Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Here's a Campaign the Libs Might Just Win

Say what you will about the guy but Stephen Harper has been astonishingly successful at manipulating a wobbly official opposition into supporting or at least not opposing Tory policies, Liberal acts and omissions that could easily come back to haunt them on the campaign trail.

As Steve showed us in trashing Dion he likes to run an election not on his record, not on his policies, not on his vision, but as a referendum on the opposition. He basically says, "look at these guys - they've got nothing, at least nothing worth supporting and, remember, that awful sponsorship scandal." Gulp.

Having carried Harper's water on the economy, backing the Harper-Ignatieff "Pinata" stimulus budget and having lost traction on the torture scandal and just about everything else that Canada's Furious Leader has pulled these past years, Ignatieff is largely neutralized which at least partly clears the way for Harper to repeat his Dion caper. Trying to revive outrage over these things with an election looming is a waste of energy, something the Libs haven't shown in abundance since the new guy took over.

No, the Libs need a policy of their own making, an eye opener, something that will connect with and resonate among the public. My suggestion? Water, freshwater, something Canadians instinctively cherish. Fight the election on water. Turn it into a campaign to protect and secure Canada's water resources for this century.

Here's the thing. With climate change already impacting Canada, just like everywhere else, we need to take stock. Canada is one of just a handful of nations, all northern, that stand to be the last and least affected by the ravages of global warming. We have options. We have choices for adaptation and remediation the rest of the world can't even dream of. But, and here's the but, the key to most of our options, our environmental advantages, lie in what we decide, in the immediate future, to do about our freshwater.

There's probably no aspect of our country less well managed, haphazardly monitored, more poorly regulated than our water systems and reserves. And we're paying a big price for that now and stand to pay a horrific price very soon if we don't wake up.

Most Canadians live in a bubble full of myths about Canada's bountiful, pristine waters. Every time some jackass raises the idea about bulk water exports to a rapidly drying United States, it reinforces that myth. Maude Barlow in her book Blue Covenant succinctly addresses the core myths surrounding Canada's freshwater, myths that endanger this very resource:

1. The Myth that Canada has a surplus of water.
2. The Myth that Canadians love our water heritage.
3. The Myth that the Canadian government protects our water.

We don't have a surplus of water because we don't get much more precipitation than most other countries. We have untapped surface water but their volumes are relatively static and once drained won't simply fill up again overnight.

Barlow points out that while Canada does receive about 6.5% of the world's renewable water, 60% of that flows north. The 90% of Canadians living along the Canada-US border actually have access to but 2.6 % but we can't count on even those levels continuing with the advent of climate change. Saskatchewan and Alberta, for example, are at grave risk.

Our institutional ignorance about the state of Canada's groundwater is discussed by Barlow:

...Documents prepared by Natural Resources Canada warn that Canadians face tremendous challenges in the future, and even the leading scientists do not know how long supplies will last. So little is known about Canada's groundwater, or subterranean, supplies - upon which more Canadians rely every day - that it could take thirty years to produce a comprehensive inventory.

Barlow convincingly disputes our notional love of Canada's water bounty by pointing out how poorly we take care of it.

Forty-two percent of water discharged by Canada's manufacturing businesses is dumped untreated into Canada's waterways, and our cities dump another two hundred billion liters of raw sewage every year. This sewage is a mixture of water, human waste, microorganisms, toxic chemicals, heavy metals, excreted pharmaceuticals and pathogens such as cholera, typhoid and hepatitis B.

...Untreated sewage from cottages and communities and the dumping of effluent from massive hog-farm operations have made Lake Winnipeg, the tenth largest freshwater lake in the world, Canada's sickest body of water... Phosphorous was the main pollutant in Lake Erie and is a major player in the contamination of Lake Winnipeg. Despite what we now know, phosphorus dumping, particularly from Canada's pulp and paper industry, is on the rise, according to Corporate Knits in its 2006 annual report on water. The Abitibi Consolidated plant in Alma, Quebec, alone increased phosphorus dumping from 80,505 kilograms in 2003 to 448,005 kilograms in 2005.

