Environmental policy of the Harper government

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Since 2006, the Canadian Conservative Party government led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper has adopted few and gutted many environmental laws and policies dealing with rising greenhouse emissions, pollution problems and climate change.[1]

The Conservatives have also made significant budget cuts at Environment Canada, leading to criticism that it is undermining the ability of departmental staff to enforce remaining environmental laws.[2]

The Conservatives have also restricted the ability of government scientists to speak to the public, the media, and even other scientists, leading to criticism that they are trying to limit the debate on environmental issues by "silencing scientists".[3]

Funding[edit]

Departmental Funding[edit]

In addition to significant reductions in spending and staffing at Environment Canada,[4] the Government has also made significant cuts at Fisheries and Oceans Canada, including cutting $100 million in work related to water protection.[5]

Environmental research groups[edit]

The Conservatives have cut funding for the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE) because the research group promoted carbon taxing. Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird explained the government's position: "Why should taxpayers have to pay for more than 10 reports promoting a carbon tax, something that the people of Canada have repeatedly rejected?"[6]

Funding for provinces[edit]

The previous government pledged funding to several provinces including Ontario and Quebec. However, the Conservatives cited that with the new Clean Air Act, the Liberal agreements have been annulled. Ontario lost $538 million and Quebec $328 million. Quebec's Environment Minister Claude Béchard vowed to influenced the Tory government and forced them to send the $328 million funding for the province.[7] However, the government announced $1.5 billion for supporting provincial projects including the $328 million Quebec requested.[8]

Media coverage of climate change[edit]

According to an Environment Canada document, reported by the Montreal Gazette in March 2010, "Media coverage of climate change science, our most high-profile issue, has been reduced by over 80 per cent" since 2007.[9] The Canadian government is being accused of "muzzling" its scientists,[10][11][12][13] as journalists need to file a request to government officials before being allowed to interview scientists, which requests are often denied or only allowed after the news story has already been published by the journalist.[10]

Position on the Kyoto Accord[edit]

One prominent policy of the government since its access to power was its position over the Kyoto Accord in which the federal government ratified the Protocol in the late 1990s. The Conservative government had criticized the Accord for having negative impacts on the environment while not providing concrete results as far as greenhouse emission reductions and proposed a new policy which met with criticism from various environmental organizations and the opposition parties.

Harper and the Conservative government criticized the Kyoto Accord on measures to fight against global warming, saying that the economy would be crippled if Canada was forced to meet the Accord's timetable to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In 2002, Harper wrote a letter to members of the former Canadian Alliance party, mentioning that the Accord is a "socialist conspiracy" and questioned sciences that are proving global warming and in a meeting with other Commonwealth countries in Uganda commented that Kyoto was a mistake that should not be repeated.[14][15] He also stated that the Accord "focuses on carbon dioxide, which is essential to life, rather than upon pollutants."[16] Harper considered the objectives implemented by Canada to meet its goals were not realistic and later criticized further the accord which did not set any targets for the world's biggest polluters. He proposed a "Made in Canada" plan that would concentrate its efforts on reducing smog pollution from vehicles.[17][18][19] In a CTV report in October, however, the Conservatives had mentioned that it would be an approach rather than a plan.[20] While repeatedly mentioning that the goals will not be achieved before the timeline, John Baird mentioned on March 17, 2007 that the government had no plans to abandon the Kyoto Accord.[21] The Conservatives' position has been backed by five independent economists, including Toronto-Dominion Bank chief economist Don Drummond. Drummond, who has been consulted by political parties of all stripes, said that the "economic cost [of implementing Kyoto] would be at least as deep as the recession in the early 1980s", agreeing with the results of a study compiled by the environment department.[22][23]

Opposition members led by Liberal MP Pablo Rodriguez tabled bill C-288 that would force the government to respect the measures of the Kyoto Accord and forced it to present its measures within 60 days. The bill passed third reading on February 14, 2007, 161-113. The Conservatives had appealed the Speaker of the House, Peter Milliken to make the bill invalid citing it was forcing them to spend money against its will, which was denied.[24][25] While criticizing the Opposition bill as an empty law without any action plans and not giving authority to spend, Harper announced that he would respect the law, despite earlier threats by the government not to respect it.[26] Toronto-Dominion Bank chief economist Don Drummond dismissed bill C-288 as unworkable.[27] On April 19, 2007, Baird told the Canadian Senate environmental committee that respecting the Kyoto Accord would have a negative impact on the economic citing that Canada would return to a recession similar to the early 1980s while gas and natural gas prices would skyrocket despite a United Nations report that said that the impact would be minimal.[28][29]

