06/01/2015 12:19 EDT | Updated 06/01/2016 05:59 EDT

We Must Start "Shaming" Those Who Destroy Our Climate

Canadian Press

During a flight from Montreal to Halifax, I missed a chance to carry out an act of "shaming" against a person who I think has abused his position of authority in Canada.

Given how powerless ordinary folk and public interest groups have become, I would like to see people embarrass the hell out of those who take advantage of the public by lying to us, cheating us, or destroying our priceless environment.

As I made my way down the aisle, I spotted the square jaw, the glasses and the prematurely-balding head. I was going to get my chance to walk right up to the Right Honorable Peter MacKay, Justice Minister in Stephen Harper's federal government who recently stepped down from the Conservative party and politics (he will stay in his role as Justice Minister until the October 19 election).

It's well known that MacKay has been less than truthful several times during his political career. As Justice Minister, he claimed that he didn't know information ignored by the Department would mean a law the government passed violated the Constitution, and worst of all, in 2007, he misled the House of Commons over what he knew about the possible torture of prisoners handed over by Canadian troops to the Afghanistan government.

As I got closer to MacKay, who was already seated, our eyes locked. I squinted angrily, and then. . . I walked right by, not saying a word!

Damn! Opportunity lost!

I should have told MacKay what I think of him. I'm sure he would have been embarrassed. Some folks would have been shocked, but perhaps a few would have felt empowered just a little.

Of course MacKay is only a tiny cog in a well-organized system that is taking advantage of millions of Canadians.

I contend that democracy is broken, leaving ordinary people practically powerless.

This stranglehold has resulted in outrageous imbalances:

Unfortunately, the so-called left, unions, the liberal-minded community and sectors such as the environmental movement in English-speaking Canada have failed miserably to build any kind of a movement to slow the endless right-wing advances. Even if the NDP is elected in the fall, it will be restricted in what it can change because of entrenched, iron-clad neo-liberal economic policies and international banking practices.

I believe that, after three decades of outrageous exploitation, it's clear that the powerful people who control our lives are not going to change unless forced to do so.

I know there are thousands of people who feel just like the character Howard Beale in the movie Networkwho bellowed out the window: "I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!"

Nothing wrong expressing anger

Today, when people are being treated unfairly, I see nothing wrong with us expressing our anger. It's the powerful in society who have engineered the belief that expressing anger over social issues is, well, not nice. Remember when the Occupy movement scared the hell out of them?

Unfortunately, as individuals we have felt there is nothing we can do to help bring change. But, if thousands of people join in, there is one way we can have an impact.

We can begin shaming and embarrassing those in powerful positions who lack decent values and who are ruining our country. Many of them know they are guilty.

When they come into our communities, there should be no handshakes, no smiles. We should walk away, or go the extra mile and tell them we don't approve of their behaviour.

The idea of using shaming to guilt organizations over their criminal behaviour was given a big boost in the U.S. with the recent publication of Jennifer Jacquet's book, Is Shaming Necessary?

"The power of shaming is that it can be used by the weak against the strong," says Jacquet.

Shaming individuals works for the California Tax Franchise Board. It shames the top 500 individuals and corporations who owe at least $100,000 in state taxes. The list received a lot of attention a couple of years ago because it included celebrities such as actress and model Pamela Anderson. Many, including Anderson, paid up.

There are many American shaming lists, including the Corporate Hall of Shame, The Customer Service Hall of Shame, and the Public Eye Awards.

Imagine if we applied the psychology of shaming that works with a list to a public interactions?

In Canada there's far less shaming of the people who have disgraced themselves. Consider the nauseating way mainstream media and many prominent people have catered to former newspaper publisher Conrad Black, who spent more than two years in a U.S.

Canadian companies on "shame" list

This Magazine publishes an impressive annual Corporate Hall of Shame Edition listing more than 25 irresponsible businesses. The 2014 list included CP Rail, Enbridge, Bell Canada, McDonald's, and many more.

While it's good to shame corporations, they are soulless structures that do not themselves decide anything. It's the Executives and Board Members who authorize unethical and illegal activities behind the cover of the corporation that we have to expose.

As a start, we can stop bowing and braying in the presence of so-called leaders who betray us, whether a slippery politician such as MacKay or an unethical "captain of industry."

When they come into our communities, there should be no handshakes, no smiles. We should walk away, or go the extra mile and tell them we don't approve of their behaviour.

There are thousands of people in Canada who can be targeted who head organizations that create and carry out unconscionable and immoral actions.

Just about anyone involved in two of Canada's most powerful business groups could be singled out.

The Canadian Council of Chief Executives and the Canadian Bankers Association are bastions of neo-liberalism and greed. They are responsible to a considerable extent for the inequity in society.

But right now it would be appropriate if we focused on shaming the people behind the giant corporations that are destroying our environment and contributing to global warming.

I would like to see the people who head non-renewable energy companies -- accumulating great personal wealth at the same time -- publicly shamed so strongly that they would move to a more honourable line of work.

I would like their families, their neighbours, and the guys at the club to be aware of the damage they are doing to our country.

Target the men behind tar sands

A good idea would be to target the men behind the corporations that mine the tar sands. In January an international study said the tar sands -- the dirtiest of all non-renewable energy -- must remain in the ground if we are to meet the goal of limiting global warming to two degrees Celsius and avoid unknown environmental catastrophe.

But Canada's tar sands mining companies and governments are paying very little attention to the worsening environmental situation. Canada's tar sands oil industry is producing record volumes of crude despite prices that have been slipping.

The Number One tar sands enemy is Suncor Energy, headed by Steve Williams of Calgary who is president and chief executive officer. Suncor produces the greatest amount of bitumen from Alberta's tar sands. Williams has worked with Suncor for 13 years. He's also a member of the powerful afore mentioned Canadian Council of Chief Executives.

Executive demonstrates social responsibility

To demonstrate his commitment to society -- at the same time his company has been helping to destroy the climate -- Williams was chair of Suncor's United Way 2011 campaign and a Board member of the Northern Lights Regional Hospital Foundation from 2003 to 2007. To no doubt demonstrate Suncor's commitment to a clean environment, he is the Founding Chair of the Oil Sands Leadership Initiative.

Another enemy of the public is Syncrude Canada. Ryan Kubik of Calgary is chairman of the board of Syncrude and president and CEO of the company's Canadian Oil Sands Ltd.

Kubik keeps a fairly high profile in the community as Canadian Oil Sands gives millions of dollars to "the more vulnerable" in the Calgary area. Since 2005, the company has funded about $24 million for projects for those who can't afford housing and the working poor.

Kubik has won his personal war on poverty. According to Bloomberg Business, his total annual compensation in 2014 was $2,900,640.

As we know, the natural instinct of many Canadians is to be polite. But where has this gotten us when it comes to protecting the things we need and value?

We must wake up and realize that people who are, in reality, national criminals are lying and cheating us, and destroying the air we breathe.

You may not think that shaming an unethical person in a position of power will make much of a difference. But sometimes -- when people who are angry take the important first step - the smallest of actions can be the needed spark.

Nick Fillmore's blog is A Different Point of View


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