In the Chamber -- Grant Mitchell's Blog

What Would Bill C-311 Have Done?

Posted 11/30/2010 by Grant Mitchell

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Bill C-311 would simply have required the government to develop consecutive five year climate change action plans, starting at 2010 and ending at 2050, outlining how they proposed to achieve a 2050 GHG reduction target. It called for the Environment Commissioner and the National Round Table on the Economy and the Environment to review and assess these plans and actual progress toward the 2050 objective.

It also stated two GHG reduction objectives, one for 2020 and one for 2050. Conservatives argue that meeting these objectives would destroy the economy. However, the 2020 target in the bill was not even binding on the government. The bill allowed the government to declare its own interim objectives in the series of its 5 year plans leading up to 2050. If the government thought the bill’s 2020 suggestion to be too onerous, it would not have had to use it.

To be sure, the bill would have required that the government accept a 2050 objective which was more onerous than the one declared by the government itself. However, this objective was to be achieved over 40 years, rendering the difference in annual reductions required by the two objectives to be almost negligible.

In any event, why is it that the Conservatives default position is that climate change action will wreck the economy? It is at least as likely, if not inevitable, that it will stimulate, not damage, the economy. Winning WWII required massive changes in our economy. These changes did not wreck the economy; they created one of the strongest industrialized economies in the western world. The Industrial Revolution required a good deal of new investment, but it certainly built strong economies. 

The government’s stimulus package to fight the recession hardly invested at all in green projects generally, or climate change action specifically. How it is that investing in green projects does not constitute stimulus while investing in traditional stimulus projects does? One of our greatest economic challenges is productivity.  Using our resources more efficiently through conservation, this being a key tenet of climate change action, helps fix this problem because, by definition, it improves productivity.

Unchecked climate change will be infinitely more damaging to economies. It is already happening in Canada. Alberta’s oil sands are vulnerable, albeit unfairly, to a marketplace that is increasingly intolerant of GHG emitters. Problems with our fisheries, the assault on our forests by spruce budworm and pine beetle, and sustained drought and floods afflicting our farmers are early indications of this. Many of our competitors in the world are aggressively pursuing climate action technologies and business. There is an almost $8.0 trillion annual market for green products and technologies in the world today, half the size of the annual US economy. We are being left behind. The US and our own militaries are now analyzing the security threats that climate change impacts around the world may require us to address in the future.

Bill C311, sponsored by NDP MP Bruce Hyer, hardly placed onerous demands on the government or the economy. It simply called for a planning and accountability process that surely we would expect a responsible government to be doing anyway.

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