Harper’s war on the environment

A look at the history of the Conservative government's actions

Written by Rackeb Tesfaye | Web visual by Arielle VanIderstine

The 2014 Climate Change Performance Index, an annual publication by Germanwatch and Climate Action Network Europe, compares countries based on factors such as renewable energy, emission levels, energy efficiency, and climate policy. Canada was ranked number 58, placing it dead last among industrialized nations. According to the authors of the report, “Canada still shows no intention of moving forward with climate policy and therefore remains the worst performer of all industrialized countries.” A damning report released last month by the Auditor General of Canada revealed that Harper’s Conservative government doesn’t even have a specific plan in place to meet its 2020 greenhouse gas emission reduction target, which it will therefore miss. Instead of developing solutions to combat climate change, Harper instead plans to extract more oil and gas. Just last month, Harper announced that Ottawa and Quebec are ready to jointly introduce legislation to manage oil and gas production in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

“Canada still shows no intention of moving forward with climate policy and therefore remains the worst performer of all industrialized countries.”

First Nations leaders called for a 12-year moratorium on oil exploration in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in July, and were supported by many groups, including Montreal-based Coalition Saint-Laurent. The Coalition has expressed large concerns over the fragile and important Gulf ecosystem that is shared by five provinces, as well as the health risks to surrounding communities. Opposing parties also cite the lack of scientific knowledge about the area, insufficient capacity to respond to an oil spill, and a lack of social and economic responsibility. Repeatedly, the actions of Harper have supported corporate oil interests over those of Canadians and the environment. While the rest of the world is making efforts to mitigate climate change, the Canadian government has been taking steps in the wrong direction, reflected by Harper’s absence at the UN’s Climate Summit this September.

Policies and Actions of the Harper Government

Not too long ago, Canada seemed like it was on the right track in the fight against climate change. In 2005, Paul Martin and the Liberal government signed the Kyoto Protocol, the first binding international agreement that sets targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, the goal to cut carbon emissions by 6 per cent from 1990 levels by 2012 failed, and Canadian emissions were set to overshoot the target by nearly 30 per cent. In 2011, under the Harper government, Canada became the first nation to back out of the Kyoto Protocol, allowing it to avoid incurring financial penalties. Since then, Harper has continued to deliver blow after blow to environmental efforts – streamlining the approval process for new pipelines, reducing federal obligation to report environmental effects, undermining First Nations’ rights, weakening the protection of biodiversity and Canada’s waters, and overall delivering a huge setback to environmental protection and research. The Conservatives have pulled off an extraordinary Houdini act, eliminating research centres and environmental agencies that produced data that contradicted their policies, including stripping funding from the only agency responsible for the environmental assessment of off-shore drilling. Meanwhile, the Tories cut environmental spending from $1.01 billion in 2014-15 to $698.9 million in 2016-17, according to an Environment Canada report. Yet, the icing on the cake is Harper’s silencing of Canadian scientists. His control over the communication between scientists and the public has sparked worldwide outrage; over 800 scientists from around the word signed a letter last month asking Harper to end the restriction on science communication and funding.

Winners and losers

Between the tar sands and oil pipelines, oil and gas companies are the big winners, receiving billions in profit as well as $1.3 billion in government subsidies. 71 per cent of Canada’s oil sands are foreign-owned, and no federal savings fund has been put in place to share the wealth with future Canadian generations. Harper has consistently used job creation and immediate profits as a reason to push through with oil and gas development, disregarding the long-term impacts they will have on the people of Canada and the environment. In a frankly terrifying 2014 report by Natural Resources Canada, the authors detail the impacts of climate change that face Canada, including risks to human health, increased natural disasters (like last year’s floods in Alberta), destruction of natural resources, and much more. Harper is not the environment’s best friend – the proof is in the oily tar pudding. Though it will take generations to rebuild what we have destroyed, it’s time for Canadians to wake up to what’s happening, take a stand against Harper, and reclaim their environment.