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Dear Ryan: Canada's policy on the environment

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Ryan Leef
Member of Parliament, Yukon
Open Letter #8
December, 2011

Dear Ryan,

With Christmas almost upon us, I'd hoped to send you a warm letter sharing a few quotes from Charles Dickens. However, an agreement struck on December 11th in Durban commits both developed and developing countries to make a climate action plan by 2015 to be implemented by 2020. This was followed by news that Canada has formally withdrawn from the Kyoto Protocol.

So it is with sorrow that I write my eighth letter on the Conservative government's policy on the environment.

On the Durban Agreement, Christiana Figueres, UN Framework Convention on Climate Change executive secretary said, "I salute the countries who made this agreement. They have all laid aside some cherished objectives of their own to meet a common purpose, a long-term solution to climate change."

Others are less optimistic. Celine Charveriat from Oxfam stated, "Negotiators have sent a clear message to the world's hungry: Let them eat carbon."

The Guardian reported that "Bob Ward of the Grantham Institute at the London School of Economics said the current pledges from countries to cut their greenhouse gas emissions were not enough to hold global temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, beyond which scientists say climate change becomes catastrophic and irreversible."

The International Energy Agency believes there will be irreversible climate change in five years. Fatih Birol, their chief economist said. "I am very worried -- if we don't change direction now on how we use energy, we will end up beyond what scientists tell us is the minimum [for safety]. The door will be closed forever."

So, we all have reason to worry. Will resource industries respond to the news by ramping up production, and thereby green house gases, to increase their profits as much as possible before 2020? Will governments beggar the deal so that it has no teeth by 2015?

Canada has pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol because it has been and continues to be unwilling to reduce its carbon footprint; preferring to base its economy and future on developing archaic dirty energy sources rather than investing in the clean technologies that will be the economic engines of the 21st century.

It is no secret that the Conservative Party openly favours corporate well-being over the health of the environment. In 2006, then Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Loyola Hearne, helped to block a United Nations moratorium on bottom trawling, also known as drag net fishing, in the deep seas. Canada was the only developed country to oppose a UN listing of chrysotile, a type of asbestos, as a hazardous chemical. The recent draft of Canada's coal regulations, pitched to the public as environmental reform, would allow conventional coal-burning generators, worse emitters of green house gases than the tar sands, to be built until 2015 but not held accountable for emissions until 2060.

The 2010 Budget Bill C-9 contained amendments that weakened the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, which regulates the impact of industrial activity on the environment. Federal projects, most notably the stimulus package projects, have been exempted from review. The scope of assessment of private sector projects is left to the discretion of the Minister of the Environment.

Funding for scientific research has been reduced. Last month it was announced that funding for the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences would not be renewed. According to the Globe and Mail, jobs in Environment Canada are to be reduced by 21 per cent, 1,211 jobs in total. In case cut backs aren't sufficient to limit informed dissent, the government scientists that remain have to have prior approval of their public statements by the Prime Minister's Office. They have been effectively gagged.

In a strategic move, the prime minister appointed a former member of the media who understands propaganda rather than someone who understands science, to the Ministry of the Environment. Given Environment Minister Peter Kent's performance, perhaps we should ask the oil sector to pay his salary directly rather than taxpayers.

While defending the controversial Keystone XL pipeline plan from Canadian critics, Mr. Kent said, "One of the opposition parties has taken the treacherous course of leaving the domestic debate and heading abroad to attack a legitimate Canadian resource which is being responsibly developed and regulated," thus signalling to Canadians that those who oppose any energy sector activities are traitors.

Imagine if the Conservative government, like Scrooge, underwent a sea change. Imagine if we reduced our carbon footprint, negotiated in good faith and worked to put teeth into the Durban Agreement? My Christmas wish is for a better future for our grandchildren.

Ryan, instead of quotes from Dickens, I will leave you with another inspiring quote.

"Recognizing that:
climate change poses a serious threat to the economic well-being, public health, natural resources and environment of Canada;

the impacts of climate change are already unfolding in Canada, particularly in the Arctic;

scientific research on the impacts of climate change has led to broad agreement that an increase in the global average surface temperature of two degrees Celsius or more above the level prevailing at the start of the industrial period would constitute dangerous climate change;

scientific research has also identified the atmospheric concentration levels at which greenhouse gases must be stabilized in order to stay within two degrees of global warming and thereby prevent dangerous climate change;

and this legislation is intended to ensure that Canada reduces greenhouse gas emissions to an extent similar to that required by all industrialized countries in order to prevent dangerous climate change, in accordance with the scientific evidence on the impacts of increased levels of global average surface temperature and the corresponding levels of atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases.

Now, therefore, Her Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate and House of Commons of Canada, enacts as follows:

The purpose of this Act is to ensure that Canada contributes fully to the stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmos¬phere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.

The Government of Canada shall ensure that Canadian greenhouse gas emissions are reduced, subject to the ultimate objectives of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change."

The above is from the preamble to Bill C-311, Climate Change Accountability Act, passed by Parliament and killed without debate in 2010 by Conservative Senators who waited secretly for the first day when there weren't enough Opposition members present in the Senate to stop them.

May your time in Ottawa be constructive and may you always walk on the high road.

Respectfully yours,
Linda Leon

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