According to NDP leader Jack Layton, support for the Conservative government’s upcoming budget will rely heavily on how well it addresses the issue of climate change.
“Canada must change from being a laggard to a leader in terms of climate change,” said Layton to a crowd of 200 students at UQAM Jan. 23.
Using the Kyoto Protocol as a primary example of Canada’s lack of accountability on the world stage, Layton explained that strict legislation must be adopted quickly.
“We’ve never been a country that takes our treaty obligations lightly, and we shouldn’t start now. [The NDP is] trying to force this government to abandon its anti-environmental stance and to move,” Layton said.
He added that the NDP will demand that the Conservative budget include a clear timetable outlining their plan to reach the UN-mandated Millenium Development Goal of 0.7 per cent.
This commitment demands that countries contribute 0.7 per cent of their gross national product (GNP) to development assistance overseas.
As of June 2005, 16 of the 22 countries involved had met or planned to meet the 0.7 per cent goal by 2015. Canada, however, has yet to set a schedule for achieving its promise.
“We need to know that our development dollars are well spent, that they promote equality between women and men, and that they are expanding human rights and democratic accountability rather than merely defending Canadian corporate interests,” Layton said.
As such, calling Prime Minister Harper’s Clean Air Act “oxy-moronically named,” Layton said Canada must stop subsidizing big oil and gas companies, and stop them from polluting even more.
Layton explained that if Canada chooses to maintain the current state of affairs, the country’s reputation will be not only be tarnished, but its place in international relations will rapidly spiral downwards.
“But it’s bigger than our reputation alone,” said Layton, adding that Canada’s military presence in Afghanistan is another growing cause for concern.
He explained that the Liberal and Conservative governments of recent years have put Canada in a very dangerous situation and have ignored the country’s historic role as peacekeepers.
“We are undermining any prospect of long-term dialogue and peace with the Muslim world. A more productive role for Canada would be to lend its hand in diplomatic efforts, re-construction and development with an aim to build lasting peace in the region,” Layton said.
Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan is aligned with the government’s new worldview, Layton explained. This worldview, he said, is one closely aligned with that of U.S. President George W. Bush.
“Harper keeps saying – like George Bush – that this war can be won. But our presence [in Afghanistan] isn’t making Afghans any safer right now, nor are we improving the living conditions,” he said.
Ultimately, Layton explained that Canada is at a fork in the road. It can either continue ignoring its international commitments and the plight of millions of individuals worldwide, or it can start a new path of diplomacy and internationalism.
He urged Quebecers and Canadians alike to defy the country’s current government and choose the latter. “Today is the first year anniversary of the Stephen Harper government,” Layton said. “And I’m not inclined to sing ‘Happy Birthday’.”