Friday, February 16, 2007

Wisdom of the penguins 2: Kyoto in Canada

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I've decided to turn much of our coverage of global warming over to our two intrepid environment reporters, Alan and Marlene. We first introduced them as they were discussing the IPCC report and posing for tourists at Volunteer Point, Falkland Islands. They're penguins, you see. That's Alan over there on the left, taking an early-morning stroll and, if I'm not mistaken, contemplating beach erosion.

When I last heard from them, yesterday afternoon, they were discussing the recent events in Ottawa.

Canada was one of the earliest signatories of the Kyoto Protocol -- signing on April 29, 1998 under former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien.

Whatever the Liberals' record on the environment -- and, admittedly, it wasn't great -- Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government, a minority government, opposes Kyoto altogether. The Tories have been trying to look green ahead of a possible spring election, a transparently strategic move given Canadians' clear focus on global warming, but in new leader Stéphane Dion the Liberals have an environmentalist with whom Harper simply cannot compete. So there have been all the negative ads from the Conservative spin machine. And there will be more, along with more commitments to spend more on this or that, all for the Conservatives to appear to be what they are not.

But the Liberals are fighting back.

Alan: Hey Marlene, did you hear from your cousin in Ottawa?

Marlene: Guy?

Alan: Right, Guy.

Marlene: He e-mailed me just now.

Alan: And?

Marlene: Well, the Liberals united with the other opposition parties, the NDP and the BQ, to push through a pro-Kyoto bill over the objections of the government. It passed 161-113.

Alan: Wow. I assume Harper ignored it.

Marlene: At first he said he would ignore it even if it became law, which it will. The Liberal-controlled Senate will pass it. But that would mean the government ignoring Parliament, a constitutional crisis.

Alan: And now?

Marlene: He's pulled back. He said today he'll respect the legislation, which calls for Canada to meets its Kyoto targets by 2012 but that the legislation is essentially meaningless. Once passed, the government will have 60 days to come up with a plan.

Alan: But Kyoto isn't flawless. Would Canada even be able to meet its targets?

Marlene: Maybe, maybe not. But this is politics. The Liberals look good for having united with the other parties in support of a bill to deal with greenhouse gas emissions, while the Conservatives look bad for having opposed it. And now the Conservatives either go along with the Liberal bill, ignore it at great risk, or come up with their own new plan, which would mean boosting the profile of global warming as an issue with an election likely right around the corner. And, try as they might, the Conservatives won't be able to beat the Liberals on that issue. It could decide the election. If Dion and the Liberals get their act together.

Alan: So the Liberals have boosted their electoral fortunes?

Marlene: I would say so, yes. It was an effective response to Tory negativity and Harper's lame attempts to look like a friend of the environment. And if playing politics helps the Liberals win the next election, well, so be it. At least then a Dion government would actually do something about greenhouse gas emissions, not just look like it was doing something to win votes.

Alan: I hope you're right, Marlene. I really do.

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