The announcement by the Conservative government in Ottawa this week that it is withdrawing from the Kyoto Treaty on global emissions has triggered fresh charges that Canada, once seen as a force for social liberalism and environmental responsibility, is on an accelerating train to the political right.
"Next may be a woman's right to choose, or gay marriage," the former prime minister and Liberal leader Jean Chrétien warned in an email to supporters. "Then might come capital punishment. And one by one, the values we cherish as Canadians will be gone."
Since winning re-election with his first defendable majority in the national parliament in May, Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper has enacted a range of right-of-centre initiatives overriding opposition objections. This week, his government also announced a ban on female Muslims wearing face veils when taking the oath of allegiance to win citizenship. Equally controversial have been steps significantly to ease national gun controls.
The political risks for Mr Harper seem small, however. Both the main national opposition parties – the Liberals and the NDP – are functioning without permanent leaders and recent polls show wide support for his policies even though that is more true of the western provinces than it is of Quebec. A new survey published by the Institute for Research on Public Policy found that nearly two-thirds of Canadians think their country is on the "right track".
The retreat from the 2005 Kyoto Protocol, the only legally binding document on global emissions, will compound the despair of environmentalists who already see the rapid exploitation of Canada's tar sands resources as a betrayal of its once-proud ecological record. "Kyoto, for Canada, is in the past," Peter Kent, the minister for the environment, told parliament on Monday. "It's really only the Europeans who are staying with Kyoto.
"The Harper government's decision to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol tarnishes Canada before the world," John Ibbitson of The Globe and Mail lamented.
Elizabeth May, the leader of the Canadian Greens, said: "This is not just big, this is disastrous for Canada."
The decision came the day after the international community agreed a compromise solution in Durban, South Africa, to impose cuts on emissions that all the big polluters in theory will adhere to.
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