During recent years, Canada's reputation as a global citizen has slipped, in recent months more precipitously than ever before, and in new directions. The Climate Action Network recently ranked Canada 55th of 58 countries in tackling of greenhouse emissions. Results of other analyses show a government systematically removing obstacles to resource extraction initiatives by gutting existing legislation, cutting budgets of relevant departments, and eliminating independent policy and arms-length monitoring bodies.
Canada's reputation is further undercut by its silencing of government scientists on environmental and public health issues: scientists are required to receive approval before they speak with the media; they are prevented from publishing; and, remarkably, their activities are individually monitored at international conferences. These actions have outraged local and international scientific communities. A survey done in December, 2013, of 4000 Canadian federal government scientists showed that 90% felt they are not allowed to speak freely to the media about their work, and that, faced with a departmental decision that could harm public health, safety, or the environment, 86% felt they would encounter censure or retaliation for doing so. These trends are affected by the Canadian leadership's view that multilateralism is a “weak-nation policy”, and by its embrace of what it calls “sovereign self-interest”, perceived as the conspicuous pursuit of economic goals and goals of resource-extraction industries. This world view is reflected in Prime Minister Stephen Harper's response to demands for him to end asbestos mining when he promised that “this government will not put Canadian [asbestos] industry in a position where it is discriminated against in a market where it is permitted”—a response that cast a pall over all Canadian environmental issues.
Previously a leader in freedom of information, Canada is frequently cited for its decline in openness, most recently by the Center for Law and Democracy, in co-operation with the Madrid-based Access Info Europe, which ranked it 55th of 93 countries, down from 40th in 2011.
Harper defends withdrawal of federal funding for non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that are critical of governmental policy, a reversal of a 50 year tradition of non-partisan support for civil society, saying: “if it's the case that we're spending on organisations that are doing things contrary to government policy, I think that is an inappropriate use of taxpayer's money and we'll look to eliminate it.”
Consistent with this logic, the Government was able to continue funding NGOs skeptical of global warming and supportive of the asbestos industries.
As for proscribing a way forward, it makes no sense to make recommendations that presume a level of political commitment that does not exist. However, if “self-interest”is the motivating force behind this Government's actions, it ought to develop and implement a global health strategy. Such a strategy would help set priorities, guide decision-making, and create efficiency and cooperation. A global health strategy would also prompt greater fairness and, with less to hide, greater transparency.
A rising tide: the case against Canada as a world citizen : The Lancet Global Health (external - login to view)