state, and its more moderate policy profile. Recent developments, however, have thrown that reputation into question. The country is helmed by a prime minister, Stephen Harper, known for his brazenly right-wing views and executive unilateralism. Both federal and provincial governments have embraced austerity and eroded public services. And Canada’s newly aggressive exploitation of its natural resources has it trampling on civil liberties and reneging on its international obligations like, as Foreign Policy put it, a “rogue, reckless petrostate.”
These are not changes born in the hearts and minds of the Canadian people, but an agenda designed and implemented from above, articulated in an imported conservative ideology, to abet the interests of private industry. Some of that agenda, like the shocking attack on Canada’s environmental research community, has been implemented so swiftly and unilaterally that the public is just now catching up. Other aspects, like the undermining of the country’s universal health care system, have been imposed more gradually, a death by a thousand cuts combined with a relentless propaganda campaign.
What is happening in Canada is part of a much larger trend: the formidable disciplinary forces of late capitalism are exerting themselves everywhere, including in other western democracies, where governments are scaling back social programs while lavishing tax concessions and subsidies on industry. The European Union and the United States are similarly absorbing market shocks on behalf of business while allowing downturns to undermine the poor and working class. If Canada is becoming indulgent of, even slavish toward, its resource industry (the biggest contributor to GDP), it is arguably no more so than the United States in relation to its banking sector, which was never brought to heel despite causing the 2008 collapse.
Still, the drastic turn in Canadian politics and policy raises some urgent questions. Why hasn’t the population stopped the attack on its public services? Why have left-leaning parties lost ground at the polls while Harper and his ilk continue getting reelected? Why, in a society with a more collectively oriented spirit, has the political discourse taken a sharp turn to the right?
The answers to those questions tell a story to which the left should pay heed, for the hijacking of Canada’s social democracy was made possible in part by the utter failure of its left parties, and the prospects for wresting the country from the current conservative agenda depend on the success of grassroots movements of resistance.
Canada’s public services, including health care and post-secondary education, the post office and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, are generally quite beloved. Unlike in the United States, where the government is viewed with some suspicion, in Canada government-administered and -funded institutions are understood to play an important nation-building role by servicing a population dispersed across a vast terrain. And the fact that all Canadians’ needs are provided for has become a point of pride.
Over the past few decades, however, private business interests and their neoliberal allies in government have led a concerted push to expand the role of the market and shift government expenditure away from social need. The assault on public services hasn’t been conducted by criticizing them on principle, but by manufacturing crises and then suggesting that the only solution is to expand the role of the private sector.
Such is the strategy playing out right now at the post office. Last December, it was announced that Canada Post would have to phase out home delivery within five years, requiring residential customers to retrieve their mail from nearby community boxes. The change would come along with a significant increase in the cost of postage (from 63 cents to one dollar for a single stamp) and the layoff of 8,000 postal workers.
The announcement was shocking, but calculatedly so. The recommendations were prepared by a think tank arguing for privatization. It claimed that the post office is unsustainable and uncompetitive, a burden to taxpayers, and poor at meeting consumers’ needs. In reality, Canada Post has netted a profit for sixteen of the last seventeen years, and, despite occasionally suffering losses, has yet to receive a single dollar in taxpayer bailout. All of the report’s recommendations were part of a larger and often-used strategy to “restructure” services so that user costs increase while services deteriorate, and then, in response to public frustration, suggest market-based solutions.
The same strategy has been exercised repeatedly in health care: crises are brought on by underfunding, and the alleged only solution is to expand the role of private profit. Services are “delisted,” i.e. taken out of universal medicare coverage, but private supplemental insurance becomes available to cover them. Public hospitals are closed but private clinics allowed to open. Wait times for services increase due to budget cuts, but patients are permitted to “jump the queue” and pay out of pocket for their own MRI. The public is thus softened for market-based solutions, although on an ideological level it remains staunchly committed to medicare and vocally resistant to efforts to introduce parallel private health insurance and private hospitals. The CBC, itself constantly menaced with cuts, recently held a months-long contest to select “The Greatest Canadian.” The population chose Tommy Douglas, the architect of Canada’s medicare system, ahead of Wayne Gretzky, Alexander Graham Bell, and Pierre Trudeau.
18 Mar 2014
A new study suggests that Greenland’s northeast ice stream, located 600km to the interior of its ice sheet is thinning because of warming temperatures. The study used data from several dozen GPS locations along Greenland’s coast.
