Canada: Taking the Low Road

Toronto, Canada
22 June 2010

There appears to be growing sentiment amongst civil society activists in the alternative media centre that the Canadian government is taking the low road to the upcoming G20 Summit this weekend. Local news reports suggest that the government of Prime Minister Harper will do its best to keep the financial transaction tax discussion at bay, regardless of the public statements from the French and German leadership that they are to go ahead. There is also very little from the Canadian government on real progress with climate justice and carbon emissions reduction, which is not really surprising given that the Canadian government provides an annual 2 billion dollar subsidy to oil companies mining the tar sands in Alberta.

This is the world’s single largest pollutant and thus any hope of placing climate change adaptation financing on the G20 agenda, will be blocked by the Canadian government. There is clearly no appetite for mitigating climate impacts but a huge appetite for oil.

It would seem that Canada is giving off clear signals that it is a staunch supporter of the narrow self-interested agenda of a typical northern developed nation with scant regard for the huge negative impacts of its actions on the rest of the world. This is nothing new, given that Canada has ignored the impacts of mining the tar sands on first nation people for a long time now. The Alberta tar sands mining project is already turning the natural water sources near the mining plants toxic, with reports of large scale death of fish and even possible birth defects in local communities using water downstream of the mining areas.

Given that Canada cannot even bother to take the interests of its own first nation people seriously, how can we even hope that Harper would have led a pro poor agenda for this G20? No. Canada will not lead a pro-poor agenda. The reality is that Canada under Harper now appears to have taken on the conservative mantle that was held by the first and second Bush administrations, with a clear pro-north, business first agenda. Thus, the best we can hope for from this G20, is yet another long-winded statement about commitments to aid to developing nations and some or other pithy reference to the realisation of the millennium development goals (MDGs). In short, we will be lucky if we get a reaffirmation of the Gleneagles Commitments and an agreement to disagree about the FTT implementation.

For climate justice activists at least, this is probably going to be the worst G20 Summit.We can expect nothing positive about climate adaptation and mitigation financing for developing nations who carry the disproportionate burden for the damp squib deal reached at Copenhagen. The US Court ruling that essentially pulled the rug from under Obama’s too-little-too-late reaction to the Gulf oil spill means that the US will have little room to push Canada on the tar sands, thus keeping the stalemate on real climate action at this G20.

The Toronto G20 may well prove to be a turning point for developing nations fight for a voice in this power bloc. With South Africa being the only African country at the table, it is imperative for President Jacob Zuma to take a lead to remind his peers that they cannot keep on going on this narrow self interest path. The G20 needs to show the world that it is not just a club of elite nations making sure poor people across the world remain oppressed, hungry and the victims of their poor choices. Canada has shown it is incapable and unwilling to take this lead. South Africa, it is up to you, do not fail us now.

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The Halifax Initiative Coalition is hosting a meeting of partners from across the globe to discuss current G20 initiatives from 21-22 June 2010 in Toronto, Canada.

Rajesh Latchman, Coordinator of the National Welfare Forum and Convenor of GCAP-South Africa, is attending the meeting as a guest of GCAP.

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