Environment advisory panel's closure 'dumb,' Harper told

Members of the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy are calling on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to reconsider his "dumb" decision to kill the independent advisory panel.

Government needs advice of smart people, not 'cheerleaders,' panel member says

A former Conservative MP and member of the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy is calling on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to reconsider his "dumb" decision to kill the independent advisory panel.

"Stephen Harper puts other priorities, I think, ahead of the environment and I think that's a mistake. Obviously, I wouldn't be here if I didn't really strongly believe that the round table was doing an excellent job," said Bob Mills, a former Alberta Conservative MP, at a press conference in Ottawa Thursday.

The shutting down of the NRTEE, along with a multitude of other changes to environmental laws, is included in the omnibus budget implementation bill currently before Parliament.

Bob Mills led his party's opposition to the Kyoto Accord when he was a Canadian Alliance MP in 2002. Mills, who later served as a Conservative MP, is a member of the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, which is being shut down. (Canadian Press)

The government's explanation for closing the NRTEE is that it has served its purpose. But recent statements from some ministers suggest that the Conservatives didn't like what they heard from the round table.

Mills argued that was a poor excuse for shutting down the group.

"I've always said that if you're smart you surround yourself with really smart people. And if you're dumb, you surround yourself with a bunch of cheerleaders. We don't need cheerleaders. What we need are smart people," Mills said. "And in the round table, a collection from all walks of life, all different political stripes, it didn't matter — but they were pretty smart people."

The NRTEE was created by the Brian Mulroney government in 1988. Its mandate was to offer policy advice to the government of the day on ways to grow the economy in an environmentally sustainable way.

Environment is 'natural capital'

The Ottawa news conference was organized by Green Party leader and MP Elizabeth May, who was co-chair of the Round Table for seven years. She and Mills were joined by three other members who fielded questions about the government's move.

"Your natural capital is your environment. Unless you preserve it, then you don't have an economy in the end," said former Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative environment minister Mark Parent. He argued the cut was short-sighted.

"Politicians think of two, three years. 'I want to get re-elected. I'll promise a few jobs here and there I can deliver. I'm not too worried about the future.' The national round table was able to say, 'Listen, look 20 years out. Look 30 years out,'" he added.

Some critics are angered that the government chose to end funding for the advisory board, but is spending $8 million to go after environmental charities and make sure they don't breach the rules of their tax-free charitable status.

On Thursday, the prime minister vowed to root out government funding of groups unfriendly to his economic and environmental policies.

"If it's the case that we're spending on organizations that are doing things contrary to government policy, I think that is an inappropriate use of taxpayers' money and we'll look to eliminate it," he said at a news conference in Paris, where he was meeting with French President François Hollande.

That type of statement had one of the participants at the NRTEE event yearning for the days of Mulroney.

"[Mulroney] appointed scientists galore. We had one of the best climate change scientific establishments in the world. We were leading the way in many areas. He didn't fire scientists when they said things he didn't like," said Jim MacNeill, a former director of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and an NRTEE member.

"I think that perhaps the prime minister has forgotten that the name of the round table is not the National Round Table on the Environment or the Economy. It's the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy," added insurance industry executive Angus Ross.