The Conservative Government is convinced that given the attitudes of most Canadians there are few votes to be gained from the promotion of environmental legislation. And if this Government did take action on the environment it would not be enough for most environmentalists, who would flood the media with negative comments. So the best long term strategy is for the Conservatives to minimize the relative importance of protection of the environment when compared with other government priorities.
Last January 6th, the Government stepped back from the draft Regulations that were intended to curb GHG emissions from fossil-fuel fired electricity generating plants. Forourgrandchildren commented on this changed policy:
“The Harper Government is tiptoeing away from any responsibility to reduce GHG emissions significantly. No wonder the Globe & Mail headlined this story Ottawa backtracks on coal emissions.”
With this strategic retreat the Harper Government can deflect criticism to the Provinces when (almost inevitably) Canada fails to keep its international commitments and previous promises on the reduction of these emissions.
Now the Minister of Natural Resources is likewise reducing the role of the Federal Government in Environmental Review, leaving the Provinces to carry out whatever level of review is considered appropriate. The justification for this approach is supposedly that environmental protection, and therefore environmental review, ought to be a Provincial jurisdiction. Of course, it has not been that way since the environment became a concern of Governments: the Federal and Provincial Governments have concurrent jurisdiction in this area.
The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers supports the move, citing improved competitiveness in the extraction of fossil-fuels, and the elimination of duplicate environmental review processes. No surprise here – businesses is philosophically in favour of less regulation. The Premier of Saskatchewan likewise praised the move as likely to increate foreign investment in Canada.
Listen to what Tom McMillan, the Minister of the Environment from 1985 to 1988, has to say about the political realities a Government must face when it commits to protecting the environment. His comments most relevant to this recent Government strategy are in the first section, ending at 2.45 minutes, but everything he says about the relationship between environmentalism and politics is an eye-opener.