As if we needed much more evidence that the Conservative plan was a sham, but this report just adds more to the pile. On its surface the report may not seem positive but I think this report says quite a lot of why the Conservative plan will never work and that the Liberals accomplished a lot more than the typical narrative (or the media) ever gives them credit for. As well, in the spirit of this and Earth Week that is behind us, I'd like to give my thoughts on how I think the Liberals can own the environment issue in the next election (as I said earlier, we need to keep the pressure on In and Out but can't let other issues that play to our strengths fall off the radar).
So first the report. Of course it notes something we already knew, emissions went up over the course of the Liberals time in office. It's not something to be proud of, but it was never an easy task and greater progress was definitely made during the latter years of Liberal government. But this report does make clear one clear accomplishment: "greenhouse gases emitted per unit of economic activity declined 18 per cent."
Now this has been noted before, but not widely reported (and sadly the media paid little attention to that aspect of the report nonetheless), but I don't think Liberals should forget this fact as it poses two problems for the Conservatives: One, how do you claim the Liberals have a poor record on the environment when your own party's plan is based entirely on intensity targets? Two, doesn't the Stats Canada report clearly show that intensity targets are NOT sufficient for bringing absolute reductions in emissions Conservatives claim their plan will accomplish?
Can any Conservative answer these two questions?
Now this brings me to the larger issue. Liberals haven't been talking as much about the environment much lately and largely ingored this latest report. Even though the Conservatives are mired in scandal it doesn't mean we can't be reminding Canadians that the Conservatives have completely dropped the ball on the environment as well. And in return we need to be hitting back hard against the Conservative myth that the Liberals did nothing on the environment. In a way we missed an opportunity with this report (though it won't matter in the long run), but here's what I think the Liberals can do going forward and in the next election to ensure we do own this issue in the minds of Canadians. The issue won't go away so we have to be taking it on as strongly as possible (though of course while also keeping the heat on the Conservatives over their various ongoing scandals). So really this can be accomplished by three simple things, two of which the Liberals can be doing more of now and the third will have to wait for an election.
1. Consistently defend the Liberal record on the environment and Stephane Dion's record in particular. Some Liberals just don't talk much about their record on the environment, but I think it's absolutely crucial to not let Conservatives define that record for Canadians. I think the two videos below are a good start in casting the Liberal record (and Stephane Dion's) in a more accurate light, but we'll need to see more of this in an election campaign.
While the argument can be accepted that not enough was done to bring emissions below 1990 levels no Liberal should ever accept the argument that the Liberals did nothing or they didn't take global warming far more seriously than the Conservatives. In particular, it is well established that Stephane Dion in particular was an Environment Minister that was widely praised by many environmental groups, including by Elizabeth May herself (as a member of the Sierra Club) BEFORE she was even a politician. Stephane Dion had an instrumental role in bringing down the greenest budget in Canadian history in 2005, had a strong plan that would have definitely gone long way towards meeting Kyoto targets (had it not been scrapped by Conservatives) and he played a leadingl role in establishing an international consensus at the Montreal conference that was still a very important first step towards having a new global plan for global warming post-Kyoto. There's also evidence that emissions stabilized under Dion's years as minister. Therefore, let no NDP or Conservative or Bloc party member claim Dion was a do-nothing Environment minister. I think Elizabeth May sums it up well: "'If they try to say he was anything other than a very strong environment minister, they're making it up.''
Also one thing is clear about the overall Liberal record (and the latest Statscan report solidifies this): emissions went DOWN over the Liberal years in government at least in terms of intensity. Conservatives cannot put forth a plan based solely on intensity targets and claim that is all that's needed and then turn around and say the Liberals have a bad record when Liberals met strong intensity targets during their term in office. Liberals have now moved beyond intensity targets to realizing they won't be enough going forward but it only goes to show that they are more serious about addressing global warming than are the Conservatives. The Conservative plan had its place before (and its exactly what the Liberals were accomplishing), but we need to go much farther now. We now know that when you just bring down bring down emissions in terms of intensity emissions can still easily go up in absolute terms (which is the reality of 1990 to 2005). Which brings me to the second point.
