Deborah Coyne, PEC and Kyoto

Deborah Coyne has been nominated as the Liberal Party candidate in Toronto-Danforth for the next federal election.  Her nomination speech, in which she expressed her support for the Portlands Energy Centre, has me quite worried that a Dion-led Liberal government won’t be any better than a Martin-led Liberal government at addressing climate change.

Last year at around this time, we had just come out of a federal election where climate change was not an issue.  This was before Al Gore’s movie, and the environment was not yet on the agenda.  During that election, we had a choice of two potential minority governments, one led by Stephen Harper, who had called the Kyoto Accord a “socialist scheme designed to suck money out of the rich”, and Paul Martin, who officially endorsed Kyoto but had done absolutely nothing to implement it.  Paul Martin, had, in fact, as Finance Minister and then as Prime Minister, overseen policies which had enabled our greenhouse gas emissions to rise by over 30% instead of falling by 6% from 1990 levels.

We’ve now had a Harper government for just over a year and it has been disastrous.  It’s shocking to imagine that in the good old days, emissions had grown by just 30%.  It isn’t only on emissions and the environment, though, that this government has failed us.  Our role in Afghanistan has changed and we’re now seeing more Canadian fatalities as a result.  We’ve lost the Kelowna accords and the national daycare strategy, too.

I was thrilled when Stephane Dion won the Liberal leadership.  This is a man with a dog named Kyoto.  I hope that a Dion government would do much more than a Martin government to drive down emissions.  I am delighted that the opposition united in pressing for the same changes to the Clean Air Act — which include a commitment to meeting Kyoto targets, as well as strong targets for the post-Kyoto period — 25% emissions reductions by 2020, and 80% by 2050.

But now we get to Deborah Coyne and her support for the Portlands Energy Centre.

Let me explain the challenge before us.  Because our emissions are now about 39% above 1990 levels, reaching our Kyoto targets in the period 2008-2012 will mean driving them down by 32% over today’s levels by around 2010.  That means 1/3 less emissions in less than 4 years.  Assuming you spread them out around all sectors, that’s 1/3 less cars on the road, 1/3 less for home heating and so on, and, critically, 1/3 less electricity generation from fossil fuels.  Because it may be hard to get 1/3 of the cars off the road and to reduce home heating by 1/3, the way we generate electricity is probably going to be where we’ll have to make deeper cuts.  By 2020, we’ll need to reduce our emissions by 46% over today’s rates, and by 2050, we’ll need to eliminate the bulk (86%) of today’s emissions altogether.

The reason all three opposition parties agreed to these targets is that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has pointed out that they are the minimum that needs to be done in order to stand a chance of averting catastrophic climate change, with over 1/2 of our species lost and much of the world’s agriculturally productive landbase converted to desert.  We are toying now with the possibility of putting a third of humanity under water.

So the challenge is high, but the stakes are higher still.  And reaching the challenge means envisioning a lifestyle in which we drop our needs for fossil fuels by 1/3 in the next few years, and by almost 1/2 by 2020.

The Portlands Energy Centre, being built to satisfy demand increases, has no place in a country committed to responsible emissions reductions.  The climate doesn’t care if demand is increasing.  The climate doesn’t care if our population quintuples.  The climate only cares how much carbon you feed it.  So we really need to stop making “demand increases” the excuse for anything related to emissions.  They cannot be the excuse for runways, for new roads, for increased vehicle production or for more generation from fossil fuels.  Harper’s “intensity targets” which the Liberals criticize are all about rising with demand.  We cannot allow emissions to rise, period.  Not with demand, not at all.  The absolutely only way that any new fossil-fuel burning plant should ever be permitted to be built would be if it were directly replacing something even worse.  The Portlands Energy Centre doesn’t qualify.

Deborah Coyne criticizes Jack Layton because he says “we can avoid another blackout if we just conserve more energy”, retorting that this is the “easy, irresponsible way out”.  She makes a strong case for the need for greater responsibility.  The truth is that what she is suggesting is the easy and irresponsible way out.  She is proposing that because reducing emissions will be unpopular and difficult, she’ll support a power plant, even if it means effectively destroying any hope of meeting Kyoto targets locally.  She is proposing that the Liberals under Dion do what the Liberals did under Martin — sign onto agreements they have absolutely no intention of meeting.

She goes on to say “The PEC will also only operate about 40% of the time to meet the needs of the city”.  The needs of the city have never required the PEC to operate 40% of the time, and they won’t in the future.  That’s an average of 9.6 hours every single day.  If that’s the kind of use the PEC will need in order to make a profit, we’ll have to see increasing rates of demand increases to support this provincial folly.  By throwing up the spectre of blackouts, she is scaring the residents into accepting a plant that, in reality, is much more of a threat than a solution.

What it comes down to is that Deborah Coyne must choose between her commitment to Kyoto and her commitment to PEC.  They are in direct contradiction.

Deborah Coyne’s speech had a very moving section.  She stated:

Stephane Dion is the leader who will encourage us to live intelligently and frugally, not wastefully, who will help build a Canada where achievement is measured … not by our level of consumption.

I hope she is right about Stephane Dion.  Her support for the Portlands Energy Centre indicates that unfortunately, the same cannot be said of herself.  And I worry that with a caucus comprised of people like her, Stephane Dion will not be able to do much better than his predecessor in actually meeting the targets he is setting.

One response to “Deborah Coyne, PEC and Kyoto”

  1. Patricia writes:

    Allegiance to the test

    It is my understanding that only an internal environmental assessment has been conducted on the impact of the PEC.

    If the lack of independent environmental assessment is still the case, the federal Liberal government should action their allegiance in their support for Ecological Wisdom.

    Dare I be politically incorrect?

    This is an important issue for our riding. The PEC is an issue that so greatly impacts our riding and goes to the heart of Ecological Wisdom. Does Stéphane Dion know his party’s position on the PEC?

    If not, his education would be greatly appreciated!

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