Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

Modern Times- the Dinosaur column

In Dinosaur on October 21, 2010 at 2:42 pm

Back from the land of the maple leaf

I’ve just returned from taking time out in the land of the beaver and maple leaf. Yes, Canada’s been calling me across the pond yet again.

For those who’re interested in the political set-up of this vast and sprawling country, Canada also has a Tory Prime Minister – and, like in the UK, he heads a minority government. But unlike here, he hasn’t formed a coalition. Instead he relies on the divisions between the opposition parties to remain in power.

The opposition consists of the Canadian Liberal Party, the left-wing New Democrats (the NDP) – and the Bloc Quebecois, who naturally enough represent the separatist elements in the province of Quebec, and thus have their own particular agenda.

Canada’s Prime Minister is one Stephen Harper – and as far as I know he’s no relation to Mark, our own MP here in the Forest. Indeed, the Canadian PM rose through the ranks of the redneck right in the province of Alberta – though I’m sure that he likes to think that he’s matured somewhat since those days.

Whilst I was there, the main political debate seemed to be centred on whether to scrap the “long gun register”. Harper and his party were keen to get rid of the legal requirement for folk to register any rifle or shotgun in their possession. When it came to the vote, he was narrowly defeated.

Somehow I couldn’t quite grasp what all the fuss was about. I don’t own a gun of any sort – and neither does any one else I know. I thought that was just for the gun-happy lobby in the USA. And anyway in Canada, anyone who really really wants a gun has to get a certificate, covering such points as why they want a firearm and whether they’re capable of using it without endangering anyone (apart, perhaps, from some hapless moose). No, I think it’s just the inner redneck emerging in Harper and his supporters.

Stimulating?

I was however interested to note that rather than tackling the recession through cutting everything that’s not nailed to the ground, the Canadian Conservatives launched what they call a stimulus package of public spending to try to re-energize the economy. Canada hasn’t suffered quite as much as some countries from the recession – though it’s all relative, I suppose.

But Harper has now announced that his stimulus package will end next year. It’s done its job, he says, and from 2011 the Canadian economy will have to stand on its own feet. The opposition, of course, aren’t happy. They think it will expose the country to the danger of a “double dip” recession – particularly as it’s so reliant on trade with its neighbour the USA these days. Me, I’m no economist, but I think they may be right.

Oil for the taking?

The debate over the havoc caused by the exploitation of Alberta’s oil tar sands has been covered several times in the Clarion. And whilst I was in Canada CBC television also gave it major coverage. The Canadian born film director, James Cameron, had, it seemed, decided to travel to the site to see for himself.

Cameron likes to see himself as an environmentalist, and he concluded that the oil companies really needed to clean up their act before any further exploitation could be regarded as acceptable. He also denounced the way in which the rights of First Nation people living in the area had been brushed aside in the scramble to exploit the oil tar reserves.

I was also interested to see some prominence given to the decision by the Co-operative Bank here in Britain to give backing to those First Nation tribal chiefs who are trying to sue the oil industry and the province over the conditions under which their people are now forced to live.

Incidentally, the USA oil industry is strongly represented amongst those exploiting the tar sands – and America now gets over half its oil from Canada. Its representatives strongly resent anyone who tries to interfere with their “right” to get its oil from Canada. After all, declared one Republican senator, its only wilderness territory up there, so who cares?

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