Quebec’s unique green follies

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by L. IAN MacDONALD
Sun Media, Friday, February 5, 2010

Jim Prentice didn’t mince his words the other day when he spoke of “the folly of attempting to go it alone” by Quebec in its new auto emission standards, which the federal environment minister described as “unique” in North America.

The environment minister wasn’t thinking out loud and he wasn’t the victim of a media drive-by shooting. He was speaking from a text in a major address on climate change in Calgary, one approved by his own officials and in all likelihood cleared by the control freaks in the Prime Minister’s Office.

You don’t see that every day from a senior federal minister about the premier of Quebec, especially one of the federalist persuasion. Folly. It’s a word that kind of jumps off the page. You don’t even need yellow highlighter.

For good measure, Prentice threw in a remark that “consumers would basically have to leave that province to buy their vehicles to avoid levies of up to $5,000.”

The folly comment put the cat among the pigeons with Jean Charest, and the $5,000 comment stirred up a hornet’s nest with car dealers in Quebec. The Quebec rules of the road don’t take effect until 2016, but they will apply to cars retroactively to 2010 models.

Reduction targets

In taking on Charest and the Quebec government so openly, Prentice inadvertently stepped on the more important parts of his message, aligning Canada’s emissions reduction targets fully with the Obama administration in the U.S., and courageously telling the oil industry that unchecked oil sands development is hurting the Canadian brand name in the world.

Or as he put it: “What is at issue on the international stage is our reputation as a country.”

That’s quite a statement coming from a Calgary minister speaking in his own backyard. Canada’s share of global greenhouse gas emissions is less than 2%, and the oil sands account for only 5% of the problem, or 0.5% of global emissions. But the visuals of the oil sands are among the most problematic on the planet.

In terms of aligning Canada’s mitigation targets with the U.S., Prentice has moved off our previous goal of reducing by 20% below 2006 levels by 2000, to Barack Obama’s number of 17% below 2005 levels. This is no big deal since 2006 emission levels are apparently about three points higher than 2005. In other words, it comes out in the same place.

The point is that Prentice and Stephen Harper have decided that Obama’s the one they’re going to dance with, even if the U.S. president can’t call the tune. His 17/20 bill is in limbo in the U.S. Senate, with no prospect of being adopted any time soon. But there’s another way to go, failing the legislative route—the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency can simply issue regulations. And, as it happens, so can the Canadian government under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.

Pushback

In other words, Barack, just tell us where you’re going and we’ll meet you there.

As for Charest, there is a major element of pushback that he brought on himself with his grandstanding at Copenhagen. Worse, in January, he went there again, saying he didn’t take a word of it back. Standing beside him as he said it was Stephen Harper.

You don’t get to do that with a prime minister, not without paying a price.

 
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