In the 2007 Throne speech, the government officially abandoned the Kyoto objectives in favour of their policies and accords with Asian and Pacific countries in which Harper joined the US-led the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate on September 24, 2007, the United States, China, Japan, India, South Korea and Australia, several among them being among the biggest polluters. The APP's plans goals are lower than the Kyoto Protocol and consists on the introduction of newer and cleaner technology including solar, coal and nuclear power.[30]

The Conservatives withdrew Canada from the Kyoto Protocol in December 2011.[31]

Clean Air Act[edit]

On October 10, 2006 in Vancouver, Harper announced some measures such as tax credits to environmentally friendly measures, a repackaged air quality health index and a program to retrofit diesel school buses. Harper mentioned that these measures would "move industry from voluntary compliance to strict enforcement; replace the current ad hoc, patchwork system with clear, consistent, and comprehensive national standards, and institute a holistic approach that doesn't treat the related issues of pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions in isolation." Prior to the announcement, activist groups listed a series of recommendations including regulations on big industries and compliance with the Kyoto Protocol.[32]

Details of the Clean Air Act were revealed on October 19, 2006 by Harper along with Environment Minister Rona Ambrose and Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon. Its main plan was to reduce greenhouse emissions at about 45-65% of the 2003 levels. The goal was set for the year 2050 while a decrease of greenhouse emissions would be noticed in 2020. There were also regulations set for vehicle fuel consumption for 2011, while new measures would be set for industries starting in 2010. Finally, oil companies will have to reduce gas emissions for each barrel produced. However, companies can increase their production until 2020.[33] The plan was heavily criticized by opposition parties and several environmental groups, with New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton stating that the act does little to prevent climate change. Since the opposition threatened to turn this into an election issue, the Conservative Party agreed to rework the act.[34]

The Conservatives made a detailed and revised plan on April 25, 2007, after leaks of a speech which was supposed to be made by John Baird on April 26 were discovered after some Liberal MPs received a fax of the speech. The new plan seeks to stop the increase of greenhouse gas emissions before 2012 and reduce the amount as much as 20% by 2020. Targets would be imposed to industries before 2015, while home appliances would need to be more energy efficient. There were also rewards for companies that reduced the amount of emissions since 2006.[35] On the next day, Baird announced additional measures including one that would force industries to reduce greenhouse emissions by 18 percent by 2010 while auto industries would have a mandatory fuel-efficient standard by 2011. Later in 2007, Baird revealed other plans and deadlines that industries must meet. The plan mentioned that over 700 big-polluter companies, including oil and gas, pulp and paper, electricity and iron and steel companies, will have to reduce green-house emissions by six percent from 2008 to 2010 and will have to report data on their emissions on every May 31.[36]

However, critics including the World Wildlife Fund said that the greenhouse emissions in 2020 will still be higher than the 1990 levels, while Canada will not meet Kyoto targets before 2025, 13 years after its objectives.[37] High-profile figures including David Suzuki and Former US Vice-President Al Gore also criticized the plan as been insufficient.[38]

Clean energy technology funding[edit]

On December 20, 2006, Ambrose and Agriculture Minister Chuck Strahl announced $345 million of funding and other measures to promote the use of biodiesel and ethanol in policies related to the Clean Air Act. Among that, diesel fuel, regular fuel and heating oil would require a small amount of cleaner energy by 2012. Measures also affected farmers in diversifying their agriculture and farming equipment.[39]

On January 17, 2006, Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn and new Environment Minister John Baird announced an additional $230 million for the development of clean energy technology [40]

Two days later, Harper, Baird and Dunn presented a new program initiative called ecoEnergy Renewable Initiative which would concentrate on the increase of cleaner energy sources such as wind, biomass, small hydro and ocean energies. The cost of the program was about $1.5 billion. Some money was also planned for incentives for companies and industries that would use cleaner energy sources.[41]

