Last night, Brian Mulroney was declared Canada’s “greenest” prime minister by a group of environmentalists selected by Corporate Knights magazine. Someone with more restraint than myself would probably just say “way to go” and leave it at that, but, well, here we are.
Let’s give credit where credit is due. Mulroney oversaw the creation of a Canada-US acid-rain treaty, and signed on to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. He spoke frequently and passionately about the need to take action on issues of environmental health. If he’d had five priorities, the environment would have been one of them.
Signing treaties, regulations, and agreements was where Mulroney excelled. Unfortunately, we’re far more threatened by our economic systems and structures than by lack of regulations. And in this area, Mulroney took us backwards, not forwards.
No amount of regulation alone can possibly hope to stand up against an economic machine that is designed to extract virgin resources and turn them into waste more quickly and efficiently than has ever before been possible (what Ray Anderson calls the take-make-waste economy). According to Anderson, “less than 3% of the material processed through the [industrial] system has any value whatsoever six months after its extraction from the earth.” Trying to regulate against a system that is designed to create waste is a bit like dealing with the proverbial bull in the china shop by covering it with foam padding. The point is, the bull shouldn’t be there in the first place.
The greening of Canada will only happen when we create closed-cycle, local economies. Standing directly in the way of this goal is Mulroney’s most well-known legacy, NAFTA. Not only does chapter 11 of NAFTA prohibit the Canadian government (for example) from interfering with an American corporation’s “right” to make money by asking them to, say, please stop putting carcinogens in our water, NAFTA also encourages the development of global economies in opposition to strong, local, green economies and communities. It will need to be significantly re-negotiated or replaced before much progress can be made towards building a green economy.
For me, NAFTA detracts from the other positive contributions Mulroney made to genuine progress. If he truly is our greenest prime minister, we could stand to get a lot greener.