Friday, October 20, 2006

Opposition Parties and "Environmental" Lobby Breathes Hot Air Over Clean Air Act

Warm front sweeps over Parliament as hit parade begins

Yesterday, Stephen Harper’s government tabled its long-promised Clean Air Act.

Predictably, Canada’s opposition parties and so-called environmental lobbies have taken up the cause – of preventing effective long-term environmental legislation.
“They're not going to do anything: This is a (law) for inaction," said the Sierra Club’s John Bennet, complaining that the Clean Air Act calls for consultations with industry over the next three years.

"Instead of using existing legislation and acting immediately, the Conservatives have delivered vague promises to regulate polluters sometime in the coming decades," Hugh Wilkins, a lawyer with the Sierra Legal Defence Fund.

Of course, one would expect that Bennet and Wilkins, two obvious experts in environmental law to understand that all the current agreements with industry, struck by the Liberal party, only call for voluntary compliance. This law will be in effect until 2010.

In other words, for the next three years, the Conservative government has no option but to consult with industry about what the standards (which will be mandatory) should be. Previous Liberal governments made certain of that, arrogantly legislating in such a way that not only handcuffed their own government, but also future non-Liberal governments.

After 2010, the government will set fixed caps on air pollutants, as well as stricter emissions standards for vehicles, modeled after California’s much-applauded standards.

By 2050, the Conservative plan is to cut total emissions by 45 to 65%. These are well in excess of Canada’s current Kyoto target of 6% below 1990 levels, between 2008 and 2012.

The number one complaint about the Clean Air Act seems to be that it does not explicitly mention Kyoto. Like complaints about George W. Bush after 9/11 – sulking, “he didn’t mention Canada!” – the so-called environmental lobby complains that the Act doesn’t mention Kyoto.

Beatrice Olivastri, CEO of Friends of the Earth Canada, complained, “[This] means that we have killed Kyoto as far as Canada is concerned. We've violated our international responsibilities. I don't take that lightly and I hope that no one else does."

Kyoto “expert” Olivastri may or may not be aware that the 65% by 2050 figure is very similar to a target provided under the Kyoto protocol – Britain’s targets. Britain, under the Kyoto protocol, has accepted a goal of 20% below 1990 levels by 2020, and 65% below 1990 levels by 2050.

The Conservative government has just pledged to meet these much more ambitious targets.

Given this little factoid, one has to wonder exactly what it is that the so-called environmental lobby wants.

It’s difficult to ascertain if the environmental groups in question are Liberal party members, voicing their criticisms via their Liberal party talking points, or if the environmental groups in question have been completely enveloped by the anti-conservative movement.

Either way, the point becomes abundantly clear: this was never about the environment. It was about politics all along.

The Clean Air Act – The Wrong-Colored Lollypop?

It can be likened to an unruly child in a grocery store, demanding a red lollypop.

“I want the red lollypop!” the child demands. The red lollypop, for whatever reason, is unattainable.

“I’m sorry honey,” the beleaguered mother says soothingly, “we can’t have the red lollypop. How about a green lollypop with a chocolate center instead?”

“NO!” the petulant child screams, jumping up and down frantically. “I want the red one!”

Such is the condition of Canada’s “environmental” lobby. The Conservative party, handcuffed until 2010 by Liberal party-initiated voluntary industrial emissions standards, has instead opted to act beyond 2010, and act to a greater extent – within a time frame that is, in fact, still within the Kyoto protocol’s time frame – and the “environmental” lobby is responding with a temper tantrum because the plan isn’t Kyoto.

Is it better than Kyoto? You’re damn skippy.

Is it Kyoto? No. And that’s what the problem is.

The Conservative government has come forth with a firm plan for action. A plan that won’t allow Canada off the hook, doing noting while paying billions of dollars in order to buy emissions credits from countries that aren’t required to do anything to meet their Kyoto requirements. Unlike the Clean Air Act (merely one part of the Conservative party Green Plan), under the Kyoto protocol, Canada’s ability to do nothing is reinforced by further inaction. With money! Kyoto is not a plan for action.

For its part, the Sierra Club has already been caught playing politics with the environment. On June 16 of this year, the Sierra Club issued its annual “environmental report cards”. The Harper government, in power for all of six months, was given a failing grade. Fs across the board.

"We are recommending that the Harper government attend summer school in order to see improvement next time," said the ever-so-clever Stephen Hazell, the then-acting executive director the Sierra Club.

The Harper government had, at that point, no opportunity to formulate its environmental policy.

The government of Prince Edward Island, however, was given a B average. In particular, it was given a B for biodiversity – even after a serious incident in which over 100 tons of raw sewage were simply pumped to Charlottetown harbor instead of being cleaned up.


Interestingly, the Sierra Club also opposes the Conservative government’s biofuel initiative, which would require that all gasoline in Canada be composed of 5% ethanol by 2010, which would reduce Canada’s emissions of greenhouse gas by that same 5%.

Once again, whoops.

One really has to wonder what side the Sierra Club is buttering their bread on. One might expect that an environmental lobby group would put some effort in to ascertaining the achievements of each government honestly, in stead of trying to act as a defacto opposition party.

Playing Politics With the Future
Canada’s opposition parties have pledged to vote against the Clean Air Act.

It’s interesting to note that, given that the item allegedly occupies a central point on the current agenda, that Canada’s opposition parties are promising to play partisan politics with the Clean Air Act – and have been promising to do so before it was even tabled.

“The whole Clean Air Act, for me, is a cynical exercise by the Conservatives," opined Nathan Cullen, the NDP’s environment critic. "Even if the committee rushed, and even if we pushed this thing as fast as we could, there's little to no chance at all of this thing coming into effect prior to the next election. That's unfortunate."

Unfortunate, indeed. The opposition parties instead favor private member’s bill C-288, which would require the federal government to somehow magically implement the Kyoto protocol, despite the constraints placed upon this by current legislation. Somehow, a party that has always favored increasing environmental legislation has come to deride the government’s impulse to introduce new legislation. “Our argument has always been that they have the legislation already," Cullen continued. "Why are they recreating it? If that's not a delay tactic, I don't know what is."

The “environmental” lobby and opposition parties desperately need to get their talking points straight on this one. Either the legislation in place is sufficient, as they claim – in which case criticizing the government for not proposing new policy (as was being done) should be considered an untenable position – or the new legislation, which plans over the long term should be accepted as a valuable tool for protecting the environment for the next 44 years.

At the very least, the lobby groups and opposition parties could do something really crazy, like – oh, I don’t know – cooperating with the government via the committee process, suggesting perhaps some – gee, what would… -- amendments to the act in question.

Otherwise, the message these parties are sending to Canadians may be that the opposition parties favor short-term inaction, as opposed to long-term planning and action. This certainly isn’t the message most people would want to send if they were part of an environmental lobby group or allegedly progressive political party, but this might be entirely immaterial.

Who cares about protecting the environment when there are political points to be scored?

Obviously, not the Liberals, NDP or Bloq Quebecois. The “environmental lobby”?

Obviously, not any less.

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