Jim Prentice sums up Canada’s climate change postion

Doesn’t our Lancaster Sound plans stand at odds with our international negotiating position?


Here in Ottawa this afternoon, in the Museum of Nature’s mammals gallery, Environment Minister Jim Prentice announced a $5-million study into the feasibility of creating a marine conservation area in Lancaster Sound, the eastern gateway to the Northwest Passage.

I called some Arctic wildlife researchers to ask what the sound is like. They described icy waters and rocky islands astoundingly rich in sea life—bowhead whales and walrus, nesting black-legged kittiwakes and (my new favourite) thick-billed murres that dive so deep, up to 200 metres, in search of fish that sea-bird experts haven’t figured out how they do it.

Given that this is the opening week of the Copenhagen climate change conference, and that global warming is the overarching environmental concern in the Arctic, I took the opportunity to ask Prentice about the linkage. Doesn’t Canada’s stewardship of Far North territory like Lancaster Sound stand embarrassingly at odds with our laggardly position in negotiations toward an international climate change treaty?

Not surprisingly, Prentice rejected my premise that Ottawa’s bargaining stance has been weak. However, he did frame his answer in a way that, I think, usefully crystallizes the Conservatives’ position. For anyone trying to understand where Canada’s government is coming from in Copenhagen, here is some of what Prentice had to say:

“The scientific data supports the fact that the temperature is warming arguably soonest and fastest in the Arctic and Antarctic regions. And so we are a country that is faced with some of the imminent adaptation issues—I agree with that.

“I don’t agree that Canada is not one of the countries at the table that is constructive and is pushing in a determined way to deal with this… We do put forward positions that represent Canada’s interests.

“In the context of this debate about Canada’s progression since Kyoto, we have a perspective that we put forward. In the time since 1990 our country has experienced in excess of 20 per cent population growth. Our economy has expanded over 56 per cent since that time. We have a vast country. It’s cold in the winter. It can be hot in the summers. This is a country that is energy consumptive.”

“Our circumstances cannot be compared to a small European country, for illustration, that has had a flat population for 20 years and has had essentially no economic growth. Our circumstances are quite different. These negotiations need to reflect that perspective if we’re going to protect and advance our national interest.”

“It is very easy for people to toss around targets. But I can tell you that when you then get into the analysis of how a country is going to make the targets, it is an entirely more challenging exercise.

“Our approach as a government is that we want an agreement at Copenhagen—a binding agreement. Countries will be taking on targets that are legally binding with financial consequences. In Canada’s context we need a target that is achievable, practical and that we know our country can reach.”

“So we put forward a target of a 20 per cent reduction by 2020 from a 2006 baseline. It’s virtually identical to what the Americans have put forward. I know there is a process, public policies, by which Canada can achieve that target. We’ve done the analysis. Some of the targets that people are pushing Canada to take on cannot be achieved without inordinate economic costs and our government is not prepared to take those costs on.”


Jim Prentice sums up Canada’s climate change postion

  1. “Our approach as a government is that we want an agreement at Copenhagen—a binding agreement. Countries will be taking on targets that are legally binding with financial consequences. In Canada's context we need a target that is achievable, practical and that we know our country can reach.”

    Makes sense to me. Why set ourselves up for failure with ridiculously unattainable targets, as we would if we used 1990 as a baseline?

    • "Why set ourselves up for failure with ridiculously unattainable targets"

      I dunno – why decide off-the-cuff that using the 1990s as a baseline leads automatically to "ridiculously unattainable" targets? Just because the Chretien Liberals didn't do it doesn't mean it's unattainable.

  2. "It's virtually identical to what the Americans have put forward."


  3. Is he your MP?

  4. All Conservative MPs belong to CR.
    He contains multitudes and welcomes the burden.

  5. Prentice used to be my MP. My current MP is Diane Ablonczy.

  6. Will we find your name on that member list of hers that showed up on a discarded laptop a couple of years ago?

  7. It's nice to see some points and arguments made as to why the Canadian Government is taking the position it is taking. Putting some of this into context is better than the same canned answer each and every time this question comes up.

  8. I only moved to her riding last year, so no. (I'd never heard that story about the discarded laptop before – I had to google it).

  9. The problem with grandfathering the massive increase in ghg's between 1990 and 2006 is that Canada, rightly or wrongly committed to reductions based on 1990 levels. What's to stop the next government from doing the same thing, resetting the clock after the Conservatives, like the Liberals also fail to introduce effective measures to meet targets? Why would any other country bother negotiating with us if we just tear up agreements every time we have an election?

