Thanks to Stephen Harper, Canada’s international reputation is once again in tatters. If the Prime Minister’s aim is to turn us into a pariah state, he’s certainly succeeding.
As Elizabeth May, the Green Party leader, tweeted last week, “He’s making us a rogue nation. The North Korea of environmental law.”
So what has our Supreme Leader done? He has abruptly withdrawn our country from something called the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification. Don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of this important body, because neither has anybody else. But everyone is outraged just the same.
The move “reinforces the impression that Ottawa no longer cares about Africa,” wrote Paul Heinbecker, a former Canadian ambassador to the UN. Liberal MP David McGuinty called it a “national and international disgrace.” Robert Fowler, another former UN ambassador, fumed: “Such vainglorious nose-thumbing at the international community’s efforts to tame a very present threat to hundreds of millions of the world’s poorest and most desperate people is nothing short of incomprehensible.”
But the really incomprehensible part is why the UNCCD is still around at all. After it was set up in 1994, as an offshoot of the Rio Earth Summit, every nation signed on. Since then it has accomplished nothing, unless you count endless conferences, consultations and reports as something. The UNCCD took 13 years to come up with a 10-year plan. Its documents are full of urgent calls for more synergy, more interlinkages and more networking with stakeholders. But if it has ever saved a single farmer or redeemed one hectare of drought-stricken land, there’s no evidence of it.
In other words, the UNCCD is like a lot of other UN bodies. The best you can say for it is that it hasn’t actually done harm (which is more than you can say for the UN Human Rights Council, to choose a particularly egregious example).
Richard Thomas, an official with the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health, told me that, like all UN environmental bodies, the UNCCD has been plagued by inertia since the start. Although Canada has been accused of quitting without notice, its complaints go back at least as far as 2003. We’re not the only skeptics, either, Dr. Thomas said – the United States is dubious and has capped its contribution to the convention.
Most Canadians will probably conclude that this is all a big noise about nothing. The UNCCD’s budget is just $15-million, and our contribution (about $300,000 a year) is next to nothing. Our government’s decision to withdraw was obviously symbolic – as is the over-the-top reaction. To the liberal-minded elites of Ottawa, Toronto’s Annex and Canada’s leading universities, Stephen Harper isn’t simply Kim Jong-un. He’s also Genghis Khan, the ruthless barbarian bent on destroying Canada as a civilizing influence and a moral leader among nations. To them, the UN is not an ineffectual, sometimes corrupt talking shop. It’s the church they worship at.
As for whether we have callously turned our backs on Africa, we’ll see. Perhaps Mr. Harper figures we can achieve better results by working around the UN instead of through it. Last October, he committed $20-million in Canadian aid for the drought-stricken Sahel – more than the UNCDD spent on its entire bureaucracy last year. It’s not a lot, but it’s not nothing either. If you were a Senegalese farmer, who would you rather count on?