Over the last decade, many Canadians have been saying either that climate change was not really occurring or that Canadians would never support effective climate policies--or both. The Liberals' disappointing result in last October's general election seemed to confirm the naysayers' view of Canadian realpolitik. But all this changed last November 4 with the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States. The naysayers in Canada started to sing in harmony with the new U.S. song sheet.
How should the newly confirmed Liberal leader, Michael Ignatieff, carve out a role for his party on the environment? First and foremost, he needs to be a leader--that is, to articulate lofty but achievable aspirations and goals for the country, communicate these goals convincingly and not try to please everyone all the time. The Green Shift fell off the rails for many reasons: wrong spokesperson, wrong time, poor design, but also because the policy was distorted by trying to give a sop to too many interest groups. Mr. Ignatieff has shown he has the fortitude to stand by his beliefs; I urge him to take strong stands in four areas of environmental policy.
Think environment and economy: The low(er) carbon economy
The classic argument against taking action on environmental problems is the economy card: it will be too costly to business and households. That line of thinking is now both outmoded and risky for Canada. Not only is the world economy transitioning to using fewer carbon-intensive fuels, but more importantly for Canada, the Obama Administration has signalled strongly that it will--among other policies--aggressively promote renewable energy supply, invest in new technologies to improve energy efficiency and support state and local efforts to improve building codes. Not far behind these lofty goals will be ensuring a "level playing field" with imported products--read trade restrictions for countries that do not follow the U.S. lead with comparable policies. Canada stands to be a beneficiary of the new economy if it gets its carbon act together.
In the new lower carbon economy, there will be more emphasis on renewable energy supply and renewable resources in general; more energy-efficient movement of goods and people; more efficient industrial processes with a lower carbon footprint. Canada is well endowed with natural resources that position it to be a world leader in this economy: lots of renewable energy potential, water resources, agricultural...