In the Chamber -- Grant Mitchell's Blog

It’s been five years of Conservative climate change inaction

Posted 3/29/2011 by Grant Mitchell


After five years of Mr. Harper being in power, I suspect I have run out of different ways to say that he doesn’t care about climate change. Point in case was the recent federal budget. The Conservatives’ showed their true colors and they certainly weren’t green.

The budget would spend billions on jets, jails, and corporate tax cuts ($60 billion over 10 yrs), but only a pittance on fighting climate change. Mr. Harper will go out of his way to fight overstated risks that support his law and order agenda, but he is doggedly persistent in doing nothing to fight the global threat of climate change, which actually poses real risks for Canada.

Of all the talk of fig-leaves in the lead up to the budget, the real fig leaves were for the Conservatives’ themselves. They allotted just enough money for the home retrofit program to generate another set of talking points to further the illusion that Canada has a climate change plan. Courtesy of the Conservatives’ inaction, we don’t.

Even Environment Canada has admitted the impending failure of the government to meet its own climate change targets. With only the existing policies, emissions will be allowed to rise by almost 30% above the target which the Conservatives agreed to at the Copenhagen summit. Knowing this information, it’s admirable that Environment Minister Peter Kent could keep a straight face when pronouncing this January that, “Canada has a credible plan for addressing our environmental challenges, and we are well advanced in executing that plan.” Let’s see it! Without a comprehensive plan the only credible outcome of Mr. Harper’s climate change policy will be inaction.    

A recap of five years of Conservative climate policy shows us just how far Mr. Harper is willing to go to avoid climate change action. Canada has had an average of a different Environment Minister each year, and a different environmental plan to match. Anyone remember when we were going to have a, “Made in Canada,” plan? Or, the Conservatives’ commitment to setting up a cap and trade system? Most recently, in a spectacular about-face, the Conservatives say they intend to regulate emissions in an effort to meet the target. This was apparently premised upon the US need to give up on cap and trade after the mid-term election of too many Tea Party driven Republicans. If a=b and b=c, then the Conservatives’ climate change policy is driven by the Tea Party.

  Let’s put the ‘commitment’ to regulate GHG’s in perspective. This is a conservative government that has shown time and again that it believes government is the problem. Mr. Harper also set up a commission about ending regulatory red-tape in Canada in only January of this year. And now, the Conservatives have turned their back on market based instruments like cap and trade, which are recommended by a litany of economists, in favor of command and control regulations. Even the National Post was critical of the Conservatives approach; deriding it as bordering on communism. What concerns me, however, is that this seems to be just another position for the sake of political expediency. Why else would a party that prides itself on championing the free market even dream of pursuing regulation over a cap and trade system?

 The intransience of the Conservatives on climate change underlines that they are also poor economic managers. Who else would have missed the opportunity to provide large clean technology investments with the stimulus package? Other countries, like China, didn’t. The proportion of their stimulus package devoted to environmental investment was almost five times Canada’s response. One study indicates that if Canada had matched that proportionate level of investment, we could have created 60% more jobs from the stimulus spending.

 Further, the well worn argument from the Conservatives about the necessity of waiting for US action is a red-herring. The respected arms-length National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy, which has many Conservative appointees, recommended in a recent report that Canada move ahead of the US. By implementing a price ceiling in a cap and trade system Canada could begin the work of reducing emissions, set up the necessary infrastructure and still have prices that would not be out of sync with an eventual US system.

 The short-term, politically expedient approach of Mr. Harper is going to have big costs in the future both for the economy and the environment. This past federal budget was yet another missed opportunity for Mr. Harper, a milestone many Canadians are tired of marking. 



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