Poor Colin Carrie, parliamentary secretary to the minister of the environment, was put up this weekend for an appearance on The West Block to explain the government’s position on reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. Around the 3:20 mark of that video, he is confronted with the government’s own projections for 2020, when the country is, by the terms of our international commitments, supposed to be producing 612 megatonnes of greenhouse-gas emissions, but when, by the estimate of Environment Canada, we will be producing 734 megatonnes of greenhouse-gas emissions. It is at this point, it seems, that Carrie either forgets his talking points or finds himself without a talking point that will passably get him past that question:
Tom Clark: But I come back to this: We made a solemn commitment to reduce our emissions by 17 per cent by 2020. Either we get there or we don’t. Your department, Environment Canada, has said we’re going to miss it by at least 20 per cent. Are we going to miss it?
Collin Carrie: Well, everybody’s entitled to their own opinion, Tom.
Tom Clark: Well, this is Environment Canada. It’s not an opinion; it’s what your department is saying.
Indeed. As opinions go, this is the government’s own opinion. And it is an opinion supported by math. It is an estimate detailed in last year’s report on emissions trends and in the government’s filing with the United Nations. Both of those documents bear the same copyright notice: ©Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by the Minister of the Environment, 2013. When our own John Geddes went looking to investigate this government’s efforts to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, it was that latest emissions report that the minister’s office pointed him to. (A new emissions report for 2014 has not yet been released.)
So, whoops. But whatever: When you’re charged with delivering talking points that dance around substantial facts, you’re more likely to end up saying something silly.
There’s more than just a gaffe here, though.
A moment later, Carrie seems to attempt to suggest that we’ve still got a lot of time to meet our Copenhagen target:
And, like I said, 2020 is still a far way away.
For the purposes of accomplishing certain tasks, five years is, indeed, a fair amount of time. But reducing projected greenhouse-gas emissions by 122 megatonnes in the space of five years would seem to be a daunting task.
Here, for instance, is how professor Mark Jaccard assesses the current situation:
My analysis shows that if Mr. Harper had “competently” enacted in 2007 the regulations he promised, the effective price on carbon would have started around $15 per tonne of CO2 in 2008, reaching $100 in 2020 . . .
My analysis further shows that, were Mr. Harper now to seriously pursue his 2020 promise, he would crash the economy. His frantic regulations would be equivalent to shocking the economy with a CO2 price that quickly escalates to $200—increasing the price of gasoline by 50 cents a litre. Industrial jobs would be lost. Oil-sands production would decrease.
So, if the government truly is committed to meeting its Copenhagen targets, it is going to require some rather drastic action. Maybe some would suggest that crashing the economy for the sake of meeting that target is a price worth paying. Or perhaps the government has some projection of its own that suggests the target can still be rather painlessly met. Maybe it should release such a plan (though, if it has such a plan, the auditor general was recently unable to find it).
But if the government isn’t going to meet its Copenhagen target, it will be fair to ask why. Is it because it didn’t act sooner? If so, why didn’t it?
The government’s latest argument for not proceeding any further with its “sector-by-sector” approach to regulating greenhouse-gas emissions is that any action toward the oil-and-gas sector must be coordinated with the United States.
Tom Clark pursued this repeatedly with Carrie, to little avail:
Tom Clark: You talk about oil and gas standards in this country. You promised them in 2009. You promised that they’d be out there by 2012. It is now almost 2015, they’re not around. When are we going to see them?
Collin Carrie: Well, as I said earlier, you asked the question where it makes sense to lead. We lead and where it makes sense to integrate, we are working with our . . .
Tom Clark: When are we going to see them?
Collin Carrie: Well, I can’t give you a specific time, Tom. What’s really important . . .
Tom Clark: Are we going to see them before 2020?
Collin Carrie: Well, as I said, I can’t give you a specific time, but . . .
Tom Clark: We may not see them at all?
Collin Carrie: . . . but, just as we did with the transportation sector, we’ve been given kudos for getting an agreement with the United States, but I don’t know if the Liberals and NDP want to move forward to unilaterally binding Canada to certain regulatory agreements, and when we have an integrated market between Canada and the United States in our oil and gas sector, I don’t think Canadians, anybody who knows this sector, it doesn’t make any sense to put Canadians at a competitive disadvantage with the United States and put 275,000 jobs at risk because Canada doesn’t coordinate.
Tom Clark: I apologize, because we are out of time and I wish we had more time to do this. I just point out, though, that this was your commitment that was made, that we’re not going to meet. But Collin Carrie . . .
Collin Carrie: And we’re committed to getting there. It’s just a challenge when you’re looking at these integrated sectors.
As an argument, this can seem like a conversation-stopping shrug: When are you going to regulate the oil-and-gas sector? Well, we need to coordinate with the United States.
But there are various questions to ask about this argument. What, precisely, would happen if we moved forward with our own regulations? What calculations support the suggestion that Canadian facilities would be put at a competitive disadvantage? How, precisely, would 275,000 jobs be put at risk? (As I detailed here, let’s see some numbers that show how regulations would affect oil projects.) What would a coordinated effort look like, anyway? If coordination is a prerequisite, when does the Harper government expect the Americans to be ready to coordinate? What efforts are being made by the Harper government to pursue coordination? If oil-and-gas regulations were going to face this obstacle, how did the Harper government imagine achieving our Copenhagen targets? If coordination was paramount, why did the Harper government twice promise previously that new regulations were nearly complete?
All of this would underpin a serious discussion about reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, one in which we could all have opinions with supporting information and data.