Harper to Crack Down on Eco-Criminals? Arrest Yourself!

Prime Minster Harper tried to “green” his reputation as a law-and-order tough guy this week by pledging to crack down on polluters and those that flaunt environmental regulations.

I have one piece of advice for Mr. Harper to prove to Canadians he is serious about this important initiative: Turn yourself in.

When it comes to flouting our international environmental commitments - as well as our domestic laws and regulations - the Harper government is seemingly beyond rehabilitation.

Lets have a look at a small selection from their rap sheet:

Endangered Species
Stephen Harper ignored legal obligations under Canada’s Species at Risk Act for preparing recovery plans for over 105 endangered species including the critically threatened Northern spotted owl, whooping crane, swift fox and Vancouver Island marmot.

Minister of Environment Rona Ambrose was later sued by five prominent environmental groups for failing to list the spotted owl as an endangered species. Ms. Ambrose opined that she did not believe the bird faced an “imminent” threat to its survival, even though only 17 owls remain in the wild.

“If the Species at Risk Act doesn’t apply to 17 birds, when will it ever apply?” asked Devon Page, a lawyer for EcoJustice Canada.

The Harper government suppressed the release of an international investigation that the federal government is systematically ignoring its own laws regarding habitat protection and water pollution.

At issue was the allegation that Canada was ignoring the illegal destruction of some 45,000 migratory bird nests annually through clear-cut logging in the boreal forest, and the massive release of toxic effluent from pulp mills into Canada’s lakes, rivers and streams.

If Mr. Harper is doing such great job enforcing our environmental laws, what does he have to hide?

Climate Change
Harper ignored Canada’s binding international obligations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under the Kyoto Protocol, throwing in the towel without even trying.

Not satisfied with flouting international law, the Harper government also violated our own Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act , passed by the Canadian parliament and becoming law on June 22, 2007.

This act requires that Canada develop and execute a plan to reduce carbon emissions as per our obligations under Kyoto. Several environmental groups sue the Harper government in federal court for defying the will of parliament.

"This government has broken the law and, as Canadian citizens, we have both a moral and legal imperative to insist on enforcement of our own laws on climate action,” said Beatrice Olivastri, chief executive of Friends of the Earth Canada who filed the suit.

Oil Sands
In March 2008, a coalition of environmental groups successfully argues in federal court that the environmental assessment for the massive $8 billion Kearl tar sands expansion was woefully inadequate.

Remarkably the federal and provincial governments had concluded that the project would cause “ no significant environmental impacts” even though it would strip mine 200 square kilometers of boreal forest and dig up enough bitumen to dump 3.7 million tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere every year – the equivalent of 800,000 passenger vehicles.

The response from the Harper government to the court’s decision ? His cabinet overrode the judge and re-issued the necessary permits within four weeks. So much for respect for our legal system or environmental laws.

Mr. Harpers’ record on the environment is frankly laughable. For him to now portray himself as some kind of green law-and-order sheriff is even more ludicrous.

Stephen Harper is no environmental tough guy. He is a dangerous offender.


Hyperbole and The Myth of the Fiscal Conservative

The Liberals released their 76-page platform this week, including the proposed carbon tax, to predictable ridicule from the Conservatives. Prime Minister Harper ranted against the idea of taxing carbon as “crazy”, “insane”, and something that would “screw everyone across the country” and “wreck” the economy. The Tory leader went on to trash the Liberal plan as “a work of political and economic incompetence”.

Wow Stephen. Calm down.

Besides the fact the carbon taxes have been widely used throughout the world without the sky falling, or that independent economists have reviewed the Liberal plan and found it sound , perhaps now is as good a time as any to step back and ask the simple question: who has a better record of managing the economy, liberals or conservatives?

Lets start with the royalty of conservative movement: Ronald Reagan. Was the Gipper a restrained fiscal conservative? That’s certainly the mythology.

