ELECTION FEATURE by Paul Dechene
And lo! towards us coming in a boat; an old man, hoary with the hair of eld, crying: “Woe unto you, ye souls depraved; hope nevermore to look upon the heavens. I come to lead you to the other shore, to the eternal shades in heat and frost. ―Dante Alighieri, Inferno
In 2014, The New Republic, a venerable American liberal publication, declared Stephen Harper and Australia’s then-PM Tony Abbott the world’s two worst climate villains. In 2013 at the Warsaw Climate Change Conference, the Climate Action Network awarded Canada a Lifetime Unachievement Fossil Award for “long-standing efforts” to obstruct a meaningful global climate treaty. In 2012, EcoJustice gave the federal government a C- for not living up to the principles of the Species at Risk Act.
And, of course, in 2011 Canada became the first nation that had ratified the Kyoto Protocol to pull out of that international agreement.
Canada achieved all these dubious accomplishments — and many, many more — since Harper won his majority government. It would take a huge pair of brass ones then to pretend like none of this happened and try to spin the Conservative record on the environment into something respectable.
But spin they do.
For instance, one of Stephen Harper’s favourite talking points on the environment is that greenhouse gas emissions have dropped under his administration, all without imposing any kind of carbon pricing. It’s one of those factoids that’s superficially true but doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.
The drop in emissions is mainly the result of the 2008/09 recession which saw a global decrease in demand for fossil fuels. It’s the one upside we’re seeing from the collapse of oil prices: it’s a sign people aren’t burning up quite as much oil. Unfortunately, as soon as the country came out of recession in 2010, emissions steadily started to rise once again.
Meanwhile, as the federal government had failed to make any meaningful moves to reduce carbon emissions, the provinces picked up the slack. British Columbia had carbon pricing in place from 2007 to 2012, and Ontario began shutting down its coal-fired power plants in the early 00s — closing its last one in 2014.
In other words, Harper’s government literally did nothing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but they’re trying to take credit for the drop.
But taking credit for action they never took on the environment is about the only way this government will get any credit on that file.
In truth, Harper’s response to climate change and other environmental challenges doesn’t even score a satisfactory. When Canada shows up to UN Climate Change Conferences, we’re the only kid who goes home without a participation ribbon.
Here’s an in no way exhaustive list of the Harper government’s signs of contempt for the environment:
- Canada withdrew from the UN anti-drought convention — the only country to do so.
- Legislation was changed to remove provincially regulated pipelines and tar-sands processing plants from the list of projects that require environmental review.
- The Fisheries Act and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act were weakened, removing requirements for impact assessments and restricting public participation in assessment hearings.
- The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council reallocated more than $15 million in grants marked for basic research to industry partnerships and it ended support programs for the Kluane Lake Research Station and the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre.
- The federal government cut funding for the Experimental Lakes research area in Northern Ontario (which was ultimately saved from closure by the Ontario government).
- The federal government refused to renew funding for the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences in 2010.
- Funding for the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory was allowed to run out in 2012 and it’s been operating on a shoestring budget since then.
- The federal government cut Environment Canada’s budget by $222.2 million in the 2011-12 budget and cut 400 jobs from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in 2012, dismantled the Smokestacks Emissions Monitoring Team and eliminated Environment Canada’s ozone monitoring department in 2012 on its 20th anniversary.
- Changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act mean it will no longer apply to 99.9 per cent of Canada’s lakes, rivers and other bodies of water — which amounts to over 2.5 million waterways. They will still be protected by the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, the Species at Risk Act, and the Fisheries Act, but, as noted above, those acts have also been gutted.
It’s hell of a record but it’s hardly surprising. Harper has always hated environmental legislation and environmental research.
His entire governing manifesto has been about empowering and protecting markets — and damn anything that gets in their way.
As Donald Gutstein, adjunct professor of communications at Simon Fraser University explains: “Scientific understanding of the environment is an obstacle to the market. Harper is very clear, and I have a whole chapter [in Harperism] about why he got rid of the long form census and why he’s firing scientists and shutting down libraries. It’s because Harper believes scientific understanding leads to central planning and central control, whereas only the market with its millions of independent decisions can really make the best decisions.”
God help us all if this madman is re-elected.