Australia and Canada have considerable similarities in a whole range of areas, and both share serious relations with the recalcitrant United States, becoming increasingly more erratic under the ideological sway of the Republican Party and its current leadership. Yet what do most Australians know about this country on the other side of the world, from which we might learn much, as a partial mirror of ourselves?
Canada is a geographically vast country with its population concentrated in several large cities. Much of it is remote, it is rich with mineral resources, is a large grain producing country, is suffering a declining manufacturing sector, enjoys a federal political system and has had a long tradition of interaction with different groups of native inhabitants. In addition, like Australia’s, its social diversity owes much to immigration, especially Chinese, but unlike Australia it has a French minority that is very strong politically and culturally. It also has similar pressures in respect of political attitudes to climate change with the Liberal Party, led by Justin Trudeau, strongly supporting mitigation efforts, as opposed to the Conservative Party which functions like the Australian LNP in not wanting mitigation efforts to impact on economic growth.
Having just spent a week in the resort town of Whistler it becomes very apparent that a huge number of young Australians visit there on working holidays, and in other resorts such as Banff and Vancouver Island, all located in the two most Western states. Most are working for small pay, with the fringe benefit of being able to use the sporting facilities–mountain biking, skiing, snow boarding – for which these places are famous. In this sense one might be forgiven for assuming that Canada too is a young nation with many sports-loving young people and a sublimated concern with a northern and southern frontier. In addition, many middle-aged Australians briefly visit Vancouver en route to a cruise up the Inside Passage to Alaska, or to travel to Lake Louise on the Rocky Mountaineer.
But most Australians know little about Canada, which for them is substantially overshadowed by its southern neighbor. For those who work in the resort towns it is primarily a place of spectacular scenery offering the possibility of some sporting adventures. In the Australian media there is only a minimum of reporting about Canadian politics-and then only at the federal level–and brief reports when unexpected murders occur on the streets of the large cities. It may be time for the media to take a more comprehensive view of Canada, especially since it is facing similar economic and environmental problems as us.
What could perhaps be a valuable point of comparison, and something from which Australians could learn much, is the relations Canada has with its southern neighbor. This has become tempestuous since Donald Trump became president and has been especially damaging for Canada (and ultimately for the USA) in the imposition of 10 % tariffs on steel and aluminum exports, which in turn has imposed tariffs on American goods, and resulted in the weakening of the NAFTA. It has caused considerable tension between these two neighbours, especially given that Trudeau has shown real independence in standing up to Trump, given the likelihood of price rises for many products Canadians import from the USA.
In contrast, even though Trump has imposed tariffs on some Australian products, our prime-minister has cravenly accepted this with some luke-warm attempts at negotiating their reduction. This cravenness, long a feature of Australian government relations with America, is implicating us with American military adventurism, as has long been recognized, and, arguably reinforces the entirely negatives views of climate changers in the coalition, receiving much support from Donald Trump’s own climate change denial. Given the damage the present regime in the USA is doing to the world economy, our PM could rightly follow Trudeau’s lead on standing up to Trump’s economic thuggery.
In the month that I was there temperatures right across North America (and Europe) were unseasonable hot and there was very little rain. It is highly possible that parts of the Canadian prairie states-which represent its food bowl– is drying up. In addition, the widespread exploitation of the tar sands is producing greenhouse gases, and methane is being released as the tundra melts in the far north. The taxes–though regarded as being too low–derived from the oil/gas produced from the tar sands provides much needed revenue for certain states and the federal government, yet the extraction process is known to be extremely polluting, and has produced a mineral boom with all the negative consequences flowing from that.
But most Canadian states have carbon pricing and the federal government has outlined a program that will become Canada wide by 2018. Compare this to Australia where the southeast and the southwest of the country are drying up, and where there are severe droughts in western New South Wales. And, finally, where there is massive resistance on the part of the LNP to phase out coal mining, which has such a deleterious effect on the environment, and an ongoing refusal to implement a carbon price that the previous Labor government had instituted. Surely we can learn positively from Canada on this subject of existential importance for our future fate.
Dr. Greg Bailey is an Honorary Researcher, College of the Arts, Social Sciences and Commerce, Latrobe University