Yet by the end of Reagan's second term the national debt ballooned by more than 15% as a percent of GDP and totaled $2.6 trillion. Between 1980 and 1990, the national deficit had tripled to $220 billion. When he left office, the country owed more to foreigners than it was owed, and the United States moved from being the world's largest international creditor to the world's largest debtor nation.

Then there is George W. Bush, who inherited a $128 billion surplus in 2001 and yet has so far ran up the national debt by a whopping $2.78 trillion - not including of course the recent bailout of Wall Street on his watch that will cost the taxpayers an additional $700 billion.

The scale of this disaster is only now coming into grim focus and will no doubt hobble the economy of the US for generations into the future. Besides his obvious incompetence, Bush’s contribution to crushing national debt was fueled mainly by tax cuts and military spending.

Here in Canada, Brain Mulroney spent taxpayer’s money like a drunken sailor, racking up a $42 billion deficit in his last year in office. During his tenure the national debt ballooned by $338 billion, an increase of 200%.

Even Margaret Thatcher was appalled, stating “As leader of the Progressive Conservatives I thought [Mulroney] put too much emphasis on the adjective and not enough on the noun."

The fact is that so-called fiscal conservatives on both sides of the border have a shameful record of managing the economy, and typically tear through taxpayer’s money like bingo winner on a bender.

Which brings us to Stephen Harper. When he became Prime Minster less than two years ago he inherited a surplus of $12 billion. In that short time, Canada has already fallen into deficit territory.

This ends an eleven-year streak of budget surpluses posted by their predecessors, the Liberal Party, whose fiscal discipline in the 1990’s finally tackled the deficit, delivering budgetary surpluses every year from 1997.

Like Bush and Reagan, Harper undermined previous surpluses primarily through ill-advised tax cuts and ballooning military spending.

Harper’s cuts to the GST reduced income from that tax by 21% and likely cost the federal treasury over $14 billion up till the end of 2007. While Harper is trained as an economist, his colleagues were almost unanimous in calling the GST cuts a dumb idea. "Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid," was the analysis from Christopher Ragan, a McGill University economist.

Incredibly, the tax cuts brought by Harper have cost more than all federal transfer payments for health and social programs combined. In other words, if Harper had not slashed government revenues, the federal government could have doubled its support for healthcare, post-secondary education, and social assistance.

At the same time, Harper committed Canada to spend an additional $15 billion on the military, which later became $50 billion . Some predict the actual amount may be closer to $100 billion . Who knows? Harper isn’t telling. Incidentally, Canada now has the worst performing economy in the G7.

Ideologues will no doubt dispute the fact that “fiscal conservatives” like Mr. Harper have a serious credibility problem when it comes to managing the economy. These holdouts are either be blind to history, or willfully misrepresenting the facts. Sadly, shrill hyperbole often substitutes for meaningful analysis south of the border.

Keep that in mind when Harper rants against a carbon tax with terms like “crazy”, “insane” or saying it will “screw everybody” or “wreck” the economy.

Canadians are not stupid, and we expect more from our leaders than hyperbolic fear mongering - especially on an issue as important as climate change.


Harper's Climate Snow Job

Mr. Harper’s credibility on the climate file hit a new low recently when he claimed with a straight face that the Liberal’s proposed carbon tax would “wreck” the economy.

Perhaps the Prime Minster should look at some of the other economies around the world that are apparently doing well in spite of being saddled with such a radical and un-tested policy..

The Swedes clearly don’t appreciate that their economy is in peril due to the carbon tax that they brought in seventeen years ago. Admittedly, it is a dog eat dog world and perhaps Mr. Harper is hoping that Sweden will unwittingly sabotage their economy with this reckless policy that has resulted in them being ranked #4 in the world in competitiveness.

Strangely, this un-tried experiment has also reduced their carbon emissions by 9% below 1990 levels, while their economy grew by 44%.

