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  September 12, 2008

Canadian elections and climate change

Environment and cutting green house gas emissions important issues for 4 of 5 major parties
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Dr. Mark S. Winfield is a former Program and Policy Director with the Pembina Institute and founding committee member of the Ontario Smart Growth Network. He is currently an Assistant Professor at York University in the Faculty of Environmental Studies. His academic research is focused in the areas of climate change policy and sustainable energy.


Canadian elections and the environment

CARLO BASILONE: The electoral campaign is underway in Canada after Prime Minister Stephen Harper called an early election for October 14, hoping to strengthen his conservative minority government's hold on power. A major issue in the campaign is expected to be the environment in cutting greenhouse gases.

DR. MARK WINFIELD, ENVIRONMENTAL STUDIES, YORK UNIVERSITY: The government has made an attack on the opposition leader's principal platform, the Green Shift, a central part of its strategy. So the government itself has sort of made a decision that it wants to focus attention on the climate change issue, and more specifically it wants to focus attention on Mr. Dion's proposals for dealing with the issue.

BASILONE: A recent Angus Reid poll places the environment as the third most important issue after health care and the economy, with 88 percent of Canadians saying the environment is very important or moderately important.

WINFIELD: Environment has fallen slightly from where it was earlier this year in terms of the public opinion rankings, although it still is very solidly in third place. And we also know that there's considerable competition on the non-conservative side of the political spectrum, among the Liberals, the NDP, the Greens to a certain degree, the Bloc Québécois, for the same group of voters, all of whom are environmentally concerned. So it's a substantial issue for differentiating themselves vis-à-vis the Conservatives, but also there's competition among those four parties as well in terms of who can appeal to that bloc of relatively progressive voters.

BASILONE: Canada is one of the greatest energy consumers in the world, burning the equivalent of roughly 8,300 kilograms of oil equivalent per person per year. And then there's the Alberta tar sands, 175 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, second only to Saudi Arabia. The Canadian NGO Environmental Defense calls it "the most destructive project on earth." It's about to become Canada's number-one greenhouse gas emitter. Both oil production and gas emissions are expected to multiply as much as four or five times by the year 2015. The tar sands, or more benignly "oil sands," as some want to call them, have been attracting world attention.

Courtesy: 60 Minutes, CBS

Aired on January 22, 2006

VOICEOVER: Creating energy from oil sands requires so much energy that the oil companies wind up spiking greenhouse gas emissions. The oil companies, environmentalists say, are digging up an entire province. Take a helicopter ride over the mines and you'll think you're flying over the moon after a moonquake.


Courtesy: The Guardian

Report by John Vidal

JOHN VIDAL: This is some of the dirtiest oil in the world. This is what we would call the bottom of the barrel. This is the [inaudible] this is the tar, this is almost the stuff which we put on our roads. This is the lowest-quality oil in many ways. And it also requires vast amounts of energy to produce. How much energy are you using to produce this?

BRIAN BAYNARD, VICE PRESIDENT, CANADIAN ASSOCIATION OF PETROLEUM PRODUCERS: We roughly use one barrel of energy on average to produce six barrels. So you're absolutely right. This is energy intensive, it's more expensive to develop, it's more technologically challenging, and it does have a higher environmental impact.


WINFIELD: There's no doubt the tar sands have been the single largest source of growth in greenhouse gas emissions in Canada over the past few years. And there has been considerable—and in fact if they sort of continue on the projected path, that's going to become an even more serious problem. So, clearly, stopping the growth in emissions is a first step, and some sort of moratorium has been proposed by a number of people, including non-governmental organizations.

BASILONE: On September 5, the Sierra Club of Canada released "A Voters Guide to the Climate Crisis Election." In it they said, "Canada has one of the highest levels of per capita emissions in the world, so deeper cuts must be made if global equity is to be reached." They also included a report card on the five major parties' environmental platforms. The Liberals were given a B-plus, the NDP a B, the Bloc Québécois a B-minus, the Green Party an A-minus, and the ruling Conservative Party a failing grade—F.

WINFIELD: Clearly, I mean, Mr. Dion has put a very bold proposal on the table around the idea of the Green Shift. It's one that reflects a great deal of thinking about how to deal with the greenhouse gas emission issue in a Canadian context. The Greens have put a relatively strong position. In some ways they argue that Mr. Dion's position is a derivative of theirs. Mr. Layton has taken a pretty strong stand—although he doesn't favor a carbon tax—on some sort of cap-and-trade regime for large industrial emitters. And by comparison, the Conservative position essentially laid out in the "Turning the Corner" document makes it very clear that they have abandoned any notion of any short-term reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. And indeed there have been quite serious questions raised about whether, even if everything goes as they say it will go in the plan, that they won't achieve even the greenhouse gas emission reductions they claim they want to achieve.

BASILONE: As for the Bloc Québécois, who runs candidates only in their home province of Quebec:

WINFIELD: They have taken a relatively strong stand on climate-change issues as well, and that sort of reflects fairly strong public opinion in Quebec and the fact that the government of Quebec was actually the first one to introduce a carbon tax.

BASILONE: In a recent Harris/Decima poll, nationally the Conservatives have 36 percent support, the Liberals 28, 15 percent for the New Democrats, and the Bloc and the Greens tied at 9 percent.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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