Canada’s New Environment Minister Tows the Line

Canada’s new environment minister, Peter Kent, did not earn many points with critics when he gave his first major speech at the end of January, three weeks after being appointed in a cabinet shakeup.

His basic message was that the country’s environmental policy was fine and that indeed, Canada had more of one than most countries do.

“What many people don’t realize is that Environment Canada already has the legal tools it needs to execute our plan. It requires no new legislation,” Mr. Kent said after announcing that he was tired, after just three weeks on the job, of all the nay-saying.

“Let me say how particularly frustrating I find the constant critical refrain that this government has no environmental plan,” he said in his Jan. 28 speech before the Economic Club of Canada. “Not only do we have one, we are one of the very few countries in the world that does have one.”

He has a formidable list of issues to tackle, as the CBC’s Margo McDiarmid pointed out. There’s the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline, a $16 billion gas-pipeline project approved by Canada’s National Energy Board just before Christmas and now awaiting a green light by the Cabinet. The pipeline is still up in the air because even as it was approved, the government said no federal funding would be allocated, so now the company has to decide whether it is financially feasible.

Then there is the issue of greenhouse gas emissions. Kent said that Canada’s emissions in 2020 will be reduced by 65 megatonnes and bring the country one-quarter of the way toward meeting its 607-megatonne goal.

“Of course there is a great deal to do, but we have good, foundational programs in place,” said Kent, Harper’s fifth environmental minister in as many years.

He said that Canada would, “where appropriate,” align its approach to regulating greenhouse gases to that of the United States. This included not adopting a cap-and-trade system, as the U.S. has been unable to do because of GOP opposition.

“Canadians tend to get their hackles up whenever they hear terms like ‘harmonize’ or ‘align’ in the same sentence as United States,” Kent said. “But however much we may growl about it, when it comes to meaningful work on the environment-and climate change in particular-there is no practical alternative.”

Gerard Kennedy of the Liberal party said that meeting even modest reductions targets would be impossible without such a system, Reuters reported.

Canada’s prime minister, Stephen Harper, was meeting with President Barack Obama at press time to discuss several environmental issues, including GHG emissions and the oil sands. Harper and his administration have been criticized both domestically and internationally for not doing enough to combat climate change.


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Canada’s New Environment Minister Tows the Line