The imminent demise of the National Roundtable on the Economy and Environment speaks volumes about this government's peculiar attitude toward the environment.
The roundtable is no bastion of radicalism. In fact, it looks a bit like a home for old Tories.
Its creator was a Progressive Conservative prime minister, Brian Mulroney. Its current president and chief executive officer, David McLaughlin, was chief of staff to James Flaherty, the Minister of Finance. Progressive Conservatives on the board include Mark Parent, Dianne Cunningham and Pauline Browes. Its past chair, Bob Page, spent time with TransAlta Corporation in the Alberta oil patch. Its budget is a piddling $5-million a year.
This is the group that the Minister of Foreign Affairs, John Baird, denounced in aggressive terms in the House of Commons last week. "Why should taxpayers have to pay for more than 10 reports promoting a carbon tax, something that the people of Canada have repeatedly rejected?" Yet it isn't true. The group has never promoted a carbon tax. Would a bunch of Conservatives be so foolish as to promote a Liberal leader's tax idea that was rejected by the electorate, resulting in the election of a Conservative government? Of course not.
So why kill the roundtable? Was it a source of dissent? Not really. In fact, it produced two major reports this year, including one on how the provinces are addressing climate change, at the request of the federal Environment Minister, Peter Kent.
But at a time when hearings into a major oil pipeline in the West are being held, and when Ottawa is opening up northern waters for oil exploration, this group was apparently imagined to be a threat simply because, as its name implies, the economy and environment are equally important. Perhaps its very name made it vulnerable.
"Our desire for a modern economy and our duty to a sustainable environment are not mutually exclusive — they are mutually reinforcing," says a quote on the organization's website from its founding chair – the current Governor- General, David Johnston. "Indeed, one requires the other." Can it be that the Conservative government doesn't accept that seeming motherhood statement? Even to ask that question might seem farfetched, except that the government has launched a campaign of wild attacks on environmental charities, alleging criminal activity in the receipt of foreign funds.
If even the Roundtable on the Economy and Environment needs to be silenced, there's little hope of balance between the economy and the environment being achieved. Surely it's not an either-or proposition.