Canada’s Clean Air Act

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper today finally announced some details of the Conservative Party’s long awaited “made in Canada” approach to the environment. Since coming to power last year, the Conservatives have been in the bad books of environmentalists for a number of reasons, including backing Canada out of the Kyoto Accord, canceling programs such as EnerGuide that gave consumers rebates for energy efficient purchases, and cozying up to Oil Sands development in Alberta.

This announcement focuses around something called the Clean Air Act, which will be aimed at combatting smog. The government plans to spend a year consulting with various industries before coming up with a series of targets — long and short range — that industry will be required to meet.

I’ve yet to read criticisms by environmental groups, but I can pretty much predict what they will be.

With “industry” involved in setting the targets they must meet, how strict will they really be? Industry representatives will surely barrage the government consultants with tales of doom and gloom, predicting economic disaster for all if they are forced to change.
When Harper talks about smog is he taking the view of those who do not consider greenhouse gases like CO2 to be “smog”? The vague references to climate change or global warming is suspicious. Localized smog in cities is a serious problem, but global climate change is much more serious.
The targets set in the Kyoto agreement were meant to be mere starting points, far less ambitious than what scientists agree needs to be accomplished if we have any hope of slowing or stopping climate change. They were set almost a decade ago. Yet Harper still calls them “unrealistic”. With that in mind, how can these new targets possibly be effective at all?
Why are we spending yet another year on analysis and consulting? Half a year has already been wasted since Kyoto was axed; is this just more foot-dragging?

Most of all, there don’t seem to be any new ideas here, but merely rewording of common sense policies that already exist in various forms. This seems like another classic example of a Conservative government attempt to “clean things up” and “increase efficiency”. That sounds good on the surface, but in practice we may just end up losing years of valuable time to get back where we started. Only time will tell, but I have little optimism that the current Canadian government has any real commitment to the issues mentioned in today’s announcement.

For an idea of what a serious environmental policy might involve, take a look at the new Green Party GP2 Green Plan [PDF]. Rather than slapping arbitrary regulations onto a flawed economic system, the Green Party recommends we instead use a new way of thinking, a “triple bottom line” that considers the economic, ecological and social impact of policies. Once we finally acknowledge that all “progress” cannot be measured in mere dollars and cents, everything will look different.

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