Worldwide, the populist right does not have a common ideology or program. It varies from country to country. Its tenets could include nationalism, hostility to immigrants and refugees, varying degrees of racism and Islamophobia, and mistrust of both educated, urban elites and of government.
Some of the attitudes on that list fit the Doug Ford Ontario Conservatives; some do not. There is, however, one key ideological tenet not on the list that unites most on the populist right, especially in North America: radical and fervent anti-environmentalism.
Donald Trump’s greatest successes so far have not been on immigration, health care, or trade. They have been in rolling back significant pieces of environmental legislation and regulation that it took decades for a number of his predecessors to implement.
Trump has scrapped clean air regulations, has muzzled federally funded environmental scientists (including those working for the NASA), has removed environmental protections for workers, has weakened uniform environmental standards for the states, and, of course, has abandoned the Paris Agreement on global warming.
The 45th U.S. president is, quintessentially, the pollution president. He’s all for dirty air, foul water and despoiled land — the more, the better.
Now, there may be some ways in which Ontario Progressive Conservative (PC) leader Ford does not resemble Trump. Ford is less given to openly expressed xenophobia than the U.S. president, for instance. On the environment, though, Ford is a Trump clone.
Global warming is caused by somebody or something, but not by me
There has been much fuss in the media this week about a tape on which it appears Ford offers to pay the memberships of potential PCers in order to get them to sign up and support the nomination of his favourite candidate in Toronto’s Etobicoke Centre.
There is much less fuss and bother about some fairly extreme comments one Ottawa area PC candidate made about climate change.
At an all-candidates meeting in the Carleton riding, on Wednesday, May 23, PC candidate Goldie Ghamari said that while she accepts climate change is happening, it is not, in her view, caused by humans.
Like other climate change doubters who want to be at least a bit polite about their position — such as the current U.S. ambassador to Canada, Kelly Craft — Ghamari tried to make the case that there are two, more or less equally valid, sides to the global warming issue. She recognized the fact that there are scientists, perhaps even many scientists, whose research has led them to conclude that climate change is human caused. But there are others, Ghamari added, including “PhDs in this room” who have a different view.
In the end, Ghamari was trying to make a case for her leader’s pledge to scrap Ontario’s cap-and-trade system and resist any federal carbon tax regime. The people of Carleton riding are not the culprits behind climate change, the PC candidate insisted, and even if they were to drive their cars less it would make no significant difference.
This appeal to self-centredness, know-nothing-ness and smugness — which is central to Ford’s case — can be effective. It is an argument based not on real facts, or even alternative pseudo-facts. Facts are irrelevant to this stance. Ford and his acolytes are trucking in something potentially more powerful than evidence: attitude, and a truculently who-cares attitude at that. All of Canada, they say, with its mere 36 million people on a planet of more than seven billion, is an insignificant contributor to global emissions, whatever impact those emissions might or might not have. So why should we worry? Might as well turn on your cars and let them idle all night.
There are, of course, facts in this argument, even if some politicians find it easy to ignore them. For instance, while Canada ranks 38th among all countries, in population, it ranks much higher, number 10, in total carbon emissions. That’s a lot of emissions for little old us. Per capita, Canada’s emissions are about three time those of Indonesia, and twice those of fellow G-7 club member Germany.
It is unfortunate that the scandal mongering of the current Ontario campaign has demanded so much media attention. Indeed, as we go to press, the Conservatives are promising to reveal a scandal of their own. They say they have evidence of NDP candidates linked, somehow, to anti-Semitism. We’ll see.
There is so much energy in this campaign devoted to venality and vice, however trivial it may be, that it does not look like we’re going to have much of a serious policy debate, on climate change or anything else that really matters.
As for Goldi Ghamari — she went further than Ford has ever dared. He has never out-and-out denied a human cause for climate change.
It is telling, though, that the PC leader has said nothing at all, not a word, to disassociate himself from his candidate in Carleton.
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