Real Christmas trees

December 23, 2019

The other night my wife and I curled up on the couch to watch A Miracle on 34th Street on CBC Television. Then an ad came on that really pissed me off.

The ad shows a father and daughter, bundled in coats, hats, scarves, mittens and boots, walking through the snowy, wintery woods. He carries a bowsaw. A Christmassy song plays. The ad is wordless. He sees a tree and reaches down to cut it, for a Christmas tree. The little girl sees a squirrel in the tree, and stops him. They walk up to another tree. This time, the girl sees a bird in the tree. The little girl shakes her head again. She finally tugs her dad’s hand and leads him out of the woods.

The last scene shows father and daughter decorating a plastic white fake tree. The message is clear: the girl, a regular little Canadian Greta Thunberg, has saved the natural world by insisting that the family buy a plastic tree at Canadian Tire.

This ad is manipulative, and false.

Here’s the real ad that I want to make. We see hundreds of workers in a factory in China assembling white plastic Christmas trees. At the end of their shift, the workers put on gas masks to go home because the pollution in their town is so acute. Then we see the crates of fake trees loaded on container vessels to cross the Pacific Ocean. Diesel exhaust billows from the ship’s smokestack. At the Port of Vancouver, a crane loads the crate on a diesel train for the trip across the Rocky Mountains to a Canadian Tire in Brampton, Ont. A family drives to the store, buys the tree, puts it their SUV and gets stuck in traffic on the way home. Cut to a few years later. A garbage truck comes to the house and picks up the discarded tree. Then the tree goes to a landfill and lies there, not decomposing, for thousands of years.

The only problem with my commercial is that it’s tough to cram into 30 seconds.

I read somewhere that Canadian Tire sells real trees at 200 of its stores. So why the ad for the fake tree? Probably just so customers who buy plastic trees can feel like they’ve made an environmental choice.

I don’t want to come off too holy here. I drive a car. I buy lots of stuff at Canadian Tire, including stuff that later gets thrown out. But I do worry for Canadian Tire about its corporate image. Increasingly, people across our country realize that climate change is real. We need to kick our dependence on fossil fuels. We need to rely more on the bioeconomy. Real trees are part of the bioeconomy. They are an infinitely renewable resource. They sequester carbon as they grow. Animals live, and birds nest, on Christmas tree farms. Then after Christmas the real trees gain a new life as mulch. Tree farms are close to your home, and employ fellow Canadians. Growing Christmas trees is something at which Canadians are very, very good. And that is something with which Greta Thunberg would agree.