Ideas and Impressions: Environment will be major election issue

By Jason Moscovitz

I haven’t heard anyone talk about acid rain in ages and yet I imagine when it rains, the rain water still contains a significant dose of toxins. It is so hard to declare victory when it comes to the environment. You have to wonder if the problem is bigger than any possible solution.

Acid rain discussion in the 1980s primarily focused on the damage being done to our cherished Canadian lakes. Then prime minister Brian Mulroney tenaciously embraced the cause, making acid rain an important agenda item for his government. It wasn’t the beginning of pollution talk in Canada, but the conversation was more scientific than it had ever been.

With the science, and an activist government, a new wave of environmental awareness was ushered in. In almost four decades since, there have been many waves, big and small, that have kept the environmental pot simmering while Rome burns. What was a debate about acid rain is now a worldwide debate about climate change.

It is clear the environment will be an important issue in the October federal election. While it is a safe bet environmental issues will play a more significant role than in any previous election, progressing on climate change is going to be as formidable a task as ever.

While melting ice caps in the far north is a scientific fact, and while there are more global examples of extreme weather than ever before, climate change deniers are active and boisterous and determined to continue to deny the obvious. Their act of denial is not for nothing, because really caring about the environment means changing old habits and spending a lot of money.

Ultimately, it is political leadership that says thumbs up or down to measures to cut the high levels of greenhouse gasses that are bad for the planet. To make impactful change means diminishing our dependence on fossil fuel. It also means paying more in taxes.

When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canadians will be reimbursed for the carbon tax, just remember that Mulroney used to say the goods-and-services tax would be revenue neutral. There is no such thing as a tax that doesn’t come out of your pocket.

In Ontario, a decade ago, then Liberal premier Dalton McGuinty set out on a green agenda. His government closed coal generating plants and spent countless millions on windmill farms. After all the “green” changes were made, Ontarians’ hydro bills skyrocketed. According to a 2017 study by the Fraser Institute, Ontario hydro bills were the highest in Canada, yet climate change is as big a threat as ever.

Getting rid of straws and plastic bags can’t be bad ideas but the reality check is this: as long as we use gas powered cars and diesel trucks, how is significant change going to happen? Last month we celebrated the 50th anniversary of landing on the moon, and yet clean electric-powered cars are still not practical enough to put them on every driveway in North America, let alone around the world.

In the October election campaign, Trudeau will try to run as the leader with a practical plan to clean up Canada’s carbon footprint. Yet, at the same time, socio-economic and political considerations will force him to support Alberta in selling and distributing dirty oil from what used to be commonly referred to as the tar sands.

In fairness, Alberta rejects the notion its oil sands is dirty oil. Alberta’s recently elected premier, Jason Kenney, is fulfilling his take-no-prisoners campaign promise to fiercely defend Alberta’s resource sector – even if that shakes the unity of the country. There was nothing subtle about getting people to talk about Alberta separatism again. Obviously, doing things to curtail climate change is not Kenney’s priority.

And that brings us back to Trudeau. He’s a big climate guy who is now also a big oil and pipeline guy. After all, his government actually bought a pipeline company. That $4.5 billion investment to buy the Trans Mountain Pipeline from Kinder Morgan means the still-to-be-built pipeline from Alberta to the coast of British Columbia now has to be built or Trudeau will have thrown away almost $5 billion. His own fiscal credibility is on the line.

The bottom line is that committed environmentalists, by definition, are not pipeline builders.