Rio+20: The withering credibility of Canada

We Canada has been in Rio de Janeiro. Brazil, for a few days now at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development government negotiations, also known as Earth Summit 2012 or Rio+20. However, our work to mobilize Canadian citizens for their input in the process goes two years back.

We Canada is a nation-wide, citizen movement for Canadian leadership at Rio+20. Earlier this year we toured the country coast to coast and consulted with 8,000 Canadians to find out what their priorities are for Rio+20 and to learn how can we better represent those interests during the conference. We sent more than 1,000 letters (not emails, but good, old fashioned letters) to the Canadian federal government, urging them to make sustainable development a priority on the official federal agenda. We developed three progressive policy suggestions for our government to consider as the national position at the conference in Brazil: implementation of carbon tax and phasing out fossil fuel subsidies, establishment of better measurements of human well being and progress than the current Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and a federal fair trade procurement strategy.

We also sent a petition to the Auditor General to inquire about the lack of consultation on the Government’s behalf for Rio+20. At the 2002 Johannesburg World Summit for Sustainable Development, the Canadian government established a multi-stakeholder Secretariat that developed a national engagement strategy for citizen consultation; for the 1992 Rio Summit, the Government consulted with citizens for over two years.

This is not the only thing gone awry in the lead up to and for the Rio+20 conference…

Twenty years ago, Canada was a pioneer and leader in civil society participation. The Canadian government insisted that civil society was allowed to observe negotiations and was the first country to bring citizen representatives on the official Canadian delegation to the negotiations—one youth and one nongovernmental organization (NGO) delegate. Today, much unlike 20 years ago, the official delegation does not include citizen representatives. In the conference hallways during the  Rio+20 negotiations we are approached with surprise and regret by the New Zealand and United States official citizen representatives— representatives who are here only because their countries followed Canada’s example years ago.

Nevertheless, we are here and we are holding the government’s feet to the fire. We are making sure that the voices of the consulted 8,000 Canadians are heard during the conference. Severn Cullis-Suzuki—known as ‘the girl who silenced the world for 5 minutes’ after speaking at the 1992 Rio Summit–represents We Canada, and we are collaborating with international organizations to pressure Canadian negotiators in upholding Canadian and global interests.

We expect to meet with our delegation to discuss the Canadian positions at Rio+20. Our biggest concern is the overall obstructionist position Canada holds on several progressive initiatives, such as the elimination of fossil fuel subsidies. In short, Canada has moved to change from “phasing fossil fuel subsidies” to “reducing fossil fuels subsidies.” This means that Canada does not want to commit to this potential significant change towards green economy. In the We Canada report, eliminating fossil fuel subsidies was one of the top priorities for Canadians in terms of sustainable development.

We are also gravely concerned about Canada delaying progress in terms of finance pertaining to development assistance, which means that we are not likely to help fund programs in impoverished countries. This is quite shocking since the proposed financing is only 0.7 per cent of our gross national product (and the fact that Canada has pledged to spend two billion in prisons expansion over the next five years). And this is not only Canada’s official position – it is their final decision.

With these kinds of negotiating tactics, Canada has sealed our reputation as a nation that no longer cares about equity, environmental health and above everything, global prosperity; in times when working together is critical and essential for moving the world into a positive direction.

As a naturalized Canadian who comes from a developing country, I know how much countries like my birth country depend on Canadian leadership in upholding democratic values, social interests and environmental health. I used to dream of moving to this beautiful country where people cared about the well-being of other people and places around the world. Today, as a proud Canadian citizen, I cannot accept the withering credibility of my nation. I won’t.

And neither should you.