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Snapshots from a parallel universe on Canada Day

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Another Canada Day makes me recognize once again my gratitude to my family for choosing Canada while yet wondering why my country never lives up to its promise. In fact, it seems to me the promise is actually receding, as the Stephen Harper government seems increasingly isolated in a parallel universe of its own creation.

A few recent snapshots:

The Prime Minister pursues his global goals and offers unsolicited instructions to Europe on what it must do to clean up its mess. The President of the European Commission is refreshingly candid in response: "Frankly, we are not coming here to receive lessons in terms of democracy and in terms of how to run an economy ..."

A series of UN agencies criticize Canada on various fronts, all of them issues that have long troubled many Canadians. UNICEF reports that Canada stands 24th of 35 industrialized countries in the rate of child poverty. The UN special envoy on food reminds us of the extent of hunger in the country and how it is mostly ignored. The UN Committee against torture criticizes the Harper government for several failures in this sensitive area. The government peremptorily dismisses the messages and rudely insults the messengers.

Having humiliated the PM in his quest to win a rotating seat on Security Council, the UN is in fact persona non grata in Harperland. Take war and peace. Of the almost 100,000 UN peacemakers deployed in missions around the world, Canada now provides no more than 42 military personnel (Canadian estimate) or 33 (UN figure). Two decades ago, more than a third of Canada's army were participating in UN missions.

The government kills the non-partisan National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, NRTEE. It falls to Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird to explain the Government's rationale and, as Jeffrey Simpson reports, Baird lashes out at the NRTEE, saying, "it had repeatedly called for a carbon tax that Canadians had rejected. That statement, typically partisan given the source, was completely false."

At the Rio+ 20 Earth Summit, Canada under Environment Minister Peter Kent makes waves by trying to undermine a commitment to end government subsidies for fossil fuel. Others, such as the European Union, want an end to such subsidies. It's estimated the Canadian government could save more than $1.3 billion per year if it phases out all existing subsidies to the oil and gas industries. Interestingly, former Harper environment minister Jim Prentice urges the government to phase such out subsidies, honouring a commitment made by Canada with the G20 countries. But Finance Jim Minister Flaherty chooses to protect many of the existing tax incentive programs for oil and gas exploration and development. For this and other reasons, Canada is named a winner of the "fossil of the day" award, singled out for its obstructionist role in negotiations.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney sends an email to Alberta colleagues calling Alberta Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk "a complete and utter asshole." Responding to an NDP questioner in Parliament, Mr. Kenney insists "I and this government have a phenomenal positive working relationship with the government of Alberta ...we have a very strong relationship." Indeed, Kenney says, if anyone should apologize it's the NDP, who "want oil sands companies to pay the full cost of development, including the environmental effects." His fellow Conservative MPs award him with an enthusiastic ovation.

The government abolishes a law that for more than 50 years provided refugee claimants with health care until they've been accepted or rejected. A nationwide movement, led by physicians, nurses, church groups, immigration experts and lawyers and refugee aid volunteers springs up. The so-called "59 Cents Campaign" argues the government's move will save each Canadian exactly 59 cents annually. "We are in a state of outrage and determination," the Ottawa Hospital's head of infectious diseases, Mark Tyndall, tells demonstrators.

At the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance, Conservative MP Randy Hoback asks the following question of invited witness Erin Weir, an economist with the United Steelworkers of Canada: "Have you or have you ever been a member of the NDP party? Are you presently a member of the NDP party?" It's pointed out that the phrase evokes creepy memories: "Are you now or have you ever been...".? Will the government now strike a House Committee on Un-Canadian Opinions? Mr. Hoback also shares his considered judgment that some of Mr. Weir's past writings were "garbage," which is apparently the parliamentary way of saying Mr. Hoback disagreed with them.

Have a good, safe Canada Day weekend.

This article was first published in the Globe and Mail.

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