“The difference between a plan and a wish list” (Hill Times)

The difference between a plan and a wish list

By Elizabeth May
Jun. 13, 2018

The Trudeau government has only wish lists when it comes to the environment, with no details on how to achieve its goals.

I represent an unusually engaged electoral district. Voters in Saanich-Gulf Islands, B.C., are well-informed and active. Among my constituents is an impressive group of retired scientists, judges, and Parliamentarians, including former cabinet minister Pat Carney. Firmly committed to stopping the Kinder Morgan expansion, she has pointed out that the Liberals do not have an Oceans Protection Plan: “They have an oceans protection wish list.”

The commitment to some sort of ocean protection is clear, with $1.5-billion over five years. That is substantial, but it isn’t a plan. We still do not know how the money will be spent. Will there be $500-million per ocean over five years? We do not have a plan that details objectives.

There is no plan for coping with oil spills, much less a diluted bitumen (dilbit) spill. A plan would include details like: where will the emergency crew of hundreds trained in coping with dilbit be found? During the five to six hours when it may float, how will crews approach it? Anyone getting near it will be made sick by the toxicity of the diluent. And once the diluent separates and it is more feasible to get near the spill, what can be done as the bitumen forms oil balls and sinks? How will we handle it if it emulsifies and washes up on our beaches as acres of lard-like toxic waste? The bitumen, once emulsified, would have to be heated in order to move it off the beach. The volume of waste would have to have somewhere to go, preferably not the municipal dump. There is no plan for any of this.

Unquestionably, it is good to have a budgetary commitment. It is being allocated bit by bit for worthy efforts like whale research and cleaning up derelict boats.

Looking at other government “plans,” we find the same pattern. We have no climate plan. We have a climate wish list. This point was made in a national audit by environment commissioner Julie Gelfand. “We’ve had several plans in the past and yet our emissions keep rising, we do not hit targets, and we’re not ready to adapt to a changing climate,” she said. “We are ever hopeful—but it is, at this point, a plan, and we need to see details.”

What we have is a compilation of provincial and territorial wish lists wrapped up in a pan-Canadian framework.

There are many good elements in the laundry list of wishes. The commitment to price carbon is an excellent first step. Thanks to the federal back-stop, changes in provincial governments, such as that which just happened in Ontario, will not affect the imposition of a national price on carbon. The revenue collected from carbon fees within any province will be returned to that provincial government. Greens would prefer to see carbon tax monies returned as a personal dividend to each Canadian. The revenue-neutral carbon fee and dividend is the best way to ensure that the carbon price is widely accepted and fair.

But carbon pricing, while essential, is completely inadequate. Liberals also promised to eliminate subsidies to fossil fuels, but instead have committed billions more to buying Kinder Morgan’s old pipeline and building a new one than all climate action commitments put together.

The Paris Agreement commits to global average temperature of no more than 1.5 degrees to two degrees Celsius. This is essential if we are to avoid persistent and catastrophic global change. Justin Trudeau’s target is unchanged from Stephen Harper’s: 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. That target falls far short of Paris. According to Environment and Climate Change Canada, we are not on track to meet even the weaker Harper/Trudeau target.

We need a target consistent with Paris. We need a deadline sooner than 2030 so we do not push off action (once again). A real climate plan would break down greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions, tonne by tonne, achieved by each policy, regulation, and incentive. It would engage all the levers of government, including the power to regulate GHG reductions under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act; boosting energy efficiency retrofits; support for installation of personal, business, and community renewable energy; and enhancements of carbon sinks. We would have a real plan for adaptation.

We would act as though we were serious about saving lives and the planet. But for now, we have no plan.

Elizabeth May is leader of the Green Party of Canada and the Member of Parliament for Saanich-Gulf Islands, B.C.