This week, plenty of critics took the Harper government to task over its decision to withdraw Canada from the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification. Even though the Conservatives' method of backing out of the convention was typically cowardly and arrogant, it's actually encouraging to see Canada asserting itself as a country grown-up and morally self-assured enough to act as a free agent on these kinds of matters. Given the UN's record, if Canada took the initiative for creating a new framework for principled, voluntary international co-operation, it might be doing the whole world a favour.
Officially, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA) has abolished most federal environmental assessment screenings, but the practical effect is less than it appears. The new process looks a lot like the old screening EA, but with less clear rules about procedure, content, timing, public consultation and opportunities for appeal.
In the Summit of the Americas held in Cartagena, Colombia, Harper warned that environmental reviews should not hold industry back. He should take a hard look at countries like Peru and Ecuador, where hundreds of conflicts have erupted over the environmental effects of extractive projects. The less-developed world may show us the image of our own future.