Sunday, June 18, 2006

Harper’s Kyoto dilemma, part I

We’re heading into what could be a long and hot summer. It might come with more of the climate-related craziness that accompanied last summer.

Against this backdrop, Stephen Harper’s Conservatives are busy working on a new Kyoto plan for Canada. Reading the tea leaves, it is difficult to tell how they will proceed. But it’s safe to say their plan will not look much like that of their predecessors.

Time is of the essence. There is Kyoto trouble at the federal level. One of the ENVI committee members, Pablo Rodriguez (Lib., Honoré-Mercier), has introduced a private member’s bill designed to force the Conservatives to live up to Kyoto by enforcing the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA). You will recall that carbon dioxide (CO2) was added to Schedule 1 of the CEPA in November 2005. This means the government now has a statutory obligation to regulate CO2 emissions—i.e., to take action on Kyoto.

The House rises at the end of June, which gives Rodriguez very little time to launch his gambit and make it stick. But a Conservative insider tells me that the statutory CEPA review, now in progress, will occupy ENVI’s attention until “at least Christmas.” So even this go-around fizzles, the opposition might be still able to do something when the House sits again in September—if the government fails to come up with a credible plan between now and then.

When you consider the Parliamentary arithmetic, you see that it is entirely possible for them to successfully make trouble. There are twelve members on ENVI, seven opposition and five government. A united opposition could force the agenda.

Their chances for success will improve if Harper fails to formulate a credible climate change plan. If his plan proves attackable, then it depends on the opposition’s ability to collaborate long enough to force the issue.

Harper will have a tough job putting together a plan. This is because it’s not so much a matter of numbers as politics.

Consider the fact that not a single print-media story on Ontario’s nuclear announcement mentioned that generation-related emissions will drop as a result of this move. (Studio 2’s Steve Paikin did mention it, but he’s broadcast, not print.) Ontario’s move is the biggest step toward Kyoto since Canada signed the Protocol in 1997, but you’d never know it from reading the newspaper.

This is not because people don’t understand the numbers that underlie the positions. It is because Ontario electricity is a political issue. The big dailies, not counting the National Post, seem committed to giving the green lobbyists—the most consistent and long-lived opponents of both coal and nuclear—their due.

Well, fair’s fair, and it is good to give the green lobby a voice. But when they fail to come up with a coherent and credible alternative to nuclear power—and they have failed in this case—then somebody has to call them on it. Neither the government nor the non-Post print media has done this yet in public. Eventually somebody has to turn some critical attention to what green groups have been actually saying.

Until this happens, and there is little indication it will, Harper’s Kyoto challenge will remain extremely difficult. It’s one thing to spin. It’s another thing to educate. Harper is a smart politician and he knows this.

And now, to make things even more interesting, Quebec premier Jean Charest announced this week he would impose a carbon tax on large emitters. Then he said he wanted federal money to support this move.

Will Dalton McGuinty ask for the same thing? The anti-nuke crowd is worried that he will, and is warning the rest of Canada against funding another Ontario nuclear adventure.

How will the feds respond if McGuinty makes such a demand? Does Stephen Harper have any desire to fund Ontario nuclear reactors? Would this help him break into critical urban constituencies, like Toronto?

The Toronto StarCanada’s biggest and most anti-Conservative newspaper—has endorsed McGuinty’s nuclear plan, which means Torontonians generally support it. Perhaps the Prime Minister senses an opportunity.

This will be an interesting summer. Stay tuned. And GO OILERS!!!

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