Happy Earth Day… Sorry we didn't get you anything.

Thursday, April 21, 2005


Written by Scott Piatkowski

In 1993, the Liberal Red Book (which Paul Martin, who was then on speaking terms with Jean Chretien, co-wrote) promised to “cut greenhouse gas emissions by twenty per cent by 2005”. Oh look, it’s 2005 (and the Liberals have been in power for twelve years), so let’s check in on the status of that promise: Instead of decreasing emissions by twenty per cent, they’ve been allowed to increase by twenty per cent. Oops.

But, in Paul Martin’s world, that’s okay. Martin appears to believe that repeating a promise is the same as keeping it (for more examples, see National Child Care Program, National Housing Program, etc.). So it is that the Liberals have finally announced their strategy for implementing a promise that they made to Canadians in 1993 and to the rest of the world in 1997 (when they originally signed the Kyoto Accord). And, that strategy is… to move back the deadline for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions until 2017 (or twelve years from now). Either they really love the number twelve, or they are simply incapable of coming up with anything better than procrastination in lieu of a plan.

Anyone who listened to Martin waffle on the issue during his period of exile shouldn’t be surprised that he continues to dither today. Back in 2002, after he had been expelled from cabinet, Martin said: “I have always supported Kyoto and I am inclined to vote in favour of ratification. That being said, I believe that it is very important, and much more preferable, if we can achieve a national consensus on the implementation plan. If it was possible to achieve, or even make the effort to achieve this consensus, it would be preferable to wait.” But, lest anyone think that he was in favour abandoning the agreement, he added that “countries that sign agreements should live up to those agreements.”

Even if one believes that a national consensus can be achieved in country whose wealthiest province is a wholly owned subsidiary of the oil industry, why would it be “preferable to wait”? Knowing the consequences of inaction and knowing that every day that passes makes it harder to avoid those consequences, Martin could have got a head start on “living up to those agreements” – even as he sought that elusive national consensus. But, as David Suzuki wrote a year ago, “Yes, Canada adopted the Kyoto Protocol a couple years back, but we have done virtually nothing since. There is no plan to achieve our goals. There is no leadership.”

The only reason that the Liberals have been able to get away with such a pathetic record on climate change is that the succession of conservative opposition parties have had policies that are even worse. Until last week, when Conservative environment critic Bob Mills announced to perplexed reporters that his party supported “the objectives of the climate treaty, although not the Liberal plan for complying with those objectives” (The Globe and Mail called it “a flip-flop of historic proportions”), Stephen Harper and his party have fought tooth and nail against any measures to mitigate against climate change.

During last year’s election campaign, he told voters that a Conservative government would scrap Canada’s support for Kyoto. “After seven years we have a federal government that still can't tell us how it will implement this accord. I don't believe it can implement it. I don't believe it can achieve the targets. I think we need a more balanced approach to cleaning up our atmosphere.” Then, just last month, he threatened to bring down the government because the budget bill contained money to implement the Liberals’ tepid Kyoto plan. But, never mind that; now the newly moderate Conservatives support Kyoto, but say that they would implement it even slower than the Liberals.

The only national leader offering anything of substance in the Kyoto debate is NDP leader Jack Layton. The NDP’s plan includes the following initiatives:

a.. Increasing energy efficiency and retrofitting existing homes and businesses to help Canadians use energy better, while creating hundreds of thousands of construction jobs.

b.. Decreasing reliance on fossil fuels, and increasing support for non-polluting renewable energy such as wind, solar and tidal power.

c.. In addition to helping municipalities with public transit and improving rail, imposing mandatory vehicle emission standards, and offering GST rebates to make new, cleaner cars more affordable.

d.. Changing federal government purchasing choices for energy, equipment and buildings to pollute less.

e.. Ending subsidies to fossil fuels, and moving those subsidies into renewable, non-polluting fuel.

f.. Auctioning off emission credits to large polluters to give them an incentive to participate in the energy efficiency and renewable energy components of the plan.

To be sure, tackling global warming is a big task, but one that is absolutely necessary. As Layton’s plan demonstrates, however, it is doable. Of course, for now, Layton’s party doesn’t have enough seats to put its plan into action. Until that changes, it would be helpful if Paul Martin and Stephen Harper would pull their heads out the tar sands and came up with a real strategy to meet Canada’s Kyoto commitment.


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