In the Chamber -- Grant Mitchell's Blog

A Vote for the Environment

Posted 11/19/2007 by Grant Mitchell


In these days of unrelentingly cynical political analysis, it is easy to be caught in the vortex of political gamesmanship that suggests that “spin”, manipulation, and attack ads fuel the successful political campaign. To be sure, this view is seductive and supported by the US political experience. I think of how the Republicans actually ridiculed Kerry’s highly courageous military service to divert attention from the failure of their candidate to even show up for the home guard air force service he was required to do in lieu of his exemption from service in Vietnam.

Policy can and should be the basis of any credible political campaign. Faith in the judgment of Canadians and respect for their intelligence would argue that campaigns should focus on issues of importance and substance. With that in mind, the environment needs to be the foundation of the debate leading up to and during the next federal election. Here are some reasons:

Clearly, there are many objective problems with our treatment of our environment. In the past year, the obvious evidence of climate change has finally convinced even this Conservative government, if not to actually accept and believe the science of climate change, at least to be afraid to deny it overtly any longer. The health and economic consequences of not dealing with it have become obvious to more and more Canadians. The specter of dwindling fresh water resources is mounting, particularly in rural communities like Alberta’s where agricultural interests are becoming increasingly concerned about it.

There is a clear choice for Canadians between alternative approaches to the issue offered by the two major parties. The Conservatives will do almost nothing beyond what they think it takes to convince Canadians that they are doing something, and nothing more. The Liberals have a strong and well thought out “balanced carbon budget” program which supplements the consumer oriented “One Ton Challenge” and other programs implemented by their previous government. There will be more to come from the Liberals as the election approaches.

There is a fundamental value choice underlining these different approaches. The Conservatives deep down revile dealing with climate change because they see it as leading to government telling them what to do.  The Liberals, as do other parties and Canadians generally, understand that there have been times in this country’s history when government working to catalyze national initiative to meet huge challenges has been necessary and desirable (building the railroad, establishing communications networks, fighting two world wars). Surely, working together with government providing leadership is not an unreasonable choice for Canadians in this important issue area.

This issue can directly affect the outcome the next federal election given that environmentally motivated voters can actually tip the electoral balance in favour of this policy outcome. Consider that the Liberals, despite recent difficulties, remain pretty much tied in the polls at 33% or thereabouts with the Conservatives, in turn despite Harper’s ruthless wielding of power and money to extract electoral potential. Then, consider that in any given poll the Greens and the NDP support adds up to 25% to 28% or so. Even if one-third of that support shifted to the Liberals, they would have as much as 40% support and the possibility of a clear election victory.

What remains for this to work is for voters, particularly NDP and Greens, to make the following calculation.

Stephane Dion is a man of his word and he is committed to real action on the environment generally and climate change in particular. In fact, a fair look at his time as Environment Minister reveals that he did much and soon after becoming minister despite a Conservative led official opposition to the Liberal minority government and a political context then, unlike today, when there was considerable skepticism amongst the public that climate change warranted significant action.

Add to that the irrevocable conclusion that if the environment vote is split amongst the Liberals, NDP and Green parties, then the Conservatives are handed a great electoral boost.  In effect, if you vote NDP or Green, you are really voting Conservative. Consider in turn the cost of “loaning” your vote to the NDP in the last election: the Kelowna Accord, national early childhood education and Kyoto. Call the loan and vote Liberal this time at least for the environment.

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