And then, of course, there's the rapacious consumption and reckless contamination of the Athabasca and Peace by Alberta's Tar Sanders.

Finally, Barlow cites successive federal governments for creating the impression in the public's mind that Ottawa, "has laws and regulations in place to protect Canada's water, both ecologically and from commercial export." We don't.

"As water expert Karen Bakker, a professor at the University of British Columbia, notes, Canada is one of the few industrialized countries in the world not to have legally enforced water quality standards. Unlike the United States and Europe, for instance, Canada has no national standards for sewage treatment that cities and towns must follow. The only serious federal law regarding water protection is the Fisheries Act, which prohibits dumping of materials in waterways that would harm aquatic life. But this act is routinely broken. Mining Watch Canada points to a federal study that evaluated the Metal Mining Liquid Effluent Regulations of the Fisheries Act, which found that almost half of the mining operations in Canada are in noncompliance with the act. Nevertheless, not one charge has been laid against any of these companies. The story with the forestry industry is similar.

Now this is one area where there's plenty of room for finger pointing at Liberals and Tories alike. Jean Chretien, Paul Martin, even Stephane Dion can be rebuked but so can Tories Mulroney and Harper. The point is that a Liberal water policy can be a break with the past, the lot of it, and that's just how it can be presented. A new determined and effective policy, a new way.

It's easy to make the case for a thoroughly reformed water policy introducing wholesale changes from the ground up to ensure that our children and grandchildren's Canada will enjoy as much water security as we can muster.

It isn't difficult to anticipate how the Harper Cons and their industrial benefactors will push back on a major water initiative. It isn't difficult to be prepared to meet them head on in a positive way that will resonate with the voting public.

Pulp and paper mills don't vote. Bitumen mines don't vote. But the people who's welfare and future these outfits and those like them endanger do and will vote if they sense with confidence that someone is sincerely holding out the means to genuinely protect their extraordinary resource one in their minds at least they hold very dear.

I think Liberals have a real interesting choice right now. They can either rise to the moment, do something dynamic and truly meaningful, or while away the time on bus tours waiting to get mauled in the fall by Stephen Harper.


Fillibluster said...

The US will secure access to our water one way or another. There isn't a single federal party that will stand in their way. Sorry.

Anonymous said...

I don't think that the electorate cares about anything big. Sure you can introduce a big idea/change but what they care about is $.

All politics are local and the Conservatives are good at that.
The electorate are stupid sheeple and to hope that they will rise above that is folly. You need a leader that will play upon that yet be able to transcend that once elected.

The Mound of Sound said...

I'm dismayed at your cynicism Fill and CWTF. To accept it is to accept the inevitability of failure and I find that a bit premature. I share your pessimism but that still can't bring me to a nihilistic outlook. People, well led, can achieve great things. It's a leadership void that's dragging us down.

Anonymous said...

The problem with Canadian voters is the fact that they do NOT think of their country first. It is me first. If we only realize when a country is healthy and able to educated themselves without worry, is when we will thrive. What is good for my country is good for me.

Anonymous said...

Well, I've been active politically at the municipal level and I've rarely seen the better candidate win. The populist one that promises does seem to win. It is from that perspective that think that lofty goals will not win the day.

You see, I do agree with what you'd like, but experience has shown that common sense rarely triumphs.

The Mound of Sound said...

I have your points CWTF but times do change and changing times can introduce a lot of change, even for the good, in public attitude.

There's a malaise today that I've watched set in over the past two, perhaps three decades. It's a lethargy and it has been, in part at least, inculcated by some quite unscrupulous types. There is so much distraction, deceit and manipulation today that it's become an artform (think Lee Atwater/Karl Rove) that works best at keeping the public cowed, confused and disengaged. Yet I remain convinced that solid, powerful political leadership can pull the public out of that mental quagmire.

Anonymous said...

To many, Obama was that leader and he has disappointed.

I hope that you are right.