On January 21, 2007, the Government announced another related funding announcement by pledging $300 million by helping homeowners across the country by becoming more energy-efficient including cash reward for those implementing measures to improve the efficiency. Critics of the measures such as Friends of Earth Canada and Liberal environment critic David McGuinty, mentioned though that the Conservatives had used some of the programs and strategies planned by opposition parties including a remake of the EnerGuide Program launched by the Liberals.[42]

Response to climate change report[edit]

Harper later proposed a discussion with NDP leader Jack Layton in the light of growing concerns made by the United Kingdom government of Tony Blair as well as a report by Sir Nicholas Stern, a former chief economist World Bank who predicted a 20% drop of the global economy. Layton tabled a private member's bill, the Climate Change Accountability Act (Bill C-224), which contained plans to respect Kyoto's targets. After their meeting, they agreed on a formal review of the Clean Air Act.[43][44][45][46][47]

Meetings on global warming[edit]

Harper cancelled a planned meeting on environment with European Union members in Helsinki, Finland, a meeting in which he was expecting to condemn the Kyoto Accord. Critics cited that Harper cancelled its meeting to avoid the criticism from EU officials. Harper's director of communications cited that his legislation agenda forced him to withdraw from the meeting.[48] Furthermore, Ambrose attended a two-week November 2006 UN summit meeting in Nairobi, Kenya on the issue of the Kyoto Accord and it targets. Opposition members have claimed that her presence was an embarrassment for Canada.[49]

In late 2007, Harper attended the Commonwealth Summit Meeting in Uganda. While Harper qualified the Kyoto as a mistake, he rejected claims that Canada was a holdout on climate change action. A deal was reached between the 53 members of the organization but blocked a proposal to exclude developing countries to comply to emission reductions. Harper will also attend the global conference on climate changes in Bali, Indonesia in December 2007. He commented that the deal in Uganda will set the stage for the meeting in Indonesia.[50] John Baird who was also at the meeting mentioned that any agreements would have to include reduction targets in which the biggest polluters such as the United States, China and India must comply. A last-ditch agreement, after difficult discussions, was made late in the Summit which consisted of a two-year plan which would lead to a new treaty replacing the Kyoto Protocol as well as additional negotiations until 2009 that would force countries to set basic parameters of greenhouse reduction goals. Baird, while citing that the last-minute talks where a positive step for a future agreement but was disappointing about some off the agreement was watered down and that "the deal was almost completely stripped of any reference to numbers and targets that could have been the starting point for the discussion".[51][52] Climate changes was also a topic at the G8 meeting in Japan in July 2008 where the organization had agreed to fix an objective on reducing greenhouse emissions by 50 cent by 2050 although it was not clear whether the goal was based on either 1990 or current (2008) levels.[53]

In late November 2009 Stephen Harper decided that he would attend the climate change conference in Copenhagen, where a new agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol will be negotiated. Minister of the Environment Jim Prentice will be attending along with leaders of some opposition parties. Harper has claimed that Canada will, despite heavy criticism, not commit to any further emissions reductions and will stick to the current plan of 20% below 2006 levels by 2020, however Harper also said that the government would be willing to make minor changes to the plan. Where the changes would be made is currently unknown.

Critics[edit]

At the Nairobi summit, the Climate Action Network had given a "fossil of the day" award to the country along with Australia for contributing less to the battle of climate change. The country was also ranked 51st out of 56 countries of those who were part of a climate treaty in 1992 or contributed a least 1% of greenhouse emissions according to Germanwatch, a Bonn, Germany development group which ranked countries based on their contribution of fighting greenhouse emissions. The deputy leader of the Green Party David Chernushenko had included Canada in an "axis of environmental evil" along with the United States and Australia. [54][55]

Due to the mounted controversy surrounding the Clean Air Act, there were reports according to the Canadian Press that Ambrose would be relieved of her duties as Environment Minister and replaced by Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice in a future cabinet shuffle.[56] However, on January 4, 2007, Ambrose was replaced by the President of the Treasury Board John Baird [57][58]

Kumi Naidoo, Greenpeace's international executive director, has said, "I don’t think Prime Minister Stephen Harper has provided leadership on the climate question at all. If anything, he has held it back."[59]

In 2011, Canada's commissioner of the environment and sustainable development, Scott Vaughan, stated that the government was not only failing to meet Kyoto standards, but also those of other agreements it had signed. He also criticized the Harper government of dramatically lowering its greenhouse gas emission targets since 2007, which have dropped by 90% (from 282 million tonnes to 28 million tonnes).[60]