Since we are part of the Commonwealth, it might be courteous if Harper passed his unique insights on to the United Kingdom. They probably don't know that their economy is going down the tubes due to a carbon tax they introduced in 1993. This rash adventure has lowered their per capita carbon emissions to less than half of Canada’s.

Likewise, The Netherlands, Norway and Finland are apparently in danger of economic collapse due their taxes on carbon that were brought in over ten years ago. All have per capita carbon emissions far below Canada.

The simple fact is that carbon taxes have successfully been implemented all around the world and have consistently reduced emissions while stimulating a shift away from the carbon economy. Meanwhile here in Canada, we are spewing out more climate altering-carbon per person than almost any country on Earth.

It is not that Canadians don’t want to pitch in on this planetary emergency. A poll from last year showed that two thirds of Canadians believed that climate change was a “very serious ” problem – a level of concern second only to France.

Canadians have also not been moved from this opinion by rising fuel prices. A poll from only two months ago shows that Canadians are still demanding aggressive action on climate change – even after being hit by ballooning energy prices.

Our Prime Minster is simply out of touch with the core Canadian value of respecting the environment. Harper’s fear mongering around a carbon tax is the latest in a long record of disgraceful inaction on dealing with the most pressing environmental problem, climate change.

While the rest of the world is discouraging carbon consumption by sensibly raising the price of dumping climate altering chemicals into the atmosphere, Harper is making it even cheaper. This month he proposed to slash excise taxes on diesel fuel. Burn, baby, burn.

Then of course there is the well-established costs of doing nothing on climate change. Nicholas Stern , the former Chief Economist of the World Bank reported that unmitigated climate change could cost the world economy 20% of global GDP. Lord Stern warned:

"Our actions over the coming few decades could create risks of major disruption to economic and social activity, later in this century and in the next, on a scale similar to those associated with the great wars and the economic depression of the first half of the 20th century”

Progressive countries the world over must be shaking their heads wondering what happened to Canada’s hard-won reputation of being on the right side of history.

The world is moving to solve this critical issue yet Canada remains a big part of the problem - and that problem is Stephen Harper.


Harper vs. the World

Prime Minister Stephen Harper showed off his strong leadership this week by refusing to follow other party leaders in offsetting the carbon emissions from his campaign air travel.

Why should he? Mr. Harper has always been completely disdainful of “so-called ” green house gases. He shouldn’t have to kowtow to such politically correct posturing by his opponents by even feigning to care about global warming.

He has never allowed himself to be bullied by those eggheads at the IPCC , whose latest synthesis report was summed up by the New York Times : “that reductions in greenhouse gasses had to start immediately to avert a global climate disaster”

What does the largest peer-review exercise in the history of science have to tell someone like Harper, who instead relies on good old fashion common sense?

As Harper pointed out in a fundraising letter , this “controversial theory ” of climate change is based on “tentative and contradictory scientific evidence" and focuses on carbon dioxide, which is "essential to life."

He went on to point out the Kyoto Accord is “essentially a socialist scheme to suck money out of wealth-producing nations”.

That’s the kind of courageous talk we want from our Prime Minister, and we should be proud that he represents Canada to the world. Not since the days of Pierre Trudeau has a Canadian leader make such a splash on the world stage.

According to the Canadian Press at the Kampala climate negotiations last year, “some foreign diplomats were so disgusted that they sought out Canadian journalists to tell them what their country was doing behind closed doors...One called the Harper approach a perfect recipe for making sure nothing happens.”

But who cares what the world thinks of Canada? Certainly not a strong leader like Harper. He had the guts to cause German Chancellor Angela Merkel to fume that, “Of course we are not happy at this point that Canada has abandoned Kyoto's goals.”

Nor has he has ever pandered to special interests like the David Suzuki who said, "Stephen Harper not only opposes Kyoto, but he refutes the science. He’s back in the dinosaur era. Harper is just totally out of it."

