Sunday, August 12, 2007

Eco-Hero or Eco-Ego vol. 5 - Stelmach vs. McGuinty: The Showdown

Stelmach and McGuinty play game of political chicken, both lose

This past week's First Ministers conference became the scene of a political grudgematch, as Alberta Progressive Conservative premier Ed "the Stomper" Stelmach locked up with Ontario Liberal premier Dalton "Flying" McGuinty over the issue of climate change.

The battle pretty much shaped up as such: Stelmach refused to accept any hard caps on industrial emssions, so McGuinty refused to accept California emissions standards for cars produced in Ontario.

"If we were to have in place (cap and trade) by 2020 we will reduce our greenhouse gases by 90 megatonnes," McGuinty insisted. "If all we do is put in place California emissions standards by 2020 we will reduce our ghg's (greenhouse gases ) by eight megatonnes. We can do 10 times more by way of reduction of greenhouse gases if all of us adopt (cap and trade)."

On the other hand, if McGuinty had kept his promise to shut down Ontario's coal-fired power plants, Ontario would be 70% closer to its share of Canada's Kyoto targets.

One may remember what was said about "he who has no sin..."

In the midst of all this, one may remember that both Dalton and his brother in federal politics, David, have both fallen firmly on the side of the eco-egos, due to their embarrassing exploitation of the climate change issue for political capital. Stelmach, however, has not been evaluated.

To this regard, Stelmach certainly isn't any hero. He also exploits the climate change issue for political capital, to the extent that he can't seem to admit the obvious: that the greenhouse gas emissions generated by Alberta's oil industry do have an effect on climate change, and as such, it is only wise to start eliminating them.

This doesn't necessarily have to entail the industry suffering under a crushing regulatory regime. Stelmach would better serve the citizens of his province by negotiating a reasonable time frame, and perhaps a deal in which the other provinces -- particularly those like Ontario and Quebec who are so concerned about climate change -- help out on the funding end by accepting smaller transfer payments from Alberta.

McGuinty actually says is pretty well when he insists, "this is a national challenge. It requires a national response, not an Ontario response alone."

Then again, McGuinty would better serve the citizens of his province by doing something at all about climate change. Not only has he already racked up a litany of broken climate change-related promises, but he's actually re-made the promises in the leadup to the coming provincial election so he can re-break them if he wins.

Canada will be closer to a national response when the provinces and activists who stress the need for action most actually do something, as opposed to talking, then doing nothing.

McGuinty is a would-be environmental visionary who won't pull his weight. Stelmach, on the other hand, is the premier of an oil-rich province that can afford to invest heavily in the green technologies necessary to supplant fossil fuels as the world's primary source of energy. While this would, by necessity, also supplant the oil and gas industry that makes Alberta so prosperous, such investment into renewable energy could make Alberta a global industry leader.

Yet such investment could be interpreted as threatening to the oil and gas industry that employ so many of his constituents. Furthermore, transforming Alberta into a green energy hotbed doesn't guarantee the abundance of work available for unskilled labourers and tradespeople that oil and gas provides.

Transforming Alberta into a renewable energy giant would be risky; Stelmach would very much be risking losing face with his political supporters, both within and outside of the Progressive Conservative party.

Stelmach's reluctance could be viewed as out of obligation to his party -- it's his responsibility to keep the party strong. It could, alternatively, be viewed as out of a desire to not be the man who managed to lose Alberta -- Canada's strongest bastion of Conservative support.

Either way, Stelmach has to be seeded right alongside Dalton McGuinty, with the eco-egos.

Then again, with McGuinty facing an election and clearly emulating Saskatchewan premier Lorne Calvert by campaigning against a seemingly more vulnerable proxy than their provincial opponent, McGuinty comes off as just plain disengenuous.

Climate change may not be the inevitable catastrophic threat that many of the activists insist it is, and the impact of human activity on it may not be as pronounced. That being said, eliminating the impact of human activity on climate change is only the wise and prudent thing to do.

It's to this end that when the eco-egos refuse to make any meaningful attempt at reaching a compromise, it doesn't really matter which of them wins. In the end, it's the rest of us who stand to lose most.

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