What’s wrong with this Harper government anyway? After following the George W. Bush administration into every bog and swamp — including on a new environmental non-policy meant to evade the big issues — the one time it should be doing as Bush does, it doesn’t.

I’m talking about the bottom-trawling ban being proposed for international waters by the world’s progressive fishing nations, its oceans scientific community, the environmental movement and, I would have thought, anyone who can rub two sticks together.

President Bush, in supporting the UN motion that’s coming up for a vote, urged nations to end “destructive fishing practices, such as unregulated bottom trawling on the high seas,” that are going into deeper and deeper water and destroying marine life and habitat at an increasing pace.

Canada’s fisheries minister, Loyola Hearn, wiggling out of it with little explanation, said that Canada “does not see a moratorium as the way forward.”

I hate to say this, but I’m provoked: There’s something increasingly rodent-like about this government. It comes out in the darkness to gnaw at healthy tissue — adult literacy, the EnerGuide program, the Community Access Program, and much else that it has insidiously cut — then scurries out of sight when faced with the light of day. Having decided to stick it out in Afghanistan amid much bravado, it cuts and runs on everything else — environmental policy, the AIDS conference no-show, and now this.

The common explanation is that East Coast dragger interests have got to Hearn, on grounds that if Canada supports a ban in international waters, the dragger fleet will soon be feeling the heat at home. Frankly, I think it’s higher up than that. Prime Minister Stephen Harper, seeing the world through the eyes of his Western fundamentalist base and neo-conservative economic background, has a kink about anything international, UN-linked, or broadly defined as “progressive” in any collective way.

Canada’s refusal to support the moratorium — meant to be temporary, but a starting point for broader action on the pressing issue of overfishing and sea-bottom destruction beyond national zones — has apparently caused shock among conservationists worldwide. After all, Canada — although our record on oceans is as lousy as any one else’s — has always been seen as trying to help. It was at Canada’s insistence, for example, that oceans were on the agenda at all at the 1992 Earth Summit at Rio de Janiero, in which the world’s nations first came to grips with the need to address the degrading world environment.

Hearn added, in his brief statement, that “real solutions must be practical, enforceable and fair,” intimating that he has a better, but still-mysterious idea — the same tune as with the Kyoto protocol on greenhouse gases. That this moratorium would not solve the problem in itself is not in doubt. But you have to start somewhere, and if not through joint world action, then where? Does it help to actually sabotage the process — which is what Canada, an important player in oceans matters, may well have done? It’s all the more incomprehensible, since dragging on the nose and the tail of the Grand Bank would be declared illegal — which one would think would be in Canada’s interest.

The destruction caused by dragging, especially deep sea dragging on virgin bottom, is of special concern. In their ever-broadening reach, the dragger fleets have been searching out “seamounts,” which are extinct volcanoes that rise from the deep sea. There are thousands of them worldwide, all of them with their own unique life forms. Scientists fear that entire localized species are being destroyed even before their existence is known.

Meanwhile, bottom trawling is only one of many oceans issues. Whereas large reports ringing alarm bells about the decline of the oceans made headlines until recently, now this decline seems to be business as usual. The United Nations just came out with yet another one, that went largely unnoticed in the media, saying that although discharges of oily wastes and some bad chemicals have decreased, increased sewage, agricultural runoff, land erosion and fossil fuel burning are decreasing ocean nutrients and creating coastal “dead zones” at a rate that’s doubling every decade. “Ecosystems are being lost, marine resources overused and pollution compounded,” says the report.

Dragging is only one thing. But with that, as with everything else, it’s time to get serious. But here’s the world trying to get serious, and Canada is being obtuse and obnoxious. This is discouraging and infuriating. Surely there must be a reckoning upcoming for the Harper government.