October 20, 2015
Many of those following the 2015 federal election campaign saw the swing in momentum in the direction of the Liberals in the final days of the campaign. Yet the extent of Justin Trudeau’s party’s successes in Atlantic Canada, Quebec, Ontario and BC still came as a surprise, as did by implication, the scale of the NDP’s collapse in eastern Canada.
The election outcome is being widely interpreted as a rejection of Harper government’s style and approach to a wide range of issues, including the environment. Conservative platform was clear about the government’s intention to continue its assault on the “red tape burden” and its attacks on critics of resource industries. One little noticed provision in the Conservative Platform, for example, promised help to Canada’s forest industry “to counter those who are conducting misinformation campaigns.”
In contrast, the environment figured prominently in the Liberal platform. The platform was particularly strong in some key areas:
• Clean/Green Technology. A substantial strategy around the development a clean” technology sector is laid out, including support for research, manufacturing, and market development, and new Canada Research Chairs in sustainable technology.
• Environmental Assessment. A number important principles are articulated with respect to the future direction of the federal environmental assessment process including ensuring that decisions are based on science, facts, and evidence, and serve the public’s interest, and that there are meaningful opportunities for public participation.
• The CRA, Charities and “Political” Activities. The rules governing the charitable and not-for-profit sectors would be modernized, particularly regarding “political activity,” with an understanding that charities make an important contribution to public debate and public policy.
• Science and Evidence in Decision-Making. A Chief Science Officer would be appointed to ensure that government science is fully available to the public, that scientists are able to speak freely about their work, and that scientific analyses are considered when the government makes decisions.
• Access to Information Reform. The Access to Information Act would be reformed to expand the scope of its coverage and to give the Information Commissioner the power to order the release of records.
On other topics, the platform is less clear in its direction. These include:
• Climate Change. Although committing to working with the provinces and playing a constructive role at the Paris climate change conference in December, the Liberal platform identifies no specific targets for reducing Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions or any strategy for achieving what targets might be established.Federal re-engagement on the file will be a crucial development, but the unfortunate reality is that the Liberal commitment will merely bring us back to where we were at the federal level two decades ago.
• Fisheries and Navigable Waters Protection Acts. While the Greens and the NDP committed to repeal the Conservatives’ Bill C-38, C-45 and earlier amendments to the Fisheries Act and Navigable Waters Protection Act, the Liberals merely promise to their “review.”
• Species at Risk. Although the only party to address species at risk at all, the Liberal commitment is to vaguely “do more” to protect endangered species.
• Trade and the Environment. The impact of trade liberalization on the environment arose during the campaign with the signing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. While the NDP and Greens opposed the agreement, the Liberal platform commits to “carefully consider” future trade agreements.
The Liberal platform was silent in a number of other important areas, including Toxic Substances, Railway Safety post-Lac-Megantic, and approaches to Natural Resources Development, beyond a reference to supporting the provincially led Canadian Energy Strategy to protect energy security; encourage energy conservation; and bring cleaner, renewable energy onto the electricity grid. There were no direct references to pipeline projects or the pace of oil sands development and their associated environmental impacts.
The revelation late in the campaign that the Liberal campaign co-chair was advising TransCanada Pipelines on political strategy regarding the proposed Energy East pipeline during the campaign did much to reinforce concerns about the Liberal’s underlying orientation on energy and environmental issues. It remains to be seen whether the clean technology focused, ecological modernist vision that seems to inform much of the platform’s content will be reflected in the reality of a Liberal government’s actions.
October 20, 2015