Climate Change Debate in Canadian House of Commons is Anything But a Battle of Wits

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As Copenhagen Targets Become Unreachable, Conservative Climate Policies Disappear Down the Rabbit Hole

Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq recently wrote a rebuttal to Liberal environment critic John Mackay’s accusations that the Conservatives aren’t doing enough to mitigate climate change.  She insinuated that the Liberal’s own plans were more appropriate for a children’s fantasy novel than the country’s energy policy.  “Our government understands that you need to do more than just watch children’s movies,” she wrote.  I think Aglukkaq and others in government could actually benefit from absorbing the moral wisdom of eco-themed kids flicks like Haayao Miyazaki’s touching My Neighbour Totoro, or Ponyo, about a spirit of the ocean drawn from her natural habitat by the allure of human civilization.  These films portray a nuanced balance between environment and modern progress that seems beyond comprehension for the fossil-fuel obsessed upper echelons of Parliament Hill.  But it’s Aglukkaq’s accusations of fictional Liberal proposals for addressing the climate crisis that reek of utter hypocrisy.

This month, the Conservatives released a report via their standing Committee on Natural Resources titled ‘The Cross-Canada Benefits of the Oil and Gas Industry’.  The report is about as objective and thoughtful as its name suggests.  Its aim is to ‘expand the information available to Canadians’ about the benefits of fossil fuels in response to increased scrutiny and opposition over resource extraction projects.  Quoting such objective experts as oil-company and government resource-department employees and local politicians in oil-rich regions, it goes beyond the usual assertions that our lifestyle and economy are dependent on oil and gas to suggest that the industry is actually improving water and air quality and our environment at large.

Most of these arguments are derived from a predisposition that there is simply no alternative to fossil fuels.  For example, we’re to believe that the industry is improving air quality because natural gas is cleaner than coal.  The industry has reduced emissions by 26%…just don’t ask how much more it’s contributed over the past century.  But the report also occasionally descends into logic-depraved depths of non-sequiturs and blind bias that border on comical.  As a ‘benefit to forestry,’ it quotes infamously fossil fuel-friendly professor Pierre Desrochers, suggesting ‘”our planet today is much greener because of fossil fuels” because we use natural resources from underground, and not from the surface, as our ancestors used to.’  Boy, can you imagine if we had to clear cut entire boreal forests to get at that tar sands oil like our ancestors did…oh, wait a minute.

Benefits to water quality?  Because the oil industry buys public drinking water for communities, it ‘allows’ these communities to ‘increase the service and quality’ of their water supply.  Good thing these communities feel compelled to improve water quality above the standards set for their citizens in order to maintain the pristine quality of the Athabasca tailings ponds.  And in case you were forgetting how much healthier you are because everything you eat is wrapped in plastic, the report wants to remind you that’s another reason that “we’re so much better off than our ancestors,” according to Desrochers.  If you ignore the billions spent derailing climate science through spin-doctors and special-interest think tanks, the report hopes you’ll also be grateful that the industry is creating ‘scientific’ jobs.  And if you can overlook the proliferation of illness and death caused by oil extraction and emissions, you might appreciate the health benefits enabled by taxes the oil industry pays to the government (just try not to think about the $1.4b annual subsidies it gets back).  The study’s conclusion emphasizes the ‘strong support’ of the whopping 35 ‘witnesses’ hand-picked for the paper.  Well there’s a shocker.

Shortly after Aglukkaq’s editorial and the government’s new study were released, Elizabeth May rose in the house to challenge the government once again to explain its failure to reach its modest Copenhagen emission-reduction targets.  Rather than acknowledge the 100-megatone predicted shortfall for 2020, MP Lois Brown claimed responsibility for the 3-megatone reductions that will be accomplished through provincial and private initiatives.  She concluded that the government recognizes that climate change is a “shared challenge” and suggested the onus is on Canadians as consumers.  That rates higher on the logic scale than the new ‘Cross-Canada Benefits’ report, but it ignores the glaring fact that for years, Canadians have asked the government to facilitate exactly that shared responsibility.  We have clearly indicated that we want Harper to take a leadership position on climate change, and that we’re prepared to embrace the resulting impacts for the benefits of our own survival.

As the government increasingly flexes its verbal gymnastics, twisting and contorting fact, reinventing basic mathematics, haphazardly ignoring public consensus and lackadaisically hurling the blame on its nearest political rivals, its showing more of a knack for creative fiction than any lone Liberal could hope to demonstrate.  Perhaps this should be no surprise from an environment critic who emphasizes the ongoing “debate” about a crisis with 97% scientific consensus.  The fact that Tory MPs who outright deny the existence of global warming still support the government’s agenda should be all the evidence we need that they aren’t making this issue a priority.  In fact, the Harper government’s approach to climate change isn’t just reminiscent of children’s fiction: it’s bizarre enough to make Lewis Carole look like Enid Blyton.


To call for action on climate change, Joseph Boutilier is cycling 5,000km from the Canadian westcoast to the nation’s capital on one wheel. You can follow his five-month Unicycle journey at or on Twitter: @josephboutilier


Other columns by Joseph Boutilier

So, what do British Columbians really think about climate change?
When it comes to climate change, we must all be leaders
Seen and not heard – how ageism and discrimination are perpetuating a youth exodus from democracy


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