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Hill Dispatches

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Karl Nerenberg has been reporting on federal politics from Parliament Hill for rabble.ca since September, 2011. In his long career, he has won numerous awards as a broadcaster and documentary filmmaker.

Canada is the 'black sheep' of climate change, says NDP

| March 31, 2015
Canada is the 'black sheep' of climate change, says NDP

It is two out of three for the North American continent.

The United States and Mexico have both submitted detailed and ambitious plans for combatting climate change to the United Nations, ahead of the Paris meeting that will try to forge a new climate change agreement in December of this year.

The U.S. plan relies on the authority of the President, since the Republican-controlled Congress would not likely agree to any serious anti-global warming measures.

It includes regulations to make steep cuts in emissions from cars and power plants, coupled with a speedy timetable.

The plan assumes that President Obama will formulate and put in place all necessary regulations before he leaves office less than two years from now.

Mexico promises to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 22 per cent over the next 15 years. 

Canada's most southern NAFTA partner also pledges to cut what are known as "short lived climate pollutants" (SLCPs) such as soot and methane by 25 per cent over the same period.

As a developing country, Mexico could be entitled to financial assistance from richer countries.

But it has made its pledge without any conditions.

If it were to receive aid from climate funds, or if there were to be a global price on carbon, Mexico pledges it would significantly increase its greenhouse gas and SLCP reduction targets.

After Mexico made its announcement, U.S. President Obama and Mexican President Enriqiue Pena Nieto committed their countries to the creation of a joint climate policy task force, whose job would be to "further deepen policy and regulatory coordination in specific areas" including fuel efficiency and electric grid improvement.

The third NAFTA member, Canada, was notably absent from this agreement.

Harper government hides behind federalism

The climate change commitments from the United States and Mexico follow those of the 28-member European Union, Russia, oil-rich Norway and Switzerland.

All have submitted greenhouse gas reduction plans to the United Nations in advance of the Paris talks.

As for Canada, the Official Opposition environment critic, NDP Deputy Leader Megan Leslie, asked Conservative Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq about this country's plans during Question Period on Tuesday.

Here's how it went:

Leslie: "The government should have presented its greenhouse gas reduction targets and plan by today. Sadly I don't think we will ever see that plan...Mexico, the United States and Russia have submitted their plans. Why has Canada become the black sheep on climate change?" 

Aglukkaq: "We will submit Canada's greenhouse gas emissions targets in the weeks ahead. We are seeking information from the provinces and the territories on how they will meet their targets. Our Conservative government is the first government in Canadian history to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We will continue to take actions in reducing greenhouse gas emissions without introducing a job-killing carbon tax..."

 Leslie: "The minister's talking points continue to be more fiction than fact because the government consistently misses deadlines. It missed its own repeated deadlines for oil and gas regulations and it is on track to miss its reduction targets. Now it is missing out on an important North American approach to fighting climate change. Why is Canada refusing to co-operate with Mexico and the United States, our NAFTA partners, when it comes to protecting our environment and our economy?" 

Aglukkaq: "We welcome the United States' announcement. We have always said that to effectively reduce global greenhouse gas emissions all major emitters must be on board. Canada has one of the cleanest electricity system supplies in the world, our energy coming from sources that emit no greenhouse gas emissions, whereas the United States has only 30 per cent. Leading up to Paris, we will continue to take actions to reduce emissions without introducing a job-killing carbon tax..."

Leslie: "The government is not only missing in action it is missing the point. Not only is climate change a threat to our health, our environment and our economy, it is an economic opportunity that is waiting for us. A study by the new Climate Institute shows that the U.S. targets announced today will reduce its reliance on foreign oil, avoid 7,000 premature pollution deaths every year and create 470,000 renewable energy jobs by 2030." 

To that Aglukkaq could only repeat her previous, prepared answer: "We are seeking information from the provinces as well as the territories on how they will meet their targets....We will continue to take actions without introducing a carbon tax proposed by the NDP and supported by the Liberals."

Using the federal nature of Canada as an excuse for inaction is a strange argument for this government to make. 

When it has wanted to act unilaterally and without consultation on a number of matters in which the provinces have great interest the Harper government has not hesitated.

Witness this government's unilateral scrapping of the federal-provincial health funding arrangement, its destruction of gun registry data despite Quebec's extremely vigorous objections (and efforts to stop it in court), banning of safe injection sites and imposition of minimum sentences which many provinces vigorously oppose.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May rose in her place on Tuesday to point out that the European Union has 28 sovereign member states and yet had no trouble coming up with a common greenhouse gas reduction strategy well in advance of the March 31, 2015 deadline.

Samuel Johnson said "patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels."

In Canada, these days, one could substitute "federalism" for "patriotism." 

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