The inexorable march of the calendar from one year to the next is always a good time for reflection, and the media always plays along with the rest of us. What was the biggest story of the year in Canada?
Well, according to The Calgary Herald, the 10 biggest stories included controversial land deals, debates over crowded emergency rooms, a civic election that changed the face of Calgary’s city council, a massive blaze that tore through a southwest Calgary condo and forced hundreds from their homes, flooding waterlogged parts of southern Alberta, and the 100th anniversary celebration of Calgary’s Chinatown.
Although environmental issues are implied in at least one of these stories — climate change will likely increase the likelihood of flooding in southern Alberta, for instance, even as drought becomes more prevalent — how we manage ourselves in relation to our environment was conspicuously and surprisingly absent.
The Edmonton Journal analyzed all of its front page headlines from 2010 and found that “health care, crime and education were the hot-button issues — so much so that for every 100 stories on the front page, five were about health care, four were related to police and four were about schools.” Although the words “environment” and “climate change” must be in the associated “word cloud” somewhere, I can’t find it, though the word “oilsands” sure looms large.
The “big” stories from Environment Canada were all weather related, and the tally was dramatic and destructive, as one might expect from the onset of climate change. Alas, while the weather events themselves grabbed headlines, the likely cause of such trends — excessive amounts of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere — did not.
Canadians did recognize one “ecological disaster,” the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, as the top news story of 2010 by a wide margin. According to a poll conducted exclusively for Postmedia News and Global TV, “one-third of Canadians, 32 per cent, chose the oil leak that ensued from an April explosion on BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling rig as the top story of the year.” But bigger than climate change? Hard to believe, really.
Based on my cursory (and by no means exhaustive) skim of the New Years’ headlines, the only mainstream journalist with the courage to mention the oilsands was The Edmonton Journal’s environment reporter, Hanneke Brooymans, who identified “the complexity of the problems” associated with the impacts of oilsands development on the people living downstream as her “most memorable” story of the year. Tactfully worded, Brooymans’ reflection totally missed the point.
Only the readers of Canadian alt-news heavyweight The Tyee had the temerity to choose (by dint of their mouses) Andrew Nikiforuk’s condemnation of the management of the oilsands, which may, in fact, be the biggest (but apparently ignored) story of the year.
It boggles the mind that the mainstream media, and Canadians as a whole, did not identify the Alberta and Canadian governments’ bungled management of the Alberta oilsands as one of, if not the biggest story of the year. This is the biggest industrial project on the planet, after all, one that appears to be poisoning the land and water in northern Alberta and exacerbating our addiction to climate-changing hydrocarbons. Not one but three high-level reports have condemned the lack of oversight by both the federal and Alberta governments, and it all reached a head right before Christmas, so it should be fresh in our minds.
Is not large-scale government mismanagement, incompetence and/or lack of accountability a big deal in this democracy of ours?
What this story says about Canada and Canadians is far more important than the BP oil spill. Apart from the short-term economic upside in a world — and a Canada — mad for money, the long-term implications of this ongoing saga of corporate greed and government complicity far outweigh the lingering problems in the Gulf of Mexico.
But then it’s always easier to point fingers at problems distant in both time and space than to look ourselves in the mirror and say, I have met the enemy and he is us.