2. Keep up the Attack on the Conservative Environmental Plan and Remind Canadians of the Bali Embarrassment. The plan is completely ineadequate for meaningfully decreasing emissions. Almost every independent group has assailed the Conservative plan noting how it won't even come close to decreasing emissions by 20% in absolute terms from 2006 levels (not to mention that that's still quite far from the Kyoto targets of 6% below 1990 levels). I haven't heard Liberals talk much about the Conservative plan in recent months but I hope that in the campaign they highlight the Conservative plan as the scam that it is and all the time they wasted in dealing with this issue (as they scrapped Liberals plans, did nothing for a year and then just re-instated them). It definitely helps when the plan has been so universally slammed, even by groups that are often friendly to Conservatives (like C.D. Howe) see here, here, here, here. This quote really says it all:
Baird has rejected all criticism of his government's plan from independent research groups, economists and environmentalists, insisting he would stick with a plan to limit the growth of pollution from large industries instead of forcing them to make absolute reductions in their greenhouse gas emissions.
Now their joke of a plan isn't even their only blunder on the environment as Liberals can't let Conservatives off the hook for much they embarrassed Canada on the world stage at Bali. Really Canada has never fared so badly in an international forum: We were tied for the lead in fossil of the day of awards (and had the most first place finishes), we won the fossil of year award, we saw Harper pasted in ads right alongside fellow obstructers Japan and the USA, Baird skipped most meetings and Canada was essentially condemned by the head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) . Never has Canada been so isolated in its stance on a major issue. When the final declaration was agreed upon even the USA signed on before Canada did (who only did so once Baird realized that Canada and Russia were the only hold-outs). It was simply an absolute disgrace for Canada on the world stage on an issue that is slowly becoming the most important for Canadians. Dion was smart to go to Bali and meet with many dignitaries and show that Canadians don’t actually support the approach Baird brought to Bali and I was impressed by how much blogging he did (http://www.liberal.ca/baliblog) while he was there (unfortunately the media didn’t give much coverage to his blog though). The "you first" attitude Baird put forth at Bali is only a plan that guarantees failure and Canada can do better and Dion would do better. I hope Liberals have an ad in the can that reminds Canadians about this debacle and that contrasts it with Dion's leadership in Montreal. So the Conservatives have been abysmal on the environment but the Liberals can't truly own the environment issue without....
3. Putting Forth a Comprehensive Plan to Make a Canada a World Leader on the Environment. The Carbon Budget was an absolutely excellent start and already puts Liberals miles ahead of the Conservatives. The plan was widely praised by environmental groups (contrast that with the Conservative plan), but we need to go farther with a more comprehensive plan. I'm confident that such a plan is in the works (that could incorporate tax shifting, plans to encourage more green homes, etc..), I just hope that it is detailed enough so that environmental groups and Canadians at large will clearly see how the plan will get us to large absolute reductions in emissions while also being immune to criticisms that it will severely damage the economy (therefore it should be as thoroughly costed as possible and also have some economists that back it up). I think Canadians would much rather as taking on global warming as aggressively as the EU and not as weakly as the Americans, but I believe Dion will bring forth a plan that will take us in that direction we need to go.
I'm not one of those Liberals who believes we need to release our platform before an election (I don't know the last politician that benefited from that), so I don't mind waiting but I do think it's essential that the Liberals own the environment issue if they are going to win the next election. The environment isn't on the radar as much now as it was but I think it will be one of the main issues in the next campaign and Liberals need to be ready. If the Liberals are prepared to defend their record, not afraid to take the Conservatives to task on their environmental record, and put forth an extremely strong environmental plan then I'm certain Canadians will reward them for it.
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