After all these years, it's apparent that Prime Minister Stephen Harper governs largely with the Conservative Party "base" in mind – he being of said base, after all.
This base represents 30 or 35 per cent of the electorate. He hopes to bolt bits and pieces of the electorate to this group, using foreign policy directed at domestic ethnic groups and tax measures targeted at specific demographics.
The base, by and large, is either disinterested in climate change or doesn't believe it's happening. Or if it is happening, the causes are sun spots, radiation, natural causes or whatever. Like the base, the Prime Minister dislikes the issue. It makes him and those who support him somewhere between uncomfortable and angry.
This is why Mr. Harper doesn't give speeches on climate change. He manages to go to the Arctic every summer without mentioning the challenge, even though the Canadian Arctic is among the areas of the globe where the effects of climate change are most physically obvious. And that is why, quite predictably, he will not attend the United Nations summit in New York on climate change.
Canadian voters bothered about climate change won't ever vote for him, and he knows it. That they are worried doesn't worry him at all. For him, climate change is a political non-issue, because his core support doesn't care and, like him, sees climate change as an economic loser.
Every time his government issues another boilerplate announcement on climate change, it brags about what has been done – and some things have been done – then warns about the economic risks of doing something serious.
Let's be fair: Mr. Harper's government has taken some decisions to limit the increase in greenhouse gas emissions. It negotiated with the U.S. for new regulations to reduce car emissions. It has imposed regulations on the coal industry, although these won't take effect for many years.
The Sustainable Development Technology Fund helps clean technologies. Ottawa has guaranteed loans for Newfoundland's grand scheme to send hydro to Nova Scotia and points south, although that project seems headed for big cost overruns. The government pledged to spend money on carbon capture and storage projects in Alberta. Alas, capture and storage promised more than it could deliver, and two of these projects have been abandoned.
So there has been some federal action, but not as much as in some provinces. The single biggest reduction in emissions has come not from Ottawa, but from Ontario's decision to phase out coal-fired electricity generation. British Columbia has its carbon tax. Alberta has its intensity-based levy on fossil fuel producers.
Despite these moves, Canadian emissions are not going down – despite the government's protestations to the contrary. How do we know? From Ottawa's own reporting to the United Nations.
The Harper government repeats often that Canada's GHG emissions will be reduced by 17 per cent from 2005 levels by 2020. Here, however, is what the government reported to the UN: "By 2020, emissions are projected to reach 734 million tonnes, a decrease of three million tonnes from 2005." In black and white, the government is contradicting itself, telling Canadians one thing and the UN another, which is another way of saying it is not telling the truth. (Again?)
The reasons for looming failure to meet targets are many, but one stands out: burgeoning oil production from bitumen oil. If bitumen increases as planned – bitumen production continues to produce about 10 per cent more GHGs per barrel than conventional oil – new emissions from bitumen will wipe out reductions in the rest of the Canadian economy.
Bitumen is located in Alberta. The Harper government's political rock is Alberta. A chunk of the party's base is there. So there have been no regulations on the industry, nor any hint of a carbon tax, which would be the best way of reducing GHG emissions over time.
The Harper government – like its predecessors, it must be said – has manufactured promises that will remain unfulfilled. Attending a climate-change summit, or speaking about the issue before the General Assembly, would just remind the world and Canadians who care about that poor record. The base, however, couldn't care less.