For the Tories, the environment is the means to a majority government end

Call me cynical, but the “Clean Air Act” is a mere PR stunt by the Conservative government. It was created with the intention of failing in the House. It is a calculated gamble by Harper to give him a majority.

When the next election is called, this issue will be used to portray the Tories as the protectors of the environment, and the Liberals as detractors of all that is right in Gaia-land. For if the Tories came out with new environmental legislation, and the Grits blocked it, then surely the casual voter can be conveniently fooled into thinking that it is the Conservatives who care most about the environment.

How deliciously ironic. But just how stupid do the Tories think the average voter actually is?

But enough about my cynical musings. Let’s look at this piece of legislation in greater detail.

First, isn’t “Clean Air Act” a bit of a presumptuous name for a mere bill, considering there’s no hope in hell that it will actually be passed by parliament? If the opposition were able to win Kyoto Protocol and Kelowna According votes in the House of Commons recently, why would any sensible Tory expect their “Clean Air Act” to even make it past the first hurdle?

Second, this bill brushes off numerous short-term environmental commitments, and condemns any such actions into the distant future:

  • Over 3 more years before regulations in place
  • Over 13 more years until targets for cutting pollutants are set
  • Over 43 more years to get to ~50% reduction in emissions, from 2003 levels.

Or, put another way:

  • no regulations until 2010
  • no targets for cutting pollutants until 2020
  • the softest target yet for cutting greenhouse gases – which won’t be achieved until 2050

One may come to the conclusion that targets are soft, when those who set them will be dead by the time such targets are achieved. By the time 2050 rolls around, Harper and Ambrose will have contributed more to the environment by returning their personal nutrients to the soil. I feel a rather dark “carbon tax” joke coming on.

Don’t get me wrong. Long-term planning is rare within Western democracy – our political system generally only produces small, short-term gains, as incumbent politicians selfishly plot to get themselves re-elected, often putting their individual interests above the long-term needs of society. And thus whenever a politician creates legislation that may bring more praise to his or her successors (potentially of an opposing political stripe), and possibly harms their own chances of being re-elected, I generally lavish such rare occurrences with considerable praise.

But as the British love to say, Harper’s government is taking the piss. This is not strategic long-term planning, putting the interests of future generations at heart; instead, this is a government selfishly and irresponsibly brushing off its commitments, dumping them onto future generations to worry about. Democracy at its absolute finest. This is the equivalent of a family on a tight budget going out and buying a new car when the foundations of their home are rotting, and the building is verging on collapsing. But the real scenario involves 6 billion people, not a nuclear family of 4.2 individuals.

Meanwhile, Conservative Environment minister (now there’s an oxymoron) Rona Ambrose makes speeches saying that the technology isn’t yet evolved enough to make the switch to alternative energy – and therefore we should ignore it completely, and not give any money to its development. Let’s pass the financial onus on to the rest of the world to come up with the technology. (Oh, and let’s also let them reap the financial rewards when they hold all the patents to Green technology. So much for Harper’s recent speeches referring to Canada as an emerging energy superpower.)

The much-derided bill even hopes to re-classify many “toxic” substances as mere “air pollutants”. Many people are predicting this will lead to long and costly constitutional challenges.

And there’s also the small detail of using intensity-based targets, rather than absolute targets. While each “widget” produced by factories will have to emit less pollutions, there’s nothing stopping such factories from pumping out 10 times as many widgets, thus pumping out far more overall pollution, despite the small reduction for each individual widget produced. In other words, there are no absolute targets, which is what the Kyoto Protocol is based upon.

Speaking of Kyoto… this bill doesn’t. Not even once.

Ideological governance at its finest. We don’t like it, despite that Canada has signed on as a signatory to what is now international law… so we’ll simply ignore it. See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. I would expect more upfront and responsible behaviour from a child.

Clearly, this bill is a massive waste of time and money. It is regressive, its targets and commitments are laughable, and it does nothing to stop the continued growth of net pollution and greenhouse gases. And then there’s the little footnote that there isn’t a chance in hell this bill will pass a vote in the House.

So after all the rhetoric we heard from the Conservatives about the need for government accountability and spending Canadian tax dollars wisely, just how should we perceive this “Clean Air Act”? As a waste of millions of dollars? As a waste of months of bureaucrats’ time in the environment ministry? As a government playing politics with an issue that Canadians consider to be the second most important, only behind health care in terms of importance?