The 22nd Conference of the Parties climate-change meeting began in Marrakesh on Nov. 7. The American official party was, of course, from the administration of Barack Obama, which favours emissions reductions. In keeping with our Prime Minister's passionate embrace of the cause, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna led a delegation of 225, one of the largest of the 100 countries assembled at COP 22.
Imagine their shock when, just 24 hours after the conference opened, they learned that the next U.S. president will be a person who believes human-made global warming is a "hoax" promulgated by China and other countries wanting to steal American jobs. Not only is president-elect Donald Trump against carbon taxes, he wants to notch up production of the United States's "huge" oil resources to reduce imports from the Middle East and Venezuela. And he plans to scrap Mr. Obama's one-sided deal with Chinese President Xi Jinping to shut down American coal-fired power plants while allowing China to commission new coal-fired power plants at a rapid pace.
What are other key countries doing? In Vladimir Putin's Russia, environmental matters barely appear on a political radar screen that is focused on exercising hard power in the pursuit of global expansion. In India, population growth, corruption and a "rich must pay" attitude mean continuing emissions growth. This means that the four countries responsible for more than half of global emissions are going to increase them, not lower them. Other countries with no intention of playing the COP game include much of Asia, plus big oil producers Iran, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.
So, who's left to save the planet from the predicted global warming Armageddon? Just the European Union, Japan and Australia, with a combined global emission share of 15 per cent. And, of course, Canada, with our minuscule 1.6 per cent. The reality is that wiping Canada off the map would make an imperceptible difference. Except, that is, to Canadians.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has anchored part of his tiresome "Canada is back" rhetoric to fighting global warming. Indeed, every one of his mandate letters to ministers has emissions reduction as a headline item. There was relatively scant mention in those letters about stimulating private-sector investment to drive economic growth. And his announcement of a national minimum tax on carbon isn't the only government measure hitting consumers and businesses. A prime example is provincial-subsidy programs for green-power producers that drive up electricity rates.
Taken together, these measures impose a dead weight on an already struggling economy. Adding to that economic burden is Mr. Trump's vow to rework the North American free-trade agreement, which governs Canada's trade with the United States and Mexico, which accounts for more than three-quarters of Canadian goods exports. There couldn't possibly be a worse time to hand another competitive advantage to the Americans.
The entire basis for "pricing carbon" has always been a recognition that, while Canada's emissions are small, we should do our part of a worldwide effort. But doing it alone versus our trading partners would be a triumph of ideology over reason.
We've seen the unfortunate impact of ideology over reason in other political leaders, but usually business could be counted on to herald the dangers of ill-advised policy. So imagine my surprise when on Nov. 29 the morning news carried a "Letter to First Ministers from Major Business and Civil Society Leaders," many of whom I know and respect, stating support for "putting a price on carbon." The missive reads as if the signatories had gone to bed the night after the COP 22's opening and just woken up oblivious to the political earthquake that had occurred south of the border.
The statement alleges, "The world's most advanced players are hard at work forging cleaner, more innovative economies fuelled by a desire to compete in a changing global marketplace." Really – with the world's major emitters continuing to increase their carbon output? "Clean technology companies can tap into a fast-growing global market," the statement adds. A growing market it may be, but not for Canadian manufacturers. Take wind power, the darling of green-energy advocates. Five of the top 10 wind-turbine manufacturers are in China. Ontario's disastrous green-power plan has already driven electricity rates in Canada's manufacturing heartland from among North America's lowest to the very highest. Piling on a carbon tax will make certain that the beneficiaries of that "fast-growing global market" will not be Canadian workers. Far from being a visionary effort to build a "high performance economy," the statement reads like an economic suicide pact.
The most important responsibility of our political and business leaders is to create an environment in which Canadians can gain productive employment and continue to enjoy living standards that are the envy of the world. Time for our leaders to heed that 17th century Latin admonition to medical students, primum non nocere. Translation: First, do no harm.
Gwyn Morgan is the retired founder and CEO of Encana Corp. He has been a director of five global corporations.