A large part of my heart is in Canada, which we have been visiting regularly for several years. More than half our living relatives now reside there, including our two beloved grandchildren. Independently of that, I have long respected it as the intelligent, humane and liberal part of North America, characterised by sensible gun control, a high level of social care, and effective action to protect a natural environment of exceptional value.
Not any more. Not only is Canada the only country to have opted out of the agreement on reducing global CO2 emissions reached in Durban (even the biggest polluters have signed up), but the current Conservative government under Stephen Harper seems hell-bent on dismantling everything that Canada stood for, and for what? To assimilate it to the country with which most Canadians have resisted being identified, the US. Gun control is in danger of being weakened, and one of the worst environmental disasters on the globe, the extraction of oil from the tar sands of Alberta, is being ruthlessly pursued. Not only does this project entail the despoliation of nature, but there is an even more heinous aspect: the seemingly total indifference to the effect on the health of those living within the areas being polluted by the extraction activity. The river-systems are being poisoned with heavy metals, producing an epidemic of cancers among the First Nations communities within the area. A recent documentary on Al-Jazeera made me weep tears of impotent rage when I saw the quiet dignity and stoicism with which interviewees told of losing up to eight members of their family to cancer since the oil extraction started.
Such things go on in many different parts of the world, but it is tragic that a country which identifies itself as an advanced liberal democracy should be engaged in what could turn out to be a western version of Bhopal.