Manitoba·Opinion

Climate change: Canada doesn't even seem to be trying, critic says

The Harper Conservatives have found another $13.5 million to promote their new federal budget in advance of this fall’s general election, building on a strategy aimed at reminding Canadians of how the Tories have helped them save money through tax relief measures.

Canada misses several emission reduction targets, nothing in the budget for future reductions as of yet

Harper was named the world's "worst climate villain" by the New Republic magazine after last year's "Climate Change Performance Index" came out. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The Harper Conservatives have found another $13.5 million to promote their new federal budget in advance of this fall's general election, building on a strategy aimed at reminding Canadians of how the Tories have helped them save money through tax relief measures.

It's a curious way of showing the kind of fiscal restraint Harper preaches every now and then, especially since his party has devoted several hundred million dollars in the past few years to partisan advertising campaigns. It's hard to see how such spending benefits Canadians directly, but not so hard to argue for a budget that addresses the country's most pressing issues.

This is why it's rather stunning that the Harper administration didn't leave space in the budget for a single phrase about how Canada is going to address climate change.

Though the Tories haven't exactly shown themselves to be champions of green policies, the extent of their apparent contempt for addressing the issue has become quite absurd. Not a single phrase or term regarding climate change exists in Finance Minister Joe Oliver's budget, an omission that's emblematic of the reasons why Harper was named the world's "worst climate villain" by the New Republic magazine after last year's "Climate Change Performance Index" came out. 

Finance Minister Joe Oliver's budget doesn't address climate change. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)
Unsurprisingly, the report was especially scathing when it came to Canada. Put together annually by Germanwatch and Climate Action Network Europe, last year's index listed Canada 58th in their rankings, the third-last spot, right above Kazakhstan and Saudi Arabia. The list is an evaluation based on factors like climate policy, efficiency, and emission levels, none of which put Harper's Canada in a very positive light. 

In other words, though no single country has blazed an unquestionable trail toward the mitigation of climate change, Canada doesn't even seem to be trying.

This sentiment is echoed by another ranking that came out in 2013, put together by the Washington-based Center for Global Development. The group focused on the 34 countries that make up the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an international body founded in 1961 to promote global trade and economic growth. 

Of these countries, the centre ranked Canada dead last in the environmental protections category, and number 13 overall. Based on the centre's "commitment to development index" (CDI), the ranking also showed that, unlike its counterparts, Canada made absolutely no progress on any aspect of the climate issue. 

The truth is that Harper's Canada has no environment policy; its "policy" is the absence of one. This is why Canada has missed several emission reduction targets in the past few years, and is also why it continues to be one of the world's most prominent emitters of greenhouse gas. 

Coupled with an overt devotion to fossil fuels, the Harper administration has helped Canada become an international outcast when it comes to addressing what's really the world's most pressing problem. The current government isn't even pretending otherwise; it refuses to even participate in a real debate on the topic, preferring instead to spend its time in sweet denial.

Come this fall, Canadians would do well to vote with these facts in mind and not pay too much attention to Prime Minister Harper's expensive advertising campaigns. The one issue that has the potential to unite all Canadians who care about their children and grandchildren's future has been cut out of the national agenda. 

Whatever debate the public sphere decides to engage in on this issue, observers have good reason to conclude that the Harper Conservatives won't be participating in any meaningful way. The solution, then, is to look elsewhere, while continuing to support all civil society organizations that take climate change seriously. 

Earlier this year, Greenpeace Canada testified in front of a parliamentary committee in Ottawa on the possible effects and implications of Bill C-51, the Tories' proposed "Anti-terror Act."  

Tory MP Lavar Payne, a committee member, went on to note that Greenpeace's opposition to the proposed legislation makes him wonder if the NGO is planning terrorist activities. 

This is the level of political discussion that the government has taken up leading up to the next election. There's no need for the rest of Canada to follow suit.

Steven Zhou is a Toronto-based journalist and writer.

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