Climate change in the spin cycle

It has been a long time since I have heard so much debate in the House about carbon taxes and climate plans. Unfortunately, none of it is focused on the climate crisis. It is the ultimate irony – I hear the words, but the issue is ignored.

We should be talking about the science. We should, as Parliamentarians, regardless of party, be acting responsibly as the evidence piles up. Every day it seems there is new evidence, always more worrying. Climate change is no longer creeping slowly. It is galloping, spurred on by dangerous feed-back loops. The Arctic ice is shrinking in ways that spell danger for all of us, permafrost is melting threatening the release of vast deposits of methane (a very powerful greenhouse gas), oceans are acidifying, food production is threatened, and around the world lives are lost in extreme events from floods to fires to mudslides to tropical storms and tornadoes. We should be talking about how we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions as fast as possible in hopes of avoiding ever-more-likely runaway global warming. I don’t like thinking about- or worse, talking about, the worst case scenarios of global warming. But former French President Sarkozy was right: the survival of human civilization is at risk.

Those are not the words of the leaders of the mainstream parties. In the House, we get a Punch and Judy show of feigned outrage. Instead of talking about what we should be doing, the main parties are stuck in a Mobius loop of distortion. Yesterday, I couldn’t finish asking a question due to the heckling of the NDP caucus. What was the trigger for otherwise civil folks, many of them people I love, to act out so rudely? I had the effrontery to mention that there had once been a plan to meet Kyoto targets.

I did not do so to laud the Liberal record. The Liberal record is one of broken promises starting when Jean Chretien dumped the promise in the 1993 Red Book to reduce GHG by 20% below 1988 levels by 2005. I am cursed with a good memory. I remember the day we found out Chretien would not allow the federal, provincial, multi-stakeholder taskforce even to analyze carbon taxes as a possible mechanism to meet the Liberal target. I remember his trip with Anne McLellan to the oil sands to drop a few billion and promise rapid development. I remember feeling like I’d just been sucker-punched. But it is absurd for the NDP to want to re-write history to say there was never a plan. I was about to say in the House, that the plan came very late – in spring 2005. But, again, I remember the struggle to get the plan approved. The day to day battle with Natural Resources Canada leaks, undermining Stéphane Dion and Environment Canada with daily front page stories in the Globe and Mail attacking a plan that was not even public yet. It was not a perfect plan. I would not have designed it the way it was designed. But, according to reliable experts, such as Pembina Institute, if the plan had been implemented, Canada would have come very close to our Kyoto targets. Of course, less than a year later, Stephen Harper killed it and the billions of dollars in programmes that had been in the 2005 budget.

The NDP is right to call out the Conservatives for lies claiming the NDP supports a carbon tax. As Jeffrey Simpson points out very clearly in today’s Globe, the cap and trade carbon pricing advocated by the NDP is no different from what Stephen Harper once said he would do.

On the other hand, while the Conservatives keep accusing the NDP of favouring a carbon tax, and the NDP deny it, what gets lost is that we actually need carbon pricing urgently – as in a decade ago. And even with a carbon price, whether through the free market mechanism of cap and trade or through the more efficient means of a revenue neutral carbon tax, we will need far more in programs, regulations, job-creating initiatives in energy efficiency and renewables, to have any hope of playing a responsible role in the world. Greens favour a carbon tax as the best way to reduce GHG and put money in the pockets of Canadians. On the other hand, if a cap and trade plan was properly designed, I wouldn’t oppose it. This is not Lilliput with a war over which end of the egg gets cracked. It should not be a phony fight over mechanisms. We should actually be talking about doing something.

And that is what is not being discussed. The Conservatives are telling lies about the NDP wanting a carbon tax and the NDP are telling a lie that there was never a Liberal carbon plan, and the Liberal attacks on Mulcair over his comments on Dutch disease (a reasonable issue for him to raise) are also spin over substance. It’s all spin.

It would be easy to say “a plague on all their houses.” But global warming is a plague on all our houses. We have to stop the spin and focus on what matters. Science is divided on whether we still have time. For my children’s sake I refuse to accept that it is too late. I will keep telling the truth about who did what and when, but history is just that. We better start talking about what we plan to do. NOW!