Greenland’s previously stable northeastern ice sheet is starting to melt, according to a new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change.
While Greenland’s melting ice sheet has contributed to an increase in the world’s sea levels over the last 20 years, the recent study suggests that Greenland’s northeast ice stream, located 600km to the interior of the ice sheet is also thinning because of warming temperatures.
Greenland is believed to contribute 0.5 mm per year to the 3.2mm annual rise of the world’s sea levels.
VIDEO: How ice melt in Greenland is affecting its Inuit population
The study used data from several dozen GPS locations along Greenland’s coast.
“The Greenland ice sheet has contributed more than any other ice mass to sea level rise over the last two decades and has the potential, if it were completely melted to raise global sea level by more than seven metres (22.75 feet),” Jonathan Bamber, a professor at Britain’s University of Bristol and one of the study’s co-authors, told Agence France-Presse (AFP) this week.
“About half of the increased contribution of the ice sheet is due to the speedup of glaciers in the south and northwest. Until recently, northeast Greenland has been relatively stable. This new study shows that it is no longer the case.”
Nails for the coffins of climate change denialists from northern Ontario, 300~400 miles NE of Thunder Bay: “The warming trend goes back at least 30 years, and is exemplified by the increase in annual crop heat units (CHU) at Earlton from 1800 to 2300 CHU. This has had a major positive impact on crop production. For example, soybeans, corn grain and silage corn are now reliably grown in the Temiskaming region, while canola has supplemented the traditional barley, oat and wheat crops in the Cochrane-Kapuskasing area. Crop Yields in the Temiskaming District: Corn = 130 – 145 bu/ac, Soybeans = 50 – 60 bu/ac”
Northern Ontario Agriculture Facts and Figures in Brief
Climate change is having a global impact on agriculture, especially in Northeastern Ontario. What could this mean for the future of this region?
- 2,800 farms which return $190 million in agricultural farm cash receipt
- 700,000 acres of farmed land.
- It has been estimated that most districts in Northern Ontario can increase active agricultural lands from 20 to 50% by drawing idled private lands back into use.
- The Great Clay Belt (GCB) in Northeastern Ontario consists of 16 million acres of potentially fertile glaciolacustrine soils (Figure 1). This is double the amount of cropland currently being farmed in the province.
Figure 1. The Great Clay Belt
- To date only about 2 per cent of this land has been developed for agriculture .
- The GCB also stretches into Northwestern Quebec, which contains another 13 million acres.
- The Canada Land Inventory has identified 4.4 million acres of Ontario’s GCB as Class 2, 3 or 4, which are suitable for cultivation. The remainder has either not been classified or is unsuitable for agriculture.
- The main limitations to productivity are drainage and climate. Systematic tile drainage has been shown to address the first limitation, while long-term climate warming and the development of new crop varieties and agronomic techniques have revolutionized the crops which can be grown (Figure 2)
- The warming trend goes back at least 30 years, and is exemplified by the increase in annual crop heat units (CHU) at Earlton from 1800 to 2300 CHU. This has had a major positive impact on crop production. For example, soybeans, corn grain and silage corn are now reliably grown in the Temiskaming region, while canola has supplemented the traditional barley, oat and wheat crops in the Cochrane-Kapuskasing area.
2011 -2012 Crop Yields*
- Corn = 130 – 145 bu/ac
- Soybeans = 50 – 60 bu/ac
- Canola = 1.45 tonnes/ac
Figure 2. Kapuskasing CHU trend
- In addition, these regions are well suited to forage production and are capable of supporting large herds of ruminant animals
- Development potential for the GCB in Ontario is shown by the degree to which agriculture in Northwestern Quebec has progressed (Figure 3)
Figure 3. Development differences between Northeastern Ontario (west or left of border) and Northwestern Quebec (right or east of the line) in the Great Clay Belt
2006 Census of Agriculture. Statistics Canada.
Chapman and Brown. The Canada Land Inventory. 1966.
Environment Canada Weather Station, Earlton Airport. Ontario Climate Center, Kapuskasing Data –
Environment Canada, 2012. http://www.climateontario.ca
2011 Census of Agriculture (Preliminary data). Statistics Canada.
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|Author:||Tom Hamilton – Beef Cattle Production Systems Program Lead/OMAF and MRA|
|Creation Date:||09 July 2013|
|Last Reviewed:||09 July 2013|