Canadian Government Falls; What Role Will Environment Play In Election?

From upper left: Conservative Stephen Harper, Liberal Michael Ignatieff, NDP Jack Layton, Green Party Elizabeth May

Canada follows the British parliamentary system, where the government must have the confidence of the majority of House of Commons. Prime Minister Stephen Harper had a minority government, so the big question was, would any of the opposition prop him up? The Opposition Leader, Michael Ignatieff, wasn't going to; the intellectual Harvard professor sees his best chance now, while recent scandals are fresh in everyone's mind. The New Democratic Party leader is recovering from prostate cancer and a broken hip, but he didn't do it; the Separatist Bloc didn't get his hockey arena in Quebec City so he wouldn't do it; Elizabeth May and the Green Party doesn't have a seat but hey, we are an environmental publication so I put her up there anyway.

So will environmental issues be big in this election? Not likely.

In the last election, everyone claimed to be green, but Liberal leader Stephane Dion built his campaign around it, including a massive transfer from income taxes to carbon taxes. Harper and the Conservatives just destroyed him with it. The words "carbon tax" won't appear on anyone's platform, anywhere. He quit as leader after the election and Michael Ignatieff took over after decades out of the country teaching and writing.

They still appear to take the environment seriously though, writing:

Canada was once a global leader in the fight against climate change and strove to improve environmental sustainability, but Stephen Harper has left our oceans vulnerable to oil spills, made zero progress on greenhouse gas emissions reductions, and blocked progress at international climate change summits.

The Liberal Party has a comprehensive plan to create clean energy jobs. Liberals will make an historic investment in clean energy and energy efficiency, quadrupling Canada's production of renewable energy, and creating a cap and trade system with hard caps leading to absolute reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. This strategy, combined with a commitment to protect our air, oceans, waterways, forests and Arctic, will restore Canada's place as an environmental leader.



Harper as hockey dad.

The Liberals have ruled for most of the last hundred years, but Harper has muzzled the extreme right factions in the Conservative party and positioned it in the slightly right of centre. The budget that dies with the no confidence vote had $400 million for the ecoEnergy retrofit program and more money for seniors; they were still willing to spend money. (The conservatives also had $400 million for nukes and a billion for oil and gas subsidies). When you read the Conservative policy book, they claim the environmental turf:

Canadian families are concerned about the quality of the air we breathe and the water we drink. They are also concerned about pollutants and chemicals found in our food, environment and consumer products. The Conservatives, led by Stephen Harper, have acted to address these concerns. We are establishing tough regulations on greenhouse gases and air pollution. We have preserved vast land and marine areas to ensure that the beauty and biodiversity of our country are preserved for future generations. We have taken measures to protect consumers by banning toxic chemicals and creating new truth in labelling guidelines to make sure Canadians know what they are getting when food products are labelled "Product of Canada" and "Made in Canada".

Really, it is hard to tell them apart.

I will confess that I have voted for the New Democratic Party in every election that I have been eligible to vote, with the exception of one Provincial campaign where I voted for Green party candidate Wayne Scott.The NDP policy is long and detailed, and hard to argue with:

New Democrats reject the claim of a fundamental contradiction between environmental health and economic growth. Developing green energy industries is an opportunity for a dynamic new era of job creation, building a competitive advantage for Canada in environmental technologies and practices, which in turn help foster innovations in manufacturing.

Reshaping energy policy for the 21st century means moving away from fossil-fuel dependence toward a green energy future by investing in solar, wind, wave, and geothermal sources, working with provinces and territories to share clean energy; and ensuring energy conservation in transportation and building methods.

A New Democrat government will make Canada an environmental leader on the world stage by honouring treaty obligations, incorporating strong environmental standards in trade agreements and ensuring Canadian companies operating abroad will be held to standards and practices that reduce their footprint and leave local ecosystems in good health.


I want to love the Green Party. Why wouldn't I, when Elizabeth May says things like:

I hold a vision of this blue green planet, safe and in balance. At the end of the Fossil Fuel Era, we are emerging to a new reality. We are ready to make the next leap - as momentous as abolishing slavery or giving women the vote. We are ready to make the fundamental shifts that allow us to live in balance with our life support systems, respecting each other, achieving social and economic justice, peace and democracy.

But then I worry that they don't quite know where they fit in the political spectrum and are trying to avoid actually defining it. I hope for a party that can gather greens from all parts of the political landscape, but they are trying too hard to be all things to all people.

Many people find it hard to position the Green Party on the old political spectrum. We believe in sound fiscal management and strengthening our economy while ensuring that it is sustainable. Does that mean we are "right wing"? We believe that government must provide needed social services while protecting our environment and the rights of women, minorities and disadvantaged people. Does that make us "left wing"? We don't think so. More and more people are simply thinking of the Green Party as the party of the future.

I find that too wishy washy and equivocal. It may be why they have no seats.

In the end, I count myself to be very fortunate; while I could never vote for Stephen Harper and the Conservatives, the nature of the federal system in Canada means that it is hard to get elected if you don't take reasonable, centrist positions. The strength of the separatist Bloc in Quebec means it is unlikely that there will be a majority government and it there is one, it will not be lopsided. None of the opposition parties are going to stop the seal hunt or the tar sands or any of the other issues that trouble the international community; their base is too strong.

There is a great old story about a contest in the New Republic to come up with the most boring headline that could possibly be conceived; Michael Kinsley won it with "Worthwhile Canadian Initiative." Our politics are like that: Boring, middle of the road. After watching American politics for the last few years, I have to say I prefer it that way.

Tags: Canada

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