Garbage In, Garbage Out

Quebec's approach to garbage disposal shows that political correctness is thriving in Canada

When Francis Fukuyama brought G. W. F. Hegel to Washington in July 1989 with an essay arguing that political and economic liberalism had triumphed and that history was thus over, he lamented that the future would be more boring than the past, the great arguments about the organisation of public life having been definitively settled.

Frank might also have warned us that the end of history would be transcendentally silly. Take, for example, Canada: a lovely country, populated by very nice people, which is so far gone in political correctness and other post-historical madness as to make Brussels look antediluvian in its traditionalism. 

When the Royal Canadian Mounted Police arrested several Islamist terrorism suspects in Ottawa in August, the Mounties’ chief diversity officer was immediately dispatched to soothe the feelings of the Canadian capital’s Muslim population and to assure all and sundry that there had been absolutely, positively no “racial profiling” in the investigation. Canadian public life is also rife with a degree of psycho-babble that would make even your trendiest cleric blush. While the RCMP was busy mending its diversity fences in Ottawa, the rest of Ontario (and the nation, judging from radio talk shows) was embroiled in a debate over how much psychological damage would be done to teenagers by a new, draconian directive from the Ontario Ministry of Education on the grading and evaluation of students in secondary schools. The students, it seems, may actually be given lower grades for assignments that are completed after their due-date, and could even receive a grade of “0” for a course in which they did no discernible work. 

And then there is the garbage; or as we say in La Belle Province — Quebec, where my wife and I have a summer cottage — les ordures pour le dépotoir. Two decades ago, when the late Father Richard John Neuhaus introduced us to the pleasures of vacationing in the Ottawa Valley, our island paradise had an honest dépotoir: that is, a dump, which is to say, a great hole in the ground, in the middle of nowhere, where les ordures were, well, dumped, and then burned and buried. The system had worked beautifully for generations. Then came the recycling fanatics, and le nouveau dépotoir took on a vaguely industrial look, with a considerably expanded staff sorting through the recyclables and passing judgment on whether their customers were following the instructions on separating this-from-that which emanated from the bowels (so to speak) of the Quebec provincial garbage bureaucracy.

This summer, we came to the cottage to discover the Great Quebec Ordure Revolt in flood tide. The garbage bureaucrats, fearful of offending Mother Gaia by further garbage burials, had closed all municipal dumps in the province, and residents were now given 26 clear (and very official) plastic bin-bags, which were to last each family a year in disposing of non-recyclable and non-composted garbage. This madness had, of course, immediately created an underground garbage economy, in which the official garbage bags became a kind of unofficial tender and local ordure entrepreneurs offered, for a fee, to truck your garbage over to slightly-less-insane Ontario, just across the Ottawa River.

Perhaps Fukuyama was wrong, however, and history will recommence in Canada: say, with Vladimir Putin’s Russia challenging Canadian sovereignty in the melting Arctic. That, but perhaps only something like that, might concentrate the corporate mind of Canada’s post-historical elite and put paid to la guerre des ordures. Meanwhile, I do have some extra, official bags…

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