What to do at a turning point

In a report released this week, the University of Toronto’s Munk Centre warned that expansions in the Alberta Oil Sands project threaten the…

In a report released this week, the University of Toronto’s Munk Centre warned that expansions in the Alberta Oil Sands project threaten the future of the Great Lakes.

With a giant pipeline and 17 major new refineries planned — all but one in the US — “this expansion promises to bring with it an exponential increase in pollution, discharges into waterways including the Great Lakes, destruction of wetlands, toxic air emissions, acid rain and huge increases in greenhouse gas.”

This is in addition to the staggering environmental effects of oilsands development on Alberta’s boreal forest, where what were once lakes are now giant toxic ponds. Should a stray duck land there it will quack its last quack as its feet hit the sludge.

Downstream, there’s an epidemic of rare cancers. The air too is toxic, and the project is a world leader in greenhouse gas emissions.

At the same time, an international study involving 1,700 researchers in 130 countries found that a quarter of the world’s mammal species are threatened with extinction because of habitat loss and climate change.

The mammal at the top of the chain, who is responsible for 100 per cent of the destruction, is not on the endangered list at the moment, but the onrushing loss of biodiversity might put us there soon enough.

Looking on the bright side, oil companies are enjoying record profits, generating lots of short-term high-paying jobs and a few middle-term ones, and American consumers will be able to keep driving their SUVs and Hummers to NASCAR races for perhaps a couple more decades.

This is probably what Stephen Harper means when he speaks of “balance” in the economy.

As giant worldwide forces gather — the implosion of the New World Order, the looming climate crisis, the impending collapse of the world’s oceans, the dwindling supply of cheap energy, Canada is in the midst of a general election, and as former prime minister Kim Campbell once famously pronounced, elections are no time for a serious discussion of the issues.

The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines crisis as “a decisive moment, a time of great danger or difficulty, a turning point.” What Canadians seem to have forgotten is that, when you come to a turning point, you have to remember to turn. It’s how you avoid hitting the wall.

We all know this to be true, but like migrating geese, we tend to pick leaders with little imagination, because it’s easier to follow someone who’s travelling in a straight line.

Our leaders are not to blame for their lack of imagination. In all likelihood they were born that way. Harper would probably have shone as an accountant, soldier, or sewer-worker, or in any occupation in which stay-the-course doggedness trumps imagination. The fault lies with those who elevated him to power, who failed to say, “Steve, these are troubled times, Canada needs leadership that knows how to steer.”

At this decisive moment in history, Canada is stuck with a single idea: that only by cutting taxes can we weather the storm.

Cutting taxes has been the primary modus operandi of Canadian government since Brian Mulroney.

Progressive Conservatives slashed corporate tax rates, but not low enough for the Liberals.

Paul Martin slashed them again, but not enough for the Reform/Alliance/Conservatives, who slashed them again.

These cuts have done wonders for the economy.

Oil companies have prospered as never before, and toxic developments such as the tar sands have grown out of all proportion.

General Motors was able to prolong its production of heavy pick-up trucks and SUVs (until oil prices caused the truck market to crash — oops, missed the turning point there).

Banks have benefited from billions in tax cuts over the years, and have dutifully posted record-breaking profits while gouging clients with zero-interest savings accounts and escalating service fees.

CEOs have amassed huge personal fortunes, and in return have shepherded in a giant financial meltdown.

With all the imagination and foresight of a bug on the highway, Canadians have been watching the windshield approach for decades. As we’re about to hit it, who can help but admire the unshakable iron will of the chief bug? Does he flinch? Does he waver? Not at all.

With a word, Harper dispels panic. Hey, look what’s coming, he tells us: buying opportunities!

Canada, please, send this man on a job hunt. Somewhere there’s sewer in urgent need of his talents.

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