Canada's New Environment Minister Promises More of the Same: Climate Inaction and Disappointment

Another day, another Minister of the Environment, it seems.  On Tuesday, Harper’s mini-shuffle installed Peter Kent, a former journalist with the CBC and Conservative MP from Thornhill to the post.  What could embody the lack of leadership on the climate any more clearly than the fact that Kent is the fifth to hold the position in five years?

Kent’s appointement comes at a time when Canada’s reputation on fighting climate change is in the toilet. Ottawa’s watered-down leadership on the environment, well, stinks.  Already commentators and opposition leaders are openly concerned that Kent will do little more than his predecessors. Well, unless you count political spin as action. 

Kent takes over from Jim Prentice, who left his post late last year to take a cushy job with major Canadian bank, CIBC.  The Canadian Press reported that Prentice has been saying privately that he didn’t expect much progress in his portfolio over the next two years.  It’s no wonder -  working for a Prime Minister that does not care about the environment would certainly be frustrating. 

On the other side of the border, progress on the environment has taken a promising turn.  Obama has given the the Environmental Protection Agency the go-ahead to use powers it has held for some time under the Clean Air Act. Buttressed by a ruling from the US Supreme Court, the EPA will start enforcing greenhouse gas emission standards for coal-fired power plants within the next couple of years.  

Back in Canada, however, the reality is quite different.  At Tuesday’s press conference, when prompted whether Canada will be following the U.S.’s leadership with regards to GHG regulation, Harper replied: “I notice the Obama administration is now talking about moving toward tougher standards on the electricity sector.  In that particular case, they have a long way to go to catch up to us.”  

Interesting choice of language.  Certainly Canada does not rely to the same degree on coal-fired electricity as the United States, but that says nothing of the regulatory blight that is Alberta’s tar sands.  So while the United States takes steps to regulate its emissions, Canada has worn out its soles dragging its feet.

Only a few days into his new role, it already appears that it will be business as usual.  Kent argues the tar sands have been unfairly demonized as ecologically destructive. In an increasingly familiar trope, Kent even goes so far as to call the tar sands “ethical oil” and an economic boon for the entire country.  According to Kent, there has been a lot of disinformation and misinformation about the toxic oil project. 

If that’s the official message coming from Ottawa, the future for our environment looks bleak.  Are we going to see genuine efforts from Ottawa to steer Canada from a devastating future of climatic impacts and dirty oil addiction, or the continued subservience and omnipotence of the powerful and rich energy lobby?