Dirty Oil and Saying No

Ottawa        Being in Ottawa is a welcome back to the Rideau Canal and the Elgin Diner, but this time we have an office in Vanier, where Jill O’Reilly, ACORN Canada’s office director, needs to be able to move easily between English and French on the phone as she talks to our members.  The members making it up the steep and narrow, ladder-like stairs to our second floor office, are welcomed by the typically open and expansive good spirits of our staff along with floor to ceiling copies of new articles about our work and actions and pictures of various events everywhere else.  

    Two things caught my eyes in the Ottawa Citizen that would not be unknown in the States.  

    One was a long piece where Shell Oil caved into protests led by the World Wildlife Federation against a short 30-second ad Shell had run that insinuated that oil coming from the oil tar sands of Alberta, Canada would be “clean” oil and good environmentally.  WWF and others (readers will remember we discussed this issue in recent weeks when Tezporah Berman of Forest Ethics in British Columbia raised the flag here at the Tides Momentum conference)  have been organizing boycotts refusing around the world refusing to use the oil as too environmentally dirty and disrupting to habitat as well.  To see Shell fold its tent so quickly was a pleasant surprise for anyone who remembers the years that various groups from oil workers unions to others tried to get them to do better in Nigeria.

    The other was one of those “huh” and then “yeah!” moments.  A city council man from Ottawa was complaining about the fact that the Canadian federal government gave them $2M so that 210 families could buy their own homes in Ottawa.  The council man speaking for himself and others said it was a shame to see the money not used to create more “social housing” (public housing) to help more people have decent and affordable housing.  I was definitely in Canada, because there are few politicians who would have spoken such truth in the face of either money or power in the United States.

    In Gatineau where we met officials with the CIDA — the Canadian International Development Agency — who were refreshingly helpful and supportive to our work around the world with ACORN International, I also got a cultural lesson in the “long goodbye.”  It is good to be schooled in every country.  It turns out that those of us raised in the US tend to leave meetings too abruptly, while in Canada there is more of a linger to the leaving that allows for last minute comments and so longs.  Nice, eh?  I can learn this.  I know I can.

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