Inside Politics

ANALYSIS: Been there, heard that environment speech before

Peter Kent says he's tired of his government being accused of having no plan for the environment.

Unfortunately, Kent has left himself open to being accused of that very thing again.

Kent gave his first speech as Environment Minister to the Economic Club in Toronto Friday.

I have followed all the first speeches of the four environment Minister since 2006 and I can tell you I was wondering what he'd say. Would he channel author Ezra Levant and talk about "ethical oil" again... or would he actually give us some details about what he will do as Environment Minister?

He didn't do either.

He gave a nice speech, a well written and well delivered one. Given that he's been a broadcaster most of his life, that's not a surprise.

Kent says that Canada is actually doing a lot on the environment front and that his "government is every bit as serious about the stewardship of the environment as we are about assuring our continued economic prosperity."

He went on to give a long list of things the conservatives have done for the environment since they took power in 2006.

Like creating more national parks, making coal fired powered plants clean up their act by 2015 and tackling the messy issue of municipal waste water.

All of which are good things and all of which we've heard Environment Ministers talk about before.

The he proudly pointed out that Canada's greenhouse gasses have gone down by 65 megatonnes.

But what he didn't say is while emissions went down by 2.7 per cent in 2008 from 2007, it was largely because of the recession, according to a report by his own department.

Kent, like his predecessors Jim Prentice, John Baird and Rona Ambrose, is skating around the environmental elephant in the room. That elephant: Canada has no legal standards to make big industry - such as manufacturers, refineries and oil and gas producers - reduce their emissions.

And because large industry produces about half of the greenhouse gasses in Canada, those standards are crucial if the country is meet its own promise to reduce our emissions by 17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020.

And many industries are saying they need those standards so they know the ground rules for new facilities.

Until that happens, environmental organizations, political opposition parties, other countries and even some big industries will continue point out that "Canada doesn't have a plan."

Kent did promise to bring in performance standards for all "major emitters," but that promise has also been made by all three of his predecessors.

So he may not like it, but Kent doesn't appear to have a plan either... or if he does he's not telling us.

Margo McDiarmid is a reporter with the CBC's Environmental Unit.

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