Do we have a true Minister of the Environment?

Isn’t a Minister of the Environment supposed to be a champion of measures that protect the environment?  And an opponent of policies and actions that
create risks for our environmental welfare?  There can be difficulties with this mandate. A Minister of the Environment may find that protecting the environment leads to conflicts with other Ministers responsible for different interests.

When visiting Canada recently, Ola Borten Moe, the Norwegian Minister of Energy publicly defended exploitation of the Canadian tar sands.  He claimed that the world will come to depend on the tar sands to supply reasonably priced oil to maintain living standards.  He joined Canada in criticizing a proposed fuel directive of the European Union that would negatively impact international markets for tar sands oil. This directive categorized fuel oil sourced from the tar sands unfavourably in terms of GHG emissions as compared with oil from conventional sources.   Under this directive, transport companies using tar sands oil would be required to invest more in emissions trading schemes than companies using conventional oil.

Several days later Erik Solheim, the Norwegian Minister of the Environment, publicly disagreed with these observations of Minister Moe.  He also stated that the Norwegian Government has not taken a position with respect to the EU fuel directive.

Norway has a coalition government and the two ministers represent different parties in the coalition. A public conflict that pits ministers against each other would not happen in Canada, where all ministers toe the Government’s party line on the tar sands. It would be nice if our Minister of the Environment, Peter Kent, stood up for the environment, but such contradictions would never be tolerated by Prime Minister Harper.

Still Minister Kent should not go to the extreme of being an apologist for the tar sands.  His defence of the tar sands using “ethical oil “arguments undermine his credibility with the environmental community.  Even Joe Oliver, our Minister of Energy, has shied away from using such moral “whitewash “in his efforts to market the tar sands oil internationally.

Minister Kent’s partiality towards the tar sands and his preference for the economy over the environment is apparently shared by a senior civil servant who oversees Canada’s international climate change policies.  The Deputy Director of Climate Change at Foreign Affairs intervened to withdraw previously approved funding from a Canadian artist, Franke James. The problem: her art criticized the Canadian Government’s lack of action on climate change.

Take a look at her art and decide for yourself why the Canadian Government felt it had to “ban” this artist.

Peter Jones


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