Photo: Canada a moral guide to no nation

Canadian governments of the past, Liberal and Conservative, would have understood that this is not about guilt. It is about taking responsibility for the damage we have inflicted upon others (Credit: Oxfam International via Flickr).

By Dale Marshall

There is a family of birds found mostly in Africa called honeyguides that will deliberately lead humans to bee colonies. After its human followers have found the hives and harvested the honey, the honeyguide will feed on the wax and grubs left behind.

Send a letter to your M.P.A few years ago, a colleague with vast experience in international development said that historically Canada's role in international negotiations was to be the world's honeyguide. Any nations unsure of what position to take on an important multilateral issue could look to Canada to lead them—inevitably—to the moral equivalent of the honey pot.

Many Canadians will reference Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson and his concept of peacekeeping to illustrate the honeyguide metaphor. But we need not go back so far. Think of the ban on land mines and the 1997 treaty that bears the name of our capital city. Or the Montreal Protocol, an agreement that has led to the phasing out of ozone-depleting substances. Even on climate change, the Canadian government was one of the first in the world to ratify the climate change agreement that came out of Rio's 1992 Earth Summit.

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No more. Canada has more often than not become the nation that will destroy the hive rather than lead others to its gifts.

This week, Canada's new role is playing itself out in Durban, South Africa, the site of the United Nations climate change negotiations. South Africa, of course, presents another historical example of Canada playing the honeyguide, when Brian Mulroney's Progressive Conservative government joined other world leaders in imposing international sanctions against South Africa that eventually brought down its Apartheid regime. In a recent full-page ad Archbishop Desmond Tutu and other South African leaders from government, labour, and environmental groups have reminded Canadians of the leadership we once showed...and lamented how far we have fallen, especially with respect to environmental protection.

This is because of the shameful actions that the Canadian government is taking at the U.N. talks in Durban, pretending to negotiate while withholding secret plans to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol, the only agreement that binds Canada to take action on climate change. The Canadian government's approach shows it is more interested in protecting the interests of oil and gas companies in the tar sands than protecting the planet.

It gets worse. In media interviews this week, South Africa's High Commissioner to Canada accused the Canadian government of pressuring other countries behind closed doors to join Canada in rejecting Kyoto. High Commissioner Mohau Pheko suggested that Canadian officials have even threatened to withdraw aid money from poor countries if they didn't follow Canada's lead.

Meanwhile, Canada's environment minister, Peter Kent, has challenged the notion that Canada and other developed countries should be helping poor countries to address the climate change impacts that we helped to created and that they are facing. As the South African leaders pointed out, "For us in Africa, climate change is a life and death issue. [D]ramatically increasing Canada's global warming pollution... exposes million of Africans to more devastating drought and famine today and in the years to come.", Minister Kent rejected any assistance we might provide to developing countries as "guilt payments."

Canadian governments of the past, Liberal and Conservative, would have understood that this is not about guilt. It is about taking responsibility for the damage we have inflicted upon others. It is a strongly held principle in international law, including climate change agreements signed in Rio, Kyoto, and Copenhagen. And it is where Canada as honeyguide would have ended up not so long ago.

December 1, 2011

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Dec 08, 2011
1:02 AM


With all due respect, you have come to the wrong place to try and convince people with the arguments you have just put forward. I suggest that you visit certain areas on this website to improve your knowledge of the facts surrounding climate change.

Regarding Canada's emissions: Yes, our total emissions may be small compared to the rest of the world, however, that does not eliminate our responsibility to reduce those emissions. And let us not forget that our government's "energy policy" revolves around a dramatic increase in the production of fossil fuels in order to become an "energy superpower". In other words, we want to be the biggest seller of the one drug society is trying to get off of…

As for your statistics regarding global temperatures, 2010 was the hottest (and wettest) year on record, tied with either 1998 or 2005 (depending on how you analyze the data). And 2000-2010 was the hottest decade ever recorded. So, yes, the temperatures are rising and that increase is caused by the increased concentration of CO2 (a greenhouse gas) in our atmosphere.

Dec 05, 2011
9:25 PM

It is a great day for Canada. Canada has finally stood up for itself against the environmentalist bullies of the world. Canada emits less than 2% of carbon emissions while the US and India and China and Brazil and a few others like Tiawan emit 98%. But worse yet all this hot air confereence is for what? A non-existent problem. Earth temperatures are not rising (have been falling since 1998) and climate changes are no worse than they have been for millions of years. CO2 has been proven to be a non-issue with respect to global temperature, climate issues and unusual weather patterns and is in fact a benefit to plant growth. What a bunch of hypocrites. Thousands of people jetting to Durban for a holiday in the sun pretending to be on a mission to save the world. The world is in real trouble if this foolishness continues and the poor people of the world are going to be the first to suffer.

Dec 02, 2011
9:10 AM

Now as a Canadian I feel like an orphan who has been left without any voice for my concerns about global warning and the social justice kidnapped by this Royal Government.

Dec 02, 2011
3:53 AM

It is heartbreaking for so many reasons. I want more for my country. When I asked a client not to remove some Red Pines beside his cottage he did anyway, citing “I don’t understand the problem! We live in a forest.” . He also is short sighted and selfish, not unlike our government. When will the other 48% of Canadians VOTE.

Dec 01, 2011
6:45 PM

There is no doubt this country is selling it’s soul for the cheap thrills that oil can buy. It saddens me that we have lost our good name in the world and are now associated with all that’s wrong. I hope we soon all realize there are other options and that we can restore the trust others once had in us.

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