"If Stephen Harper really loves Canada, he'll fight to keep this country cold."
-- Dave Bidini, renowned hockey writer, on the Conservative leader's promise to abandon the Kyoto Accord.
With Conservatives in power for the first time in thirteen years, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper thought it would be interesting to make a few predictions about the new government's environmental agenda. Based on the party's statements to the media and written platform, we predict that the following environmental themes (if any) will develop in the Great Lakes Basin this year:
Cracking Down on Cargo Sweeping
One of two oft-repeated environmental promises on the election trail was the Conservatives' vow to crack down on the shipping industry. Last fall, articles in Now and This magazines drew national attention to the rampant practice of "cargo-sweeping"- cleaning out the holds of cargo ships and dumping the waste directly into the Great Lakes. The shipping industry dumps some 2,500 tons of petroleum coke, lead ore, coal and other contaminants into the lakes each year. The Conservatives railed against the practice throughout the campaign, riled that 14 of the 130 ships that haul cargo around the Great Lakes belong to the recently-defeated Liberal Prime Minister. Cargo-sweeping is illegal, Waterkeeper has argued. And the Conservatives supported this position while in opposition. It is not yet clear what enforcement program they will introduce to curb the practice.
Abandoning Kyoto, introducing the Clean Air Act
The second oft-repeated environmental promise was the pledge to abandon the Kyoto Accord in favour of a "home-grown" Clean Air Act. Arguing that the Kyoto targets cannot be met, the new Prime Minister believes "made-in-Canada" targets will be more effective in reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. It is not yet clear how new targets would speed up emissions reductions or protect the Great Lakes from the effects of global warming.
Selling water to the world market
One Conservative member from British Columbia commented during the campaign that he hopes to increase sales of water to other countries. James Lunney suggested that water withdrawals would have minimal impacts on ocean levels, create jobs, and quench the thirst of an "increasingly desperate" world. Mr. Lunney told constituents he had yet to hear an argument to dissuade him from the idea that Canada could develop a "good export market" for its water, aside from "emotional rhetoric." It is still unknown if Mr. Lunney's views are shared by party leaders or if the Conservatives are interested in joining Ontario and Quebec, as they work with the eight Great Lakes states to regulate water use in the Great Lakes Basin. In the future, the Conservatives hope to subject every international agreement to a vote in the federal Parliament, a process that the Great Lakes Basin Sustainable Water Resources Agreement did not undergo.
Unclear about nuclear power
The modern Conservative Party is usually associated with Canada's western provinces, particularly oil-rich Alberta (the party swept the province, winning in 100% of the ridings). In the past, the western-based Conservatives pledged to end subsidies to the eastern-based nuclear industry. Heavily promoted by the Liberals, the industry's government-sponsored lobby organization has received close to $75-billion in subsidies over the last 50 years. In this election, however, the Conservatives campaigned on the pledge to cater to regional interests and left the proverbial door wide open for discussions with pro-nuclear provinces. The party told the Sierra Club of Canada that it believes, "nuclear power should remain part of our energy mix to ensure security of supply and continued economic growth."
Ontario has been clamoring for federal help to expand its nuclear program recently, and the Conservatives just might provide the financial support the province seeks. Alarmingly, the Conservatives currently believe that the lobby group Atomic Energy of Canada provides, "a valuable oversight function ensuring public safety and environmental responsibility." In fact, the company has no regulatory function, and the Conservatives will need a crash course in federal energy regulation before they agree to build more nuclear plants on the Great Lakes.
Beefing up property rights
Though it is highly unlikely that a fragile minority government will be able to change the Canadian Constitution in the near future, the Conservative Party hopes to add property rights to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The party also wants to pass legislation that will compensate people who are deprived of property as a result of government legislation or policy. This proposal harkens to the controversial "Takings Clause" in the United States, which is being used to strike down environmental protections unless the government compensates landowners. If this kind of legislation is introduced, the federal government might be forced to pay polluters to comply with environmental laws.