Other measures[edit]

In the 2006 budget, the government introduced a 15.25% tax-credit on monthly passes for transit users.[61] Harper also announced a $300 million grant to the Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority which will be used in part for preparations for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.[32]

The government also secured $200 million of funding for Ottawa's O-Train expansion project after Treasury Board President John Baird reviewed the project to make sure there were no cost overruns. The money was secured after Ottawa's new council voted on the project.[62][63] However, in November, Nepean-Carleton MP Pierre Poilievre announced that, despite opposition from most of Ottawa City Council, $35 million of the transit funding was to be diverted for a new Rideau River bridge crossings between the two Ottawa growing suburban communities, Barrhaven and Riverside South. Poilievre had stated that if the city of Ottawa would present a transit plan, a request to the government for new money for public transit projects will be granted. Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty stated that no provincial money will be given to the bridge project if no rapid transit corridor is included.[64]

On March 1, 2007, while launching the International Polar Year that a worldwide program that will focus on intense researches on the Arctic regions, including climate change effects, the government announced a $150 million/4 year funding for over 40 projects related to the IPY program.[65]

On March 6, 2007, the government announced over $1.5 billion in funding in Ontario for improving the city of Toronto's transit system including the extension of a subway line to Vaughan. $586 million of the funding went for a new power grid from Ontario to Manitoba that would provide cleaner hydro energy.[66]

As part of the 2007 budget on March 19, 2007, Flaherty announced a rebate of up to $2,000 for people who purchase fuel-efficient vehicles. He also announced a new levy to penalize consumers who purchase vehicles with a high-fuel consumption rate: $1,000 for every litre consumed per 100 kilometres would be imposed (up to a total of $4,000) if the vehicle consumes over 13 litres of fuel per 100 kilometres in the city.[67] However, in the 2008 budget, the clean-car rebate will be scrapped in 2009.

As part of the 2008 budget on February 26, 2008, $500 million was announced for public transit, $250 million for research in developing more fuel-efficient vehicles and $300 million for the development a more advanced nuclear reactor and to improve safety at the Chalk River, Ontario Nuclear facility which shut down during the fall of 2007 after there were safety concerns.[68]

In the 2009 Federal Budget the government introduced billions of dollars in spending on the environment and green initiatives including, $1 billion over five years for clean energy research development and demonstration projects, including capture and storage; A new $1 billion Green Infrastructure Fund to support projects like public transit, sustainable energy and waste management; $1.3 billion over two years to support renovations and energy retrofits that will make Canada’s social housing stock more energy efficient, to be split on a 50/50 cost-shared basis with the provinces, $300 million over two years to go to the ecoENERGY Retrofit program to support an additional 200,000 energy-saving home retrofits; $250 million over two years to maintain federal laboratories; $85 million over two years for key Arctic research stations, and $2 million over two years for a feasibility study for a world-class Arctic research station; $80.5 million over the next two years to manage and assess federal contaminated sites, which will facilitate remediation work totalling an estimated $165 million over the next two years and contribute to an improved environment as well as employment opportunities; $75 million for national parks; and $10 million in 2009-2010 to improve the government’s annual reporting on key environmental indicators such as clean air, clean water and greenhouse gas emissions.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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  5. ^ de Souza, Mike (2013-12-27). "Harper government cutting more than $100 million related to protection of water". Postmedia. 
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  34. ^ CTV News article, October 20, 2006
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  40. ^ CTV news (2006-01-17). "Tories announce new funding for clean energy". CTV. 
  41. ^ CTV news (2007-01-19). "PM announces $1.5B plan for alternative energies". CTV. 
  42. ^ CTV News (2007-01-21). "Tories pledge $300M to boost energy efficiency". CTV. 
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  63. ^ Denley, Randall (2006-11-15). "Council's job 1: Fix light rail". Ottawa Citizen. 
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  65. ^ CTV News (2007-03-02). "Canadian taking lead in International Polar Year". 
  66. ^ CTV News (2007-03-06). "Ottawa spends $1.5B on Ontario transit, power". CTV. 
  67. ^ CTV News (2007-03-19). "Budget promises billions in new spending". CTV. 
  68. ^ CTV News (2008-02-26). "Budget scraps the 'clean-car' rebate". CTV.