Canadian scientists, and climatologists in particular, are probably among the most depressed this morning following Tuesday’s federal election, in which the semi-governing Conservative Party was sort-of re-elected to another parliamentary minority.
In Canada, minority governments don’t command enough seats to ensure passage of legislation, but for some reason no one seems to think that means a coalition is required. None of the opposition parties will entertain the notion of a governing coalition, so in all likelihood nothing in the way of consequential legislation will be passed for the next few years.
That’s about the best spin that the 120 scientists and 230 economists who recently signed public letters calling on Canadians to reject the Conservative Party’s record on science and climate policy can hope for. More realistic interpretations involve the unfortunate truth that Canadians have effectively rejected strong action on the climate front by reinstalling, with a slightly larger contingent of MPs, the party with the least progressive environmental policies.
The Conservatives won only 37% of the vote (which is even smaller than it looks, given that only 59% of eligible voters turned out). The Liberals, who pushed a “Green Shift” plan that would hike taxes on bad things like fossil-fuels and reduce taxes elsewhere, got only 26%, the lowest in the party’s history. Their leader, Stephane Dion, is almost certain to be dumped at the first opportunity. Globe and Mail columnist Gary Mason began his post-mortem of the election with these depressing words: “It may be some time before we again see a political leader in Canada brave enough to build a campaign platform around saving the environment.”
Quebec Premier Jean Charest is also said to be mulling an election call, and he too must be thinking just how hard he wants to push the environment at a time when people seem to be thinking about anything but.
To be fair, many Canadians did vote for the Liberals and the New Democratic Party, both of which consider climate change and reducing greenhouse-gas emissions important. Still, the environment was not a winning issue on the campaign trail for any party even before all hell broke loose on Wall Street.
What about the Greens? Didn’t they attract a record level of support (6.8%)? Yes, but even as its leader showed in national televised debates that she has a better grasp of the issues than the big boys, her party still attracts a fair number of candidates whose day jobs include homeopath and other pseudo-scientific pursuits.
It’s sad. In a country that should be leading the charge toward clean energy thanks to its enormous natural and renewable resources, educated workforce and relatively healthy economy (the most stable banking system in the world, by some accounts), we have another government that has consistently shown a preference for fossil fuels over renewables. The Conservatives’ political roots are in Alberta, where the development of the tar sands guarantee that Canada will never meet any emissions-reduction goals, no matter how modest, and the party shows no signs are growing beyond that narrow view.
Oh well, at least, we can look forward to next month’s U.S. elections. Here’s Gary Mason again:
Despite last night’s result, I still think Mr. Dion’s desire to build an economy for the 21st century centred on energy independence and becoming a leader in green technology is precisely what Canada needs. Until the recent financial crisis, it’s something U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama talked about often on the campaign trail.
He understands that rebuilding the U.S. economy around clean, renewable energy sources, a strategy that must extend to the automobile industry, will help create jobs and allow Americans to be free of the tyranny of Middle Eastern oil prices. The U.S. is a nation of innovators and it will innovate its way to the forefront of green technological advances, mark my words.
And once again, cautious Canada will be playing catch-up.