Momentous times

I am absolutely delighted that Stephane Dion has won the Liberal Party leadership.  I hope this will begin the necessary turnaround Canada so desperately needs.

Last night, as this news came through, Charlie momentarily speculated that what was good news for the country might be bad news for the Green Party, with the Liberals stealing the environmental banner.  I disagree.  Jack Layton has lately come to put environment as the biggest priority in his rhetoric.  Stephane Dion will make it the top issue of the next election.  And with the environment as the top issue, the ball will be in the Green’s court.  Even if this doesn’t translate into electoral success, it will mean that the issues get heard, and that policy is accordingly shifted in a saner direction.

I have an idea what this dialogue will look like, and I’m happy to say that I think the Greens have a lot to offer.

I’ve had a whirlwind week that has contributed to this feeling.  Arriving from London in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, on Tuesday evening I was debating with Danny Harvey, Ted Gruetzner and Greg Bonser on the PEC issue.  On Wednesday, I deputed at the Ontario Climate Change and Air Quality consultations and on Friday I spent the day at the Climate conference at the University of Toronto following a Canadian Urban Institute Breakfast panel on urban approaches to climate change.

There are a lot of details but my overall impression from all these consultations is that climate change is finally on everybody’s radar, and approaches to it are scattered and contradictory, with some dominating themes.  It has been a tremendous relief to hear a lot of guys in suits (builders, energy experts, industry reps) declaring that they need higher energy prices to make a business case for energy efficiency.  The builders are apparently no longer opposed to higher standards, either.  And everybody wants a unified and integrated plan so that they can build business plans around it.  This is the type of thing the Green Party excels at.

It’s also a relief to know that mitigation plans have been developed at the national level and are being rapidly developed provincially as well.  It will be interesting to see what Stephane Dion says about the plans put forward by the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy.  I have several observations off the bat.  The first is that at 60% reductions over 1990 levels by 2050, the emissions cuts are far too shallow.  Many countries and states are adopting 80% reductions by 2050, and George Monbiot, in his sobering book Heat, recommends that Canada in particular reduce by 94% by 2030.

The second is that the cuts are achieved by investing in technologies that are frankly dangerous.  A large investment in nuclear is planned to achieve fairly small reductions in emissions while introducing another serious danger.  Investments in clean coal and carbon sequestration encourage further oil extraction and are not necessarily reliable in the long term.  The representative who presented the plan called them “unfortunate measures to buy us time, some 50-100 years”.  Unfortunately, they also leave a dangerous legacy for our descendants to deal with for the next 100,000 years.

Meanwhile, while Jack Layton has demanded that Canada adopt a goal of 80% emissions reductions by 2050, he has no particular plan at all about how exactly we are to achieve this, saying only that we need to set intermediate targets and develop a plan.  Worse, while railing about the oil industry, Mr. Layton simultaneously demands that automakers be given a just-transition fund to manufacture vehicles to a more efficient standard.  It seems to me that the auto industry is similarly culpable to the oil industry for promoting unsustainable lifestyles and profiting from them and hardly needs a bailout now.  If it turns out that making the more efficient vehicles is less profitable, we’d have fewer vehicles on the road, and that would be a very good thing.

So I’m looking forward to the discussion on climate change strategies.  I think the Green Party will do just fine.  And Canada will be the better for it.

One response to “Momentous times”

  1. Andrew James writes:

    Coming from the right wing of the Green Party, I believe competition (in this case, for the votes of green-minded people) is healthy. I daresay most people became involved in the Green Party to at least push the environment to the top of the public agenda, and that “appears” to be happening. Here’s how I see the current situation:

    1. Dion’s rhetoric helps to legitimize Green ideology, which if it results in a debate between the amateur Liberal/NDP green ideas and the Green Party’s professional approach, should favour us. If it doesn’t we, have to sharpen our message and presentation.
    2. Even if Charlie is right, and the Liberals manage attract a number of former or potential Green voters in the next election, that leads to the following win-win alternative scenarios if the Liberals win a minority governent: either they actually follow-through with their campaign commitments — which is good for Canada, or they don’t — which will be good for the Green Party next time.
    3. The worst scenario is that the Liberals obtain a majority government, and only window-dressing environmental policies are implemented. Another four years wasted.

    Dion’s plan for the purposes of the leadership campaign can be found at stephanedion dot ca

    [Website down, description of plan here: ]

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