Inside Politics

Environmental Round Table ready to give up ... the table

When do you really know it's over for the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy?

When the Round Table is selling its table.

In fact, that's actually happening.

I stumbled on it when we arrived for a recent interview with David McLaughlin, head of the agency that is being shut down as part of this year's federal budget.

McLaughlin has just released the group's second-to-last report. It's on how provinces and the federal government are reducing green house gas emissions. (The provinces are doing 75 per cent of the work in case you were wondering).

For the past 25 years the Round Table has provided original research and advice on everything from the effect of climate change on the economy to sustainable development. Its members are a list of respected scientists, business people and policy experts, all appointed by the federal government.

We had just arrived for the interview when we were ushered into the board room dominated by a large oval wooden table.

Round-Table-300.jpg "It's for sale," said one of the staff members.

"Oh yeah? Who's going to buy it," I joked, "It's huge!"

"We don't know," she said, "but it's for sale."

I forgot about the exchange until later in the week when I was reading through bill C-38 for the umpteenth time. There, in the bowels of the bill on page 361, is clause 578.

The clause says:

The Roundtable is authorized to sell or otherwise dispose of all or substantially all of its assets and to do everything necessary for or incidental to the closing out of its affairs.
In other words - sell the table.

Of course, getting rid of the Round Table has become a bit more controversial than that.

Even former Conservatives such as Bob Mills have criticized it. The former Alberta MP, who is a current member of the Round Table, recently came to Ottawa to tell a press conference it was a "dumb" move that showed "Stephen Harper puts other priorities... ahead of the environment."

When former Tory MPs speak out like that you know there's a fuss going on behind the scenes.

Government ministers have offered different versions of why the advisory group is closing . Former Environment Minister John Baird recently told the House of Commons they didn't like the Round Table's advice.

"Why should taxpayers have to pay for more than 10 reports promoting a carbon tax, something that the people of Canada have repeatedly rejected?" he said.

When asked about it, David McLaughlin said his group never recommended a carbon tax.

Environment Minister Peter Kent's reason was the group had outlived its usefulness, that people can now get the same information "on the internet."

Whatever the reason, once the budget bill is approved, by law the Round Table will close its doors at end of March 2013.

But if you're looking for a snazzy wooden dining table that seats about 20, I'm pretty sure they'd be happy sell it to you before then.

Tags: c-38, environment, nrtee

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