“The science is still evolving”
–Prime Minister Stephen Harper on global warming
How quickly things change. Before you could say “melting polar ice caps” the Conservatives had switched their tune from one of denying the existence of climate change, to becoming fierce political warriors against it.
On Friday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced $1.5 billion to fund renewable energy projects with its new ecoEnergy Renewable Initiative. Add to this a shiny new environment minister, in the form of John Baird touring the country to prove his party’s new greener-than-thou status, and you’ve got a Conservative Party with a new priority.
Why the sudden change of heart?
It seems that Harper is having a hard time maintaining a firm grip on the hearts and minds of the constituency that put his party in power. A constituency that is no longer as incensed about the sponsorship scandal, but is increasingly concerned about climate change.
To their credit, the Conservatives have responded swiftly to opinion polls that show Canadians actually care about the environment.
Harper is working furiously to polish his party’s tarnished track record on the environment.
He even changed his personal tune, going from “the science is still evolving” to his recent statement to the CBC’s Don Newman: “I think my criticism was principally that the (Kyoto) targets were unreachable. Canada had taken on the most onerous targets in the world; I saw no evidence that there was a plan to meet them . . . If anything, in the last four or five years, the evidence has strengthened that we have to take real and substantive action.”
Strong words that stand in stark contrast to his former stance on climate change. It seems the new strategy also entails the old standby of ‘blame the Liberals’.
According to the Conservative’s website, “Unlike former Liberal governments who paid lip service to the environment, Canada’s New Government is getting things done for a cleaner, greener Canada – for all Canadians.”
This from a government that cancelled Liberal initiatives like Energuide, trashed the Kyoto protocol and shut down the government website climatechange.gc.ca.
In a cunning use of diversionary tactics, the Conservatives have been hurling accusations of environmental negligence at the opposition to make themselves look better.
The fact is, the Conservatives are panicking. Having grossly misjudged the priorities of Canadians, they’re now backtracking as fast as they can to erase their embarrassing record and appear proactive when it comes to the environment.
They’ve realized that to get from a minority to a majority status in Parliament (or even retain the minority) in the next election, they’re going to have to paint themselves green to get votes. And that means painting over past environmental blunders. The most important of these being environment minister Rona Ambrose, who was recently dispensed with in favour of John Baird.
Another important issue they’ll have to tackle is the Clean Air Act, brought in by the Harper government which received widespread disapproval both in Canada and internationally. They’ve decided to gloss over their disregard for the Kyoto protocol by throwing money at innovation.
In reality, the funds being dedicated to the environment are all recycled Liberal ideas posing as fresh innovations. The fact is, the environment didn’t even crack Harper’s top five issues for action, outlined in January of last year.
While it may be encouraging to see the government focusing on the problem of climate change, it is not certain that any of these initiatives will achieve what they promise. The government has already made their priorities known and no amount of money can erase the damage they’ve done through cutting important programs.
With another federal election looming on the horizon, these actions by the Conservative government should be recognized for what they are; election promises. And we all know how reliable those are.