Clearing the air: Positions of Canadian parties vis-à-vis the environment
Thursday, September 18, 2008
In the lead-up to the 2008 Canadian federal elections much speculation was made about environmental issues and initiative, with various parties maneuvering to claim some portion of the green mantle. But it was the Liberal party which first brought a full-blown policy to the public.
In the months since the Green Shift initiative was brought forth, the political pundits and activists have both talked about this year as the first election where the environment would be a major issue on the minds of voters, and possibly a decisive one for the electorate.
It's indeed true the environment ranks very high in minds of voters across the country, particularly among young voters. One national survey of Canadians between 18 and 25 finds the environment is the top issue. A poll of all voters found it to be the third most important single issue over all, behind the economy and health care, but the poll suggested that no one issue has really caught the attention of the electorate with many issues gaining similar attention.
The parties themselves seem indecisive, trying to claim a focus on environmental issues but rarely making specific proposals or promises, with the notable exception of the Liberals whose platform has been targeted by opponents and commentators as "wildly experimental" and "doesn't go deep enough" by turns.
Examining the platforms of the New Democratic Party regarding air pollution and global warming as available on their website, one is struck by a lack of substance. Reference is made to C-377, the Climate Change Accountability Act, which the NDP calls "Layton's Kyoto-Plus Bill", which was passed in 2006. The party believes Canada can achieve its Kyoto requirements by 2012, though no mention is made of how a Layton government would do so.
In June of 2008 the Liberals tabled a plan, the Green Shift, which they claim would reduce Canada's greenhouse gas emissions 20% under 1990 emissions - well below the 6% required by Canadian law when Canada ratified the Kyoto Accord - by 2020, which is rather after the 2008-2012 phase-in period required by that same law. The method of performing this reduction would be to shift the Canadian tax system, reducing income and revenue taxes by replacing them with taxes on greenhouse gas emissions. The plan generated considerable discussion and opposition, and the party has back-pedaled in some portions and added on in others, as well as announcing a couple of separate initiatives to soften the effects for farmers, homeowners, and fishermen among others.
A more diverse approach than solely a "Carbon Tax" is proposed in the Green Party's platform, which presents an almost holistic approach of adherence to the Kyoto obligations, "Cap and trade" of carbon emissions, industry development with both green technology R&D and regulation as well as consumer subsidies, and their own version of a carbon tax. Alone of the parties they specifically mention the role of international diplomacy/trade as a part of their approach.
Such an approach appears to be anathema to the Conservatives, whose mantra since their election has been that Kyoto cannot be complied with without forcing an economic recession on the country, and used the Throne Speech of 2007 to reiterate that position. They have opposed cap-and-trade schemes in the past, but their platform for this election states their plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions includes emissions caps for "four air pollutants commonly associated with smog and acid rain," as well as "tough emission reduction targets".
In contrast to the laundry-list of unconnected initiatives on the Conservative's website, the clean platform pamphlet created by the Bloc Québécois makes a simple and apparently heartfelt statement on the environment:
- La lutte aux changements climatiques est devenue un enjeu fondamental pour l’humanité et le Québec est déterminé à apporter sa contribution, à sa façon. À Ottawa, c’est le Bloc Québécois qui mène la lutte en faveur de l’application du protocole de Kyoto dans le respect des choix du Québec.
- Tackling climate change has become a fundamental issue for all of humanity and Québec is determined to make its contribution, in its own way. In Ottawa, the Bloc Québécois, respecting Québec’s choices, is leading the fight to enforce the Kyoto Protocol.
Just how they plan to enforce the Kyoto obligations is not stated, though they do discuss a carbon market, and tax incentives for home heating upgrade and transportation.
There seems to be a wide if somewhat shallow interest in the electorate as to just what each party is offering on the environmental file. But with sketchy platforms regarding environmental issues, it's no wonder some of the parties have turned to the subject of economics in recent days.
HAVE YOUR SAY
What is your feelings on how the Canadian parties are addressing the issue of global warming?
- "Climate change: Where the parties stand" — , September 7, 2008
- Innovative Research Group, Inc.. "2008 Youth Election Study" — , September 16, 2008
- Julie Smyth. "Environment, education most important issues to young voters: poll" — , September 17, 2008
- D. Simon Jackson. "It's the environment, stupid. Not just carbon taxes" — , September 14, 2008
NDP platforms 
- "Tackling global warming" — , September 17, 2008 (retrieved)
- "Cleaner air, land and water" — , September 17, 2008 (retrieved)
Liberal Party platforms 
- "The Liberal green shift plan: A bold response to the climate change crisis" — , September 17, 2008 (retrieved)
- Liberal Party of Canada. "The Green Shift Book" — , August 12, 2008
Green Party platforms 
- "Climate Change: Kyoto and Beyond" — , 2006
- "Looking Forward: A fresh perspective on Canada’s future" — , September 17, 2008
Conservative Party of Canada platforms 
- "Speech from the Throne - Strong Leadership. A Better Canada." — , October 16, 2007
- "Environment" — , September 17, 2008 (retrieved)
Bloc Québécois platforms 
- "Présent! pour le Québec" — , 2008 (retrieved September 17, 2008)