John Baird painted a disastrous economic picture Thursday if Canadawere to meet its Kyoto promises on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but opposition parties accused the environment minister of notbasing hisforecast onfacts.
Appearing before a sometimes hostile Senate environment committee in Ottawa, Baird said a Liberal bill calling for the government to honour Canada's commitment under the Kyoto treaty is a "risky, reckless scheme" that would result in a recession and 275,000 Canadians losing their jobs by 2009.
The bill put forward by Liberal MP Pablo Rodriguez, and passed by the Commons, would require the government to honour Canada's commitment under the Kyoto treaty, which calls for a six per cent cut in greenhouse emissions from 1990 levels by 2012.
"The economics just don't add up," Baird said, and warned that gasoline prices would jump 60 per cent and natural gas prices would double. He said his predictions were based on studies by some of the country's leading economists.
"There is only one way to make it happen: to manufacture a recession."
Under the international Kyoto Protocol, which was signed by Canada under a previous Liberal government in 1998 and ratified in 2002, the country agreed to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by six per cent from 1990 levels by 2012.
After Stephen Harper and the Conservatives won the 2006 election, they said Canada's Kyoto commitments were not achievable within the 2012 deadline and would devastate the economy.
Liberal members of the committee were swift to condemn Baird's testimony as nothing more than scare tactics.
" 'The sky is falling.' We've heard that before," Liberal Senator Dennis Dawson said. "We always have people saying it will destroy the economy.
"We've all seen the movie An Inconvenient Truth. Well, this is a convenient lie."
Baird accused of fear-mongering
Liberal Senator Colin Kenny asked Baird to explain how he came up with the figures andwas frustrated by the minister's answer.
"He is ducking the issue," Kenney said during the heated exchange. "This is fear-mongering."
But Baird remained on the offensive, blaming the previous Liberal government for failing to act on Kyoto and not providing provinces and territories with crucial financial support on environmental initiatives.
"If it was so easy, why did they do nothing?" he asked.
Baird was evasive on the Conservatives' new plan to combat climate change, which he has promised to introduce in the coming weeks with "tough, yet realistic goals."
"We will deliver," he said. "I'm not prepared to make a commitment I can't keep."
But Liberal environment critic David McGuinty said Baird's apocalyptic scenario was a typical response from a Conservative front bench "full of climate change resisters.
"This is a familiar tactic to Canadians," McGuinty told reporters Thursday in Ottawa. "They first deny the problem … then they saythe costs of fixing the problem aretoohigh."
He added there was no analysis of the positive side of energy efficiency, or the economic and technological benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Duringquestion period, NDP LeaderJack LaytonsaidBaird was basinghisscenario on "bogus, irresponsible and incomplete reports."
LaytonjoinedMcGuinty in calling onthe governmentto respond to the status of Bill C-30,a version of the Tories proposed clean air act that was heavily modified by opposition parties in committee.
"The future of this issue is in the hands of the prime minister,"Layton said. "Does he have the guts to put it to a vote?"
The prime minister responded that his government would introduce its own targets "very shortly," targets that hesaid wouldresult in "real reductions and won't harm the Canadian economy."
"The real question is whether the opposition parties have the guts to face reality," Harper said.
Economist warns of economic damage
Rodriguez's bill, Bill C-288, was passed by the Commons in February and gives the government 60 days to table a detailed plan outlining how Canada will reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.
It also urges the government to create fines and jail terms for businesses and industries that over-pollute.
The Conservatives asked five independent economists to verify the findings, including Toronto-Dominion Bank chief economist Don Drummond, who said he grudgingly had to agree with the dire consequences of trying to meet the Kyoto targets by 2012.
In a letter to Baird that was leaked before the minister's testimony, the prominent economistdismissedC-288 as unworkable andsaid it would be impossible to meet the Kyoto emissions-cutting target without a massive carbon tax of approximately $195 a tonne.
"It's seemingly impossible to contemplate the scenario where there wouldn't be deep economic losses by trying to move this late that quickly," Drummond said Thursday.
Rodriguez, who alsoappeared Thursday before thecommittee, dismissed Drummond's figures as ridiculous.
"Canadians want to achieve Kyoto targets,"he told reporters after Baird's appearance. "What's doable is quite doable without these so-called economic disasters."
A study last fall by Nicholas Stern, former chief economist of the World Bank, said the costs of combating global warming are manageable and would be much less than the costs of taking no action.