Newsreport GKS Conference 'Canada, a conservatist society'

By: Irene Salverda and Jochem Westeneng (ACSN)

Februari 22nd until 24th, we attended the conference of the Gesellschaft fuer Kanada Studien (GKS) on 'Canada, a conservatist society'. The opening ceremony started at 5.30PM on Friday and had a strong focus on the abolition of funding for Canadian Studies Associations worldwide by the Canadian Government. Therefore, the conference is no longer sponsored by Canada, but only by the Association for Canada Studies in the German Speaking Countries. The president of GKS Martin Kuester was a little bit cynical about this development, as was John Barret from the Canadian embassy in Austria. Both reflected on the conference topic and characterized Canada, given the current political situation, as a conservatist country. The opening ceremony was followed by refreshments and a nice dinner, attended by the ambassador.

Saturday started with a very interesting keynote speech by David Laycock, Simon Fraser University, who reflected on Canadian politics from the 1950s until now. His overview demonstrated how and why Canada has moved from a liberal political situation to a conservatist one (primarily caused by the losses by the liberal Martin government in 2003 and the lack of coordination emerging in both liberal and right wing parties soon after). Laycock gave his view on how Harper and his advisor Tom Flanagan slowly but steadily entered politics and knew how to get a majority vote. Laycock also focussed on some  disturbing aspects of the current political situation under Harper, such as Harper proroguing the parliament, changing omnibus bills C45 and C38, and undermining the functioning of parliamentary  committees. Harper's government is showing a disturbing level of dominance and affects many aspects of society by constant campaigning (a lot of money goes into marketing) and influencing political, scientific and media voices and views on the Harper government.

In the afternoon, we attended two very interesting workshops about natural resource management under the Harper government. The first workshop, by Julia Affelderbach (Luxembourg) focused on boundary organisations and natural resource management. Politics and science sometimes merge to solve environmental disputes, as was the case on the northwest coast of British Columbia and as is the case in Haida Gwaii, where local people object to the idea of oil tankers passing by after they have taken in oil from the Mackenzie Pipeline sometime in the near future.

Boundary organisations were quite succesfull and strong in the beginning of this century. Scientist, politicians, environmental organisations and First Nations worked together to find a solution for local resource management. Politics and science had clear boundaries and overlaps. However, in the current Haida Gwaii situation, there is no clear boundary organisation and the government dismisses the concerns and testimonials of local First Nations. Scienists that can prove that the new economic activity will have little impact are called in to testify and so frustrate the local people. Scholars seems to be serving politics which causes much hardship under local people. The minister of environment has  characterized local protests as 'hindering the economy without any evidence that shows why it should be hindered'.

Our next speaker, John Crumb from Quebec, spoke about environmental and political changes in the Arctic. John has done much research in this area, over twenty years, and the last ten years witnessed increasing attention from countries with an interest in the Arctic. Since the ice in the area is melting, mineral deposits can be reached easier and exploited economically. Starting this year, Canada will be chair of the Arctic council, which may lead to interesting shifts in canada's politics towards the area. The Nunavut territory is now governed by a public goverment that reflects the ethnic composition of the population (80 % are Inuit) that wants to pursue Inuit interests. However, it is questionable whether the Harper goverment will let them do so. Obviously, the agreement between Canada and the Inuit of Nunavut cannot be broken, but as some of Crumb's examples indicate, its implementIon can be frustrated to a large extent. Crump also showed the difficulties in reaching agreements in an area that is under the jurisdiction of several countries that all have an economic interest in it;  and it is also an area of great importance because of the effects  of icepack and glacier meltdown on global sea levels.

In the evening there was a general meeting of the GKS, where the current vice-president of the GKS was elected as new president. The meeting was followed by drinks and dinner, and a raffle where Inuit art objects could be won by attendants.

Due to an early flight on Sunday we missed the closing ceremony, but picked up the very interesting topic for next year: indigenous knowledge and science.