Election 2015: The Environment

If we’re doing these blog posts in order of importance, Prime Minister Harper would expect me to write about national security next. I will not. I will write about the environment next because to me it’s the next biggest issue facing this nation. I do believe that national security is important, but not necessarily for the same reasons that Harper believes it is. We’ll get to that later if I have time.

Perhaps if we had paid more attention to the environment over the last decade it would not be such a critical issue now, but unfortunately it’s been a bottom priority for Harper throughout his time in office so it is now a top priority for me.

So adverse is Harper to ‘the environment’ that he can barely say the words. His government even had the word removed from a Navigable Waters Protection Act website, according to Maclean’s Magazine, and very little mention of the environment is made in his election pitch. Try to find any mention of the environment on www.conservative.ca. Go ahead. I dare you.

Rumour has it that if you hold Harper down and tickle him mercilessly he will say the words “climate change”, but don’t ever count on him to do anything about it. Oh, he has a plan. Apparently. I think it is more of a hypothetical thing, but it involves regulating polluting industries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, rather than using a market-based system like a carbon tax or tradeable emissions permits.

You might think a conservative would favour a market-based solution over a regulatory approach. In my mind, regulation is an inefficient “big government” concept, whereas allowing the free-market to do the work through some pricing mechanism would appeal much more to a right-winger, but that’s not the way Harper spins it. To Harper, any market-based system is a job-killing “tax”.

This is too bad, because a market system like ‘cap and trade’ would be much more efficient, reducing emissions with a lower total cost and net impact on the industry — including job loses — all other things being equal. In reality Harper’s regulatory approach might cost less, but it also won’t work.

The Liberal policy on climate change, when it comes down to it, is not much different. Trudeau’s plan is to let the provinces arrange their own solutions for reducing emissions — something they are beginning to do already in the absence of a national program. The difference, I suppose, is that the Libs would be more supportive and perhaps try to coordinate the various plans somehow to achieve a national target.

Like many things that Trudeau promises, his climate change policy is very vague.

The NDP is proposing a national cap and trade system that will allow provinces to opt out if they have their own program. A nationally administered cap and trade system is probably the best way to achieve meaningful results,so it’s unfortunate that the NDP will not apply it to all provinces. Still, it’s a big step ahead of what Trudeau is promising, thus the NDP wins this particular challenge between the Big 3.

Climate change, however, is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of environmental issues. It is the most prominent, but there is much more, and Harper is failing on almost all counts. In some cases, it is worse than neglect or inaction. It is an active effort to undermine environmental protections. Numerous domestic research programs have been cut or drastically scaled back, including the modest but important Experimental Lakes Area where I spent some time as a summer student.

Internationally as well, Canada has been a barrier to progress rather than a leader. It was the opposite under former Conservative PM Brian Mulroney, so this is not a Conservative problem; it is a Harper problem. With the Paris Convention on Climate Change (COP21) approaching, we need a leader who will contribute to a global solution.

*****

I should not wrap this up without mentioning the Green Party. While they have no chance of forming government, it may be worth marking an X next to the Green candidate on your ballot if for no other reason than to send a signal to Ottawa that care for the environment should be a greater priority.

The Greens have more to their platform than environmental issues, but the environment is their strongest plank so an increase in votes for Liz May and the Green Team would generally be seen as support for environment protection. Their stance may be a little more extreme than you’re comfortable with (like NO new pipelines, period) but if you’re in a riding where the outcome is a given, or if you hate everybody who’s running, the Greens might be worth a look for this reason.

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