Friday, May 6, 2011

Why No Love For Canada?

They had national elections in Canada this week, but unless you're a Canadian this news likely comes as something of a surprise to you. The elections received barely any coverage in the United States, which is disappointing since they turned out to be something of a game-changer for our neighbors to the north: The Conservatives, led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, won a solid majority in Parliament; the perennially third-place New Democratic Party (NDP) became the official opposition party after the near collapse of the once powerful Liberals; meanwhile the separatist-minded Bloc Quebecois (which advocates independence for Quebec) lost almost all of their seats, while the Green Party elected a member of Parliament for the first time ever.

All in all, it was a pretty momentous election, which makes the lack of any meaningful coverage in the United States all the more confusing. The United States and Canada share the world's longest demilitarized border, and Canada is the United States' top supplier of imported oil - you would think that we in the US of A would then at least care a little bit about what's going on up there. But the United States has long had a parochial attitude towards Canada, as if their main responsibility was to dance to our tune, or as Homer Simpson once quipped when Bart suggested they go to Toronto: “why should I leave America to go to America Jr.?” From the other side of the border, the Canadians have also had fun with the idea of living in America's perpetual shadow, the comedy show Kids in the Hall once did a skit where a character described Canadians to an unknowing foreign foil as “an American without the gun.”

Unfortunately this comical attitude has a way of affecting serious issues, like our political discourse. Take for example recent moves by some members of Congress to block the construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. As proposed, the pipeline would carry synthetic crude oil from the Oil Sands region of Alberta to refineries along the US Gulf Coast. But the crude production from the Oil Sands region has a reputation for being hard on the environment in northern Alberta and for being a major source of greenhouse gas emissions (though this claim is actively disputed). Environmentalists in the US, with the backing of a group of Senators, have been working to block the authorization of construction of Keystone XL on environmental grounds, with the implicit assumption being that without access to US markets, this crude from the Oil Sands just wouldn't be produced. The Canadians though have a different take on the matter and now are just looking into an alternative pipeline route that would carry the production from the Oil Sands westward instead to the Pacific Ocean and eventually onto China.

The point here is that despite our perception of Canada as our over-polite, over-eager little brother who is always glad to follow in our footsteps, Canada is in fact its own country with its own culture, motivations and politics. And their path isn't necessarily the same as ours, so maybe we ought to pay a little more attention to them.
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