Monday, March 25, 2013

Of pandas and profit

           The giant pandas arrived in Toronto, Monday, March 25, a "gift" from the Chinese people (for which Canada has to pay a million bucks each year of their 10 year visit). Obviously, one welcomes such gestures of peaceful solidarity between "peoples" but I was also left with a sense of irony. When the Harper government was first elected - and still very inexperienced - they were quite vocal in their criticism of the Chinese government for its poor civil rights record. To the point that they appeared a bit buffoonish in their populist excesses: oh, those nasty communists! (I even wondered if there was some crypto-racism at play, at times.) I felt irritated, too, at the Harperites' apparent hypocrisy since, at home, here in Canada, they were busy cutting funding to programs whose function was to improve people's quality of life and provide opportunities to build a better life. If you reduce someone's access to justice, or work, or dignity is that not a form of de facto civil rights abuse?

             But those days of China bashing now seem a distant dream of the past. Lost in the shuffle to insure Chinese investment in big energy projects like the Alberta tar sands. One can only scratch one's head and ask: what happened, why the change? Are the Chinese really more respectful of civil rights these days? The situation in Tibet, for example, would not tend to support such a conclusion. Or what about the human rights of those dying of industrial pollution or mining accidents in China?

           In reality, what we are witnessing is probably an example of the "schizophrenia" of the Harper government and its supporters. Governments - and political parties - are probably less internally "coherent" - in a psychological sense - than are individuals. Governments and parties are not people but collections of individuals and groups who seek to serve their interests through acquiring political power. At best, their interests are seen as co-inciding (or largely overlapping) the public or common good of the nation. (A few inspired leaders may actually desire to serve the common good of "humanity" or the future generations of all nations.) 

          However, the desires and interests of the various groups which found a party may, at times, come into conflict. The temporary resolution of conflict most likely indicates that one side has, for a while, surmounted its adversary (the adversary may die or disappear only to be replaced by another later on as the new balance of power generates a new generation of disaffected, those left out in the cold or who feel they have lost former advantages). This process may explain the strange shift in attitudes towards the Chinese on the part of the Harper government in recent years. Their initial populist communist bashing borrowed a theme made popular - or infamous - during the Cold War by American Rightwingers like the John Birch Society or the much criticized McCarthyite witchhunts:

                But as time passed, the desire to maximize the profits of petrochemical corporations, their vassals (pipelines, construction companies..) and shareholders became the dominant force in Conservative foreign policy. "Money won out" and the Harper government is now much less exercised by Chinese civil right abuses than formely. Global Warming "sceptics" like to say "follow the money" to find the motivation for peoples' stance on environmental issues. In the case of the Harper government, one could say the money trail leads back to big oil in Alberta..

             Our entire political system - that of Canada and the West in general -  seems presently afflicted with a generalized lack of moral backbone. This theme is often adopted by the Right, especially in the US. We should not dismiss them too lightly - we do so at our peril - because their sentiments reflect a valid perception of the political reality we live in today. It is easy, especially for those leaning toward the Left of the political spectrum, to vilify the Harperite neocon wanabes. But in reality, the rot runs much deeper than a single party...

             We forget, for example, why the Harper Conservatives came to office in the first place: public outrage over misappropriation of public monies for partisan purposes, corruption.

Jean-Chrétien's final scandal

             And then there is what can only be called the Kyoto Scandal. Given the longterm consequences of climate change and our failure to rise to the challenges presented by the depletion of cheap fossil energy reserves, this is probably the most egregious of the moral failings of all recent Canadian governments. And it was perpertrated, be it noted, under a Liberal, not a Conservative government. In a 2007 Mcleans interview, a former Chrétien staffer, admitted that the Liberals had no clear game plan when they signed onto the Kyoto Greenhouse Gas Emission Control Protocol. It was a "feel good" symbolic gesture made without insight into the real costs of climate change and resource depletion nor any clear vision of where Canada should be heading over the next 50 years of crititical transition. Such short sightedness is a moral failing in those committed with the governance of a nation.

Kyoto Protocol fiasco 

              The world lacks leaders of caliber at the this critical time of transition. God help us all!

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