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Jeffrey Simpson (Bill Grimshaw)
Jeffrey Simpson (Bill Grimshaw)

Jeffrey Simpson

The numbers say it all: Canada is a climate-change miscreant Add to ...

When the Harper government has something it wants everybody to know, it sends the Prime Minister to make an "announcement," gathers a gaggle of ministers to nod their heads at the words of their sage boss, issues press releases and, if necessary, buys newspaper and television advertising to trumpet itself.

When, however, the news is bad, well, standard procedure is either not to release the information at all, or to post it on a website without telling anyone, hoping the news will pass unnoticed.

Such was the case this week when quietly, of course, Environment Canada posted on its website the embarrassing news about the government's expensive and largely futile measures to combat greenhouse gas emissions.

Try as it might, the government could not put lipstick on a pig. The numbers were there, stark and depressing, in an annual report required by all signatories to the original Kyoto Protocol. The bottom line: The world is right to consider Canada a climate-change miscreant.

On Canadian soil, two world leaders have recently urged Canada to do more. Mexican President Felipe Calderon and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon both made that pitch, implicitly criticizing Canada's bad record. Their critiques are rooted in recent history, stretching back to the Liberal governments of Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin. The critiques remain valid today, which is why Canada has no credibility whatsoever internationally on the climate-change file.

According to the government's own numbers, actual emissions will grow in absolute terms in every year from 2009 to 2012. All the government's many and expensive policies will have done is to slow the increase, and then only slightly - by 10 million tonnes in 2012, against countrywide emissions of more than 700 million tonnes. At this rate, Canada will not achieve even the Harper government's modest reduction target: a 17-per-cent drop in absolute reductions by 2020 based on 2005 emissions, a softer target than the 20-per-cent drop the government had previously promised.

The numbers show how useless and expensive are some of the government's policies. For example, Ottawa is going to throw $1.5-billion into biofuels, largely ethanol, over the next nine years without a significant decline in emissions, because, as is obvious, the biofuels program is an agricultural subsidy program rather than a serious measure against emissions.

Or how about the absurdity of the transit tax credit, announced in an election campaign as a climate-change-fighting program? That all-politics-all-the-time program is estimated to reduce emissions by just over a risible 3,000 tonnes. And then comes the big Clean Energy Fund and Clean Air and Climate Change Trust Fund, together worth $2.5-billion, which the government admits "are not expected to result in quantifiable reductions by 2012."

Maybe these funds will produce some reductions later, but then that would be entirely in keeping with the Harper government's leisurely approach to climate change, an approach best summed up in the document's statement that the government focuses on "long-term results." As students of governments know, when they say everything is focused on "long-term results," it usually means the government in question is not serious.

Yes, climate change is a long-term challenge, but the longer the inaction, the worse the challenge becomes. The further Canada falls behind other countries whose governments are more committed to replacing fossil fuels. When the government boasts that Canada is becoming a "global leader in the development of clean technologies and clean energy alternatives," the assertion is belied by facts, such as Canada's relatively small share of stimulus monies spent on such technologies.

Canada's record is so poor due (among other reasons) to the unwillingness to put a price on carbon emissions (except in B.C. through a carbon tax, and Alberta through a middling emissions-intensity tax). Having ruled out a carbon tax, the Harper government has tied Canada to the U.S. policy, including the creation of a cap-and-trade system.

Cap-and-trade is almost certainly dead in the U.S. Congress. By essentially forgoing any willingness to act as a sovereign country, and putting Canadian policy instead into the uncertain hands of American legislators who are unable to agree on just about anything, Canada's overall emissions record is likely to be an international embarrassment, further witness to which is contained in this week's figures.

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