Canadian Conservatives Lack Environmental Vision
David R. Boyd
Victoria Times Colonist
Fri, 29 Apr 2011
Copyright (c) 2011 Victoria Times Colonist
The majority of Canadians tell pollsters that they'll vote based on the
policies offered by the parties. An even greater proportion of Canadians
claim to have serious environmental concerns.
So why are we on the brink of electing a Conservative government whose
platform provides more details about celebrating Canada's victory in the
War of 1812 than protecting the air and water upon which life and health
The four big environmental issues facing Canada are climate change, air
quality, water and conserving nature. There is a massive gulf between
the Conservatives and other parties on these challenges.
The Conservatives claim that their efforts to tackle climate change are
working because greenhouse gas emissions are down four per cent since
they took office. In fact, it's the global recession.
The Conservatives cut the most useful climate programs they inherited
from the Liberals, including the Renewable Power Production Incentive, a
subsidy for clean energy such as solar, wind, tidal and geothermal. They
slashed funding for climate research, weakened the Canadian
Environmental Assessment Act, and rejected Canada's Kyoto commitment.
The Liberals and NDP offer far better climate plans, including a
national cap-and-trade system to make polluters pay, and rapidly
expanding renewable energy.
The Greens have the most comprehensive climate policy, proposing carbon
taxes and other tools used successfully in Europe.
Air pollution harms more Canadians than any other environmental problem.
The Canadian Medical Association and the World Health Organization
estimate that poor air quality causes at least 10,000 premature deaths
every year, millions of illnesses and billions in health-care expenses.
In 2006, the Conservatives identified air pollution as the No. 1
environmental problem in Canada and promised a Clean Air Act to
dramatically improve air quality. Five years later, the law still
doesn't exist and isn't even mentioned in the Conservative platform.
Neither the Liberals nor the NDP mention air pollution in their
platforms, although both emphasize a transition to cleaner energy and
transportation systems. Only the Greens put forward concrete proposals
to improve air quality.
Canada faces water qual-ity and quantity challenges. Corporations still
dump millions of kilograms of toxic substances into rivers, lakes and
streams annually. Canada wastes water in prodigious volumes, and there
are storm clouds on the horizon. Disappearing glaciers in Alberta
portend future water shortages on the Prairies.
The Conservatives have done little to protect water and make no new
promises in their platform. The Liberals promise a national freshwater
strategy, which is long overdue, and substantial dollars for cleaning up
polluted water bodies. The NDP pledge $200 million per year to bolster
drinking water infrastructure.
Finally, as the beer commercial says, "Canada has more square feet of
awesomeness per person than any other country on Earth." Yet we rank a
middling 16th among Organiza-tion for Economic Co-operation and
Development nations in the percentage of land designated as parks and
have a growing list of endangered species.
It's a staple of election platforms to call for more national parks and
greater protection of Canada's oceans. The NDP is the only party that
forgot to cut and paste these pledges from its 2008 platform.
In a promise that should send shudders down the spine of Canadian
wildlife, the Conservatives are planning to create a new advisory panel
of hunters and anglers to tell the environment minister how to protect
endangered species. That's putting the foxes in charge of the chickens.
The Conservatives also offer a bizarre suggestion to "expand the use of
digital and multimedia technologies to help connect Canadians to
nature." Couldn't we just go outside?
In summary, the Conservatives have a dismal environmental platform.
The Liberal and NDP platforms recognize that a healthy environment is a
prerequisite for a healthy 21st-century economy, but the jury remains
out on whether they would take sufficiently bold steps to move Canada in
that direction. The Greens have the most impressive environmental vision
but minimal chances of electoral success. The best Canadians can hope is
that whatever government emerges next week will adopt their bright green
David R. Boyd is an environmental lawyer, a senior associate with the
University of Victoria's POLIS Project on Ecological Governance, and
author of Dodging the Toxic Bullet: How to Protect Yourself from
Everyday Environmental Health Hazards.