Tuesday's Post contained a story about allegedly revealing "briefing notes" given to Peter Kent by his bureaucrats when he became Environment Minister eight months ago. The notes were obtained under an access-to-information request. By whom isn't clear.
Headlined "Canada lagging U.S. on climate, Kent warned
," the story quoted Environment's mandarins' claims that "Climate change is the most serious environmental issue facing the world today."
In fact, the neophyte minister regurgitated this assertion virtually word for word in his maiden speech. Did he really believe it? Who knows? What we do know is that something rather significant happened to the Conservative government after Mr. Kent went to Environment: it won a parliamentary majority.
The March 2010 Speech from the Throne, when the Conservatives were in a minority, claimed that "Nowhere is a commitment to principled policy, backed by action, needed more than in addressing climate change." The June 2011, post-majority, version didn't mention climate change at all.
The Post's story quoted Clare Demerse, director of climate-change policy for the radical Pembina Institute, as questioning "whether Mr. Kent and his government had understood the warnings from the experts within the bureaucracy.. Unfortunately, the Harper government's track record since January, when these notes were written, gives us no evidence that the message got through."
Ms. Demerse's lament makes it look suspiciously as if this old briefing is being wielded - with media assistance - as a cudgel to indict the government for daring to pursue policies not licensed by Pembina, Greenpeace and the David Suzuki Foundation. However, the public chose to ignore the "Do Not Buy" notice that the green movement had slapped on the Harper government.
Not that the Conservatives are unaware that climate change is a threat, but the threat comes mainly not from the weather but the policy itself. The briefing document's credibility is exemplified by the fact that it speaks - Yes Minister-style - as if everything were tickety-boo with the Kyoto process to engineer a vast global policy agreement to control greenhouse gas emissions. In fact Copenhagen and Cancun were disasters and are sure to be followed by another hollow fiasco at Durban later this year.
The billion-dollar Environment department claims its work is "science-based," but the briefing notes show that it relies for its beliefs about man-made climate change on the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, whose credibility has been severely damaged by numerous scandals. Still, when one considers how many jobs at Environment depend on a combination of climate alarmism and starry-eyed optimism about the policy process, plus attendance at those endless rounds of international meetings in exotic places, it's not surprising they plead for the issue to be taken seriously.
Not that this is all about the bureaucratic tail trying to wag the government dog. The Environment Canada document in many ways merely regurgitates the government's own policy as indicated in that March 2010 Speech from the Throne, a speech aimed at much as pacifying a green opposition and forestalling the threat of green trade wars as elaborating the government's real priorities. Nevertheless, it was forthright in pointing out that the government only supported a climate agreement that "includes all the world's major greenhouse-gas emitters, for that is the only way to actually reduce global emissions." It also pointedly noted that it had "pursued a balanced approach to emissions reduction that recognizes the importance of greening the economy for tomorrow and protecting jobs today."
Translated into plain English, this meant that any agreement without the participation of China and India was pointless (indeed, an agreement with them would be pointless too). The "balanced approach" sentence was an acknowledgment that green policies cost jobs.
The 2010 speech spoke of "leading the world in clean electricity generation." However, the Conservative government is no great fan of the kind of ultra-expensive and increasingly unpopular windmill and solar-promotion policies of Ontario's soon to be ex Liberal government, even if it has subsidized biofuels. The bureaucrats' notes suggested that, "The clean energy and environmental goods market is estimated at $6.5-trillion and is being contested by major and emerging economies, including the United States, the European Union, China, and India," but the fact that the entire world is engaged in a heavily subsidized race to the green-energy bottom is a compelling reason not to participate.
One should take with a tonne of salt Environment Canada's projection that clean technology will become the world third-largest industry within a decade. That depends on the continued ability of governments to produce subsidies on the basis of climate alarmism. However, governments are universally strapped, while alarmism is becoming less effective as it increases in hysteria.
Significantly, this year's Speech from the Throne noted the government's commitment to "traditional" resource industries, albeit "in a way that protects the environment." Moreover, it made clear that when it spoke of supporting "new clean-energy projects," it was talking about schemes such as the Lower Churchill hydroelectricity project. Above all, the Conservatives have declared themselves more interested in slashing red tape than installing new spools of the green variety. It is the bureaucracy's job to help them do it.