Conservative politicians – including a former Reform MP who was his party's environment critic when Stephen Harper was opposition leader – have joined more than 20 other former members in protesting the government's decision to kill the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy.
Bob Mills, who represented the Alberta riding of Red Deer between 1993 and 2008, joined Mark Parent, an environment minister in a previous Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative government, and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May are among those who have written to the Prime Minister asking him to reconsider.
The National Round Table of the Environment Economy (NRTEE), which was established by the former Progressive Conservative government of Brian Mulroney in 1988 to promote sustainable development, is among a number of groups that lost their funding in this year's federal budget.
"I truly believe that the environment and the economy are tied. That they should be dealt with in a very important way, that that's the life blood," Mr. Mills told a news conference Thursday organized by Ms. May.
"I have been doing quite a bit internationally" he said, "and when I hear Canada mentioned it is quite often with a slur and I don't like that. I am a proud Canadian and that's what's most important."
But Environment Minister Peter Kent told the Commons Thursday that NRTEE's time has passed.
When it was created a quarter of a century ago, there were few sources of policy advice on the relationship between the environment and the economy, he argued. "That is not the case today and this is $5 million that can be better spent elsewhere."
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, a former environment minister, previously defended the elimination of NRTEEby saying: "Why should taxpayers have to pay for more than 10 reports promoting a carbon tax, something which the people of Canada have repeatedly rejected?"
But the current and former members of NRTEE maintain the group did not promote a carbon tax, it merely outlined the predicted effects of man-made global warming and provided a range of solutions.
"I have always said if you're smart you surround yourself with a bunch of really smart people and if you're dumb you surround yourself with a bunch of cheerleaders," Mr. Mills said.
"I am very disappointed that they would take a move like this," he said. "Stephen Harper puts other priorities, I think, ahead of the environment and I think that's a mistake."
Mr. Mills said he does not believe natural-resource production needs to be curtailed to prevent environmental degradation. Rather, he said, resource companies are looking for "certainty" from governments and, if industry knows what is expected of it, research will be performed to create ways of reducing carbon that can be marketed to other countries.
On the other hand, he said, if Canada is seen as an environmental laggard, the rest of the world will resort to punitive sanctions that make oil-sands products more difficult to market.
Mr. Parent said Nova Scotia and other provinces have looked to the NRTEE as they developed their own research on environmental issues. And preserving the environment means preserving the economy "not just in the short term but in the long-term," he said.
As a Progressive Conservative, Mr. Parent said, "I am pretty sure conserve is in the name conservative and I always thought that conservatives thought to conserve the best of the past and the wisdom and insight, but also – and maybe foundationally – to conserve the environment."
Jim MacNeill, secretary-general of the Brundtland Commission, which was formerly known as the World Commission on Environment and Development, said the actions of the current government have caused him to reminisce fondly about Mr. Mulroney.
"At the time that he was in power I didn't think that he was green enough but, in retrospect, I realized that he was a prize, a real prize, from the point of view of the environment," Mr. MacNeill said. "He understood to a very large degree, the critical link between the environment and the economy"