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Lawrence Martin
Lawrence Martin

Lawrence Martin

It's a tough climate for Elizabeth May and the Greens Add to ...

Whither the Green Party? Since Copenhagen, climate change has done a fast fade as a high-priority issue. Al Gore is yesterday's man. Michael Ignatieff has moved on from his carbon-tax days. Those discrediting climate change have gained ground. And Elizabeth May isn't happy.

The Green Party Leader is getting even less news media attention than usual, the usual being crumbs. There's no doubt, she says, that the neo-cons are being heard, no doubt that journalists have changed focus, no doubt that Copenhagen was a failure.

Ms. May used to have a semi-alliance with the Liberals on the environment, and that's gone because Mr. Ignatieff "has dropped the ball." As for the Conservatives, she says, they still don't see global warming as a real problem. Citing a report released this week, she notes how they've muzzled Environment Canada scientists to prevent Canadians from being properly informed. "It's censorship."

She's not convinced Canadians themselves are losing interest in climate change. Her party's support base is holding, she maintains - but holding is hardly good enough for a party that has no seats.

The naysayers on climate change are driving her up the wall. "There is this completely bogus attempt to say that there is something wrong with the science. It amazes me." The science tells us how much carbon dioxide is in the atmosphere, she says. "The data is rock-solid and it tells us that there's now 30 per cent more CO 2 than at any time." It's "not complicated. It's like, if you add salt to water, you're going to get salt water."

Ms. May was a promoter of Stéphane Dion's Green Shift program, which would have brought in a carbon tax. But that plan died with the 2008 election. Although Mr. Ignatieff was an early advocate of the tax, "Michael didn't really know enough about the issue to know that he was being brave." After becoming Liberal leader, he dropped the idea, she says, and now he's just going with the political winds of the day. "I have no real sense that he understands the severity of the issue. He's actually tried to turn the tar sands into a national unity issue, which is about as unhelpful a thing as you can possibly do."

On the environment, things are tiding in the Conservatives' direction. They stood to be embarrassed by their lacklustre environmental record, but now, with the issue moving to the back burner, there is less for them to worry about.

The report leaked this week from an Environment Canada employee to the CanWest News Service says that, because of the government information clampdown, media coverage of climate-change science has been reduced by no less than 80 per cent since 2007. The clampdown involved a comprehensive vetting system that essentially prevents scientists and researchers from speaking freely to the media.

To hear Ms. May describe the situation, it was Kafkaesque. She says she knew people in regional meteorological branches of the department who couldn't even issue bad weather warnings without approval from central command in Ottawa.

Under Jim Prentice, the vetting has been trimmed back. But the Environment Minister got huffy about the leaked report in the Commons this week. Instead of saying such muzzling has no place in a democratic society, he seemed more interested in stonewalling.

According to Ms. May, scientists have been stopped from attending international conferences, websites evaluating the risks of climate change have been shut down and the position of national science adviser has been dropped. The message, she says, is clear. "If you speak out about the climate crisis … you could lose your job."

It is in this cynical environment that she plods along. After ill-advisedly trying to take on Peter MacKay in the last election in Nova Scotia, she feels she has a much better chance this time in British Columbia against another cabinet minister, Gary Lunn. With other parties going in other directions, the Greens have an advantage, she says. "We own the terrain."

But, in its own way, that's not too pleasing, either.

"Journalists used to ask if I was mad that Dion was stealing my policies. I said no. It's the policies that count, not the politics of who gets credit."

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