Apparently, the White House was less than pleased at the lecture they received from Paul Martin during last week’s climate change conference. The conference, held in Montreal, was aimed at negotiating an agreement to follow up on the Kyoto Protocol, a treaty that the Americans have refused to sign. It provided Martin with a convenient opportunity to do something that he loves to do: talk tough on the international stage in the hope that it will bolster his support at home. Unfortunately for Martin, the American government refused to play along.

As is his habit, Martin mouthed all of the right platitudes — in this case, about the need to halt global warming. According to his speech to conference participants, “If we’re going to deal with climate change, concerted action is essential. And so is leadership. We need to accept that with our behaviour, with our actions, we affect one another and the planet we share. We are in this together.”

If he had stopped there, he might have got away without facing any serious questions about his own government’s record (after all, the national news media have a horse race to cover, so why would they bother themselves with something as boring as actual policy?)

Martin played with fire when he decided to criticize the United States for its record on the issue. “To the reticent nations, including the United States, I say there is such a thing as a global conscience, and now is the time to listen to itâe¦ yet there are nations that resist, voices that attempt to diminish the urgency or dismiss the science — or declare, either in word or in indifference, that this is not our problem to solveâe¦. The time is past to seek comfort in denial. The time is past to pretend that any nation can stand alone, isolated from the global community — for there is but one Earth, and we share it, and there can be no hiding on any island, in any city, within any country, no matter how prosperous, from the consequences of inaction.”

Of course, the record on the United States on climate change is absolutely pathetic and it deserves to be criticized. Thus, it made perfect sense when Stavros Dimas, the European Union’s chief representative at the meeting, told reporters that the EU “will continue to talk to our American partners and remind them of their commitments.” And, within the United States, a group of 24 Senators wrote a letter last week attacking the Bush administration’s position going into the Montreal meetings. Likewise, a group of over 200 city mayors made a decision to publicly endorse the Kyoto Protocol after their federal government refused to ratify it.

The difference between those criticisms and Martin’s criticism is that those critics have at least a tiny bit of credibility on the issue of reducing greenhouse emissions. When Martin drew in the United States, he invited unflattering comparisons about Canada’s record under the past 12 years of Liberal government. Guess what? As bad as the American record is, we’ve done even worse.

When Paul Martin co-wrote the first Liberal Red Book back in 1993, he promised that a Liberal government would cut greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 20 per cent over the next decade. When Canada signed the Kyoto Protocol, that target was reduced to a more modest six per cent — but the Liberals couldn’t even meet that.

Instead, according to the United Nations, Canadian greenhouse gas emissions have gone up 24 per cent over 1990 levels. There is a gap of over 1.5 billion tonnes of emissions between what Martin promised and what the Liberals have delivered. In the same period, United States’ emissions went up 13.3 per cent (which is still unacceptable, but clearly not as bad as Canada). In fact, the OECD has reported that Canada has the fastest rate of growth in greenhouse gas emissions in the whole industrialized world.

Even Environment Minister Stephane Dion admits that “Canada is indeed far behind” other countries when it comes to meeting its Kyoto commitments. According to Dion, this is because, “We are the sole Kyoto country that has an industry so strong, especially in the oil and gas industry, which is sending a lot of emissions and which is booming instead of decreasing.” It could also be because the government has refused to support the kind of action that would be needed to actually reduce emissions. For example, in February, the Liberals joined with the Conservatives to defeat an NDP motion calling for mandatory emissions standards on all vehicles sold in Canada.

Earlier this fall, Canada’s own Commissioner of the Environment, Johanne Gélinas, reported that “the federal government is chronically unable to sustain initiatives once they are launched.” Gélinas added, “When it comes to protecting the environment, bold announcements are made and then often forgotten as soon as the confetti hits the ground.”

In other words — given his record — Paul Martin is in no position to be lecturing anyone else about the need for action on global warming.


Scott Piatkowski

Scott Piatkowski is a former columnist for He wrote a weekly column for 13 years that appeared in the Waterloo Chronicle, the Woolwich Observer and ECHO Weekly. He has also written for Straight...