A New Language for the Environment: Canada

By Brown, Rosemary | Connexions, Winter 1993 | Go to article overview

A New Language for the Environment: Canada


Brown, Rosemary, Connexions


Canada

We have been told that traditional development is about technological advancement and increased productivity. Meanwhile, women's issues and environmental issues struggle to be recognized as legitimate development concerns. For many years government and industry have been indifferent to the damage to women and the environment which result from their actions. They have proceeded to exploit both, confident in the belief that what they were doing made things better all around. The suggestion that governments, funders, planners and others involved in the development process should be concerned about the impact of their decisions on women and on the environment was originally met with puzzlement and disbelief.

Western industrial nations earn much of their wealth from the exploitation of cheap labour provided by women and other disadvantaged groups around the world. They have also gained by pillaging the resources of nations worldwide. Shrouded in the rhetoric of aid, assistance and caring, development has really been the bridge which allowed exploitation of Third World women and the environment to proceed unchecked.

According to Edward Herman, coauthor of Manufacturing Consent, the United States is interested in development for two reasons:

* to create a stable environment in poor countries in which American investment can flourish;

* to establish amenable client governments throughout the world.

Development is one of the tools which the US government uses to keep popular movements down and to maintain oppressive regimes which are friendly to the United States. If Herman's analysis is correct, then US development aid is simply colonialism in a different guise and has almost nothing to do with helping people or protecting the environment.

Are Canada's development policies based on considerations other than those of the US? I have observed that our development policies are indeed rooted to some extent in enlightened self-interest as well as compassionate concern for the world's poor.

I see four components to Canadian development aid policy:

* compassionate concern, of which we all speak and are justifiably proud;

* development and expansion of markets for Canadian products and resources overseas;

* creation of jobs for Canadians;

* the enhancement of Canada's image in the world community.

At Global Challenge in the 1990s, a conference hosted by the Alberta Global Education Project in April 1990, a visitor from Ghana spoke of Canada's aid to rural development in his country. He was overjoyed to learn that Canada had signed an agreement to send 30 million dollars in aid to Ghana. That was until he learned that virtually the entire sum was earmarked for the wages, benefits and living expenses of the Canadian consultants on the project. In addition, all vehicles and paper supplies used in the project had to be purchased in Canada. In the end only three million of the 30 million actually left Canada to be spent in Ghana.

Close scrutiny of other development contracts would reveal that Canada often benefits more from the aid it claims to send to the Third World than the countries to which it is directed. Indeed, in 1988 the poorer countries of the South paid out 43 billion dollars more in debt-service payment to rich countries, including Canada, than they received in aid from any of those countries.

As Canadian development policy veers more and more in the direction of supporting the expansion of markets for Canadian goods and resources in Third World markets, it becomes increasingly difficult for government policy to maintain a balance between its competitive entrepreneurial goals and the goals motivated by compassionate concern for the people of poorer nations. Our government tends to leave the so-called "bleeding heart" programs for the NGOs, except in times of disaster such as flood or famine, when world opinion compels the government to channel money into direct assistance. …

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