And it’s not just Suzuki. These “special interests” are increasingly the Canadian public. A poll last year found that Canadians were more concerned about climate change than any other developed country except France. Two thirds of Canadians felt that climate change was a “very serious problem”.

Another poll released just this summer showed that even after ballooning energy costs, Canadians are still demanding action from the politicians on climate change. It takes a strong leader like Harper to completely ignore the know-nothings in the scientific community, our trading partners, or the voting public.

As far as the carbon offsets for his plane, Harper should be commended burning as much jet fuel as he can. After all he is only supporting our oil and gas industry. He showed his loyalty for the oil patch by flying from Ottawa to Quebec City to Vancouver - all in one day!

Now that’s leadership.


Cheap Diesel Bad for Economy (and Planet)

How do you win an election? Roll out the pork of course. And so Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announces a proposed tax cut on diesel fuel, even if it will dig Canada even deeper into an economic and climate hole.

Canada already emits more carbon per capita than almost any other country on Earth. Our total carbon emissions are number seven worldwide – more than the United Kingdom, which has almost twice our population. Harper’s solution: make fuel even cheaper.

While this might play well in an election campaign it is the exactly the wrong direction to be taking our nation and our economy.

First of all the 2% reduction in excise tax would only reduce the cost of filling up a 100 litre fuel tank by less than $3.00. The Globe and Mail today estimated that the proposed cut would save consumers 1/3 of a cent on a loaf of bread. Yet this gimmick will cost the Canadian taxpayer over $600 million annually.

Harper himself agrees this is a dumb idea. In May of this year he told the St. Catherines Standard "The ability of governments to affect the prices of gasoline per se is so small that it's not worth doing."

What a difference an election makes... Can someone say "flip flop"?

Such pandering need not make sense. It is about Harper getting a majority. That quest has already cost the country dearly.

Canada’s surplus has shrunk by 88% since 2000-01. In fact, Canada has already fallen into deficit territory this year. In April and May of 2008, Canada had a deficit of $517 million, compared to a surplus of $2.78 billion in the same two months of 2007. This ends an eleven-year streak of budget surpluses posted largely by the Tory's predecessors.

Harper’s cuts to the GST reduced revenues from that tax by 21% and cost the federal treasury over $14 billion up till the end of 2007.

While Harper is trained as an economist , his colleagues were almost unanimous in calling the GST cuts a dumb idea.

"Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid," said Christopher Ragan, a McGill University economist who favours the Conservatives.

"I believe it's a poor idea," said economist Mike Veal of McMaster University in Hamilton. He said most economists would choose an income tax cut.

Incredibly, the Tory tax cuts combined have cost more than all federal transfer payments for health and social programs combined. In other words, if Harper had not brought in these cuts, the federal government could have doubled its support for healthcare, post-secondary education, and social assistance.

By the way, Canada now has the worst performing economy in the G7.

So here we go again. The Conservative party is not only undoing almost two decades of work to bring our deficit under control, they are undermining the ability of Canada to move towards a green economy.

For a so-called laissez faire economist, Harper is instead meddling in the marketplace and hitching our wagon to a dying horse.

Oil prices have ballooned an incredible 500% since 2002. This is a worldwide phenomenon and well outside the control of a middle power like Canada.

This sea change in the global economy is already transforming the behavior of consumers. SUV sales have dropped 27% in 2008. Transit ridership jumped 5.2% in the second quarter of 2008. The world is rapidly moving away from an oil economy. Countries that choose to ignore this, do so at their peril.

Yet Harper’s prescription for our oil addiction is like handing a bottle of booze to an alcoholic. It might be popular in the short-term but its only going to make the problem worse, and delay necessary changes in Canada’s economy to compete in the 21st century.

We have a long way to go to transforming ourselves into a low carbon country. For the sake of our planet, and our pocketbook, the sooner we get going the better. Stephen Harper is clearly the wrong man for the job.

This ran on desmogblog.com on Sept 10, 2008