  10. No flies on you.We actually had this, and Obama copied it.I suspect Harper and Obama have been talking and tweaking.

    • Point is we're going to the prom with one of the worst offenders on the planet so I really don't care who asked who out. Heck, at this point I don't even care what it looks like any more.

      • or the cost, as in dollars.The corrupt government of Africa is bleating because we don't give them enough. The recession hit me, and my family.I dont have anymore to give

  11. Quoting Prentice:

    “Our approach as a government is that we want an agreement at Copenhagen—a binding agreement. Countries will be taking on targets that are legally binding with financial consequences."

    In short, do it or get fined. Now, I don't like the vague veneer of world government and massive global interventionism that hangs over that position, but if your concern is about enforcement the Conservatives seem to have taken that into account.

  12. So you mean that because there was no one to force us to do it we didn't abide by our international agreement?

    This is just moving the goal posts after the game was played. I'm sorry, it makes Canada untrustworthy.

  13. "I know there is a process, public policies, by which Canada can achieve that target."

    Yes there is, it's called "The governments of Ontario, Quebec and B.C. are fed up and are going to commit to reductions even greater than this, on their own, so we won't have to do anything at all, as the provinces will take care of this for us". In fact, if I'm not mistaken, the three provinces with 75% of our population are going to commit to reductions large enough that Alberta can actually continue to spew out higher levels of emissions than they do now and we'll still hit the fed's "targets" as a nation.

    The Tories were smart on this one. They waited long enough to do anything for the provinces to get fed up with their inaction and say "Fine, if they're not going to do anything, we will". Then, the Tories figure out how the existing and upcoming provincial standards will likely effect emissions, pick a "national" target a little less ambitious than that, and ride the coattails. Everyone is then so shocked that the Tories picked a target at all, that voters don't realize that they picked a target the 3 big provinces would have gotten us to on their own without any agreement in Copenhagen whatsoever.

    Come to think of it, if it weren't for the optics I don't see why the PM would bother going to Copenhagen at all.

  14. “Our approach as a government is that we want an agreement at Copenhagen—a binding agreement. Countries will be taking on targets that are legally binding with financial consequences. In Canada's context we need a target that is achievable, practical and that we know our country can reach.”

    That's all very well Mr P. But just about every other govt out there can say the same thing. We are not exceptional. Everyone one has a viable excuse of some sort or other; the Saudis are scared to death their gravy train is gonna end ; the Russians have a different set of excuses. Let's not forget China or India. What will we have left if everyone is to be fully accomodated? Sure we have a good as excuse as anyone…but who's gong to do more because we do less? The notion that everyone will do the best that they can, is as naive in its own way as Kyoto ever was. In some ways we'd be better off underwriting fully the modernization of China, India and much of the thirld world. Obviously there are political limitations here too. Someone has to lead Mr P.Way to set the bar as low as you can possibly get it.

  15. Kyoto had compliance enforcement too, in the form of a HIGHER level of reduction being required if you don't cut enough in the time allotted. We're gonna miss our original Kyoto targets by a LOT, but we'll miss our revised commitment (our original commitment + our punishment for not meeting it) by WAY more.

    Ironically, having failed to meet our original commitment, and being destined to fail our secondary commitment based on failing the first, we'll now commit to a third, lesser commitment. It's like failing to pay a fine imposed by a judge, then failing to pay the larger fine imposed by the judge for failing to pay the first fine, and then going before the judge and suggesting that you should just be allowed to just forget the first two fines and commit to paying a fine smaller than the fine you were originally supposed to pay (and asking the judge to trust you that this time, you'll live up to the commitment to pay!).

  16. I'm certainly not trying to call Canada's abandonment of the Kyoto Accord a moment that built trust and made us friends. I'm merely answering your questions about the safeguards built into a Copenhagen-based agreement.

    I wish that Canada could have just stood up and said "yes, we're breaking our word as a nation, but here's why. We regret that we have lied to the international community but events left us a choice between betraying our faith and betraying our people." But I like honesty in general.

  17. In Canada's context we need a target that is achievable, practical and that we know our country can reach.”

    This is simply a restatement of the Alliance/Oil Patch creed that we need a "Made in Canada" solution that they have been using for what, 10 yrs?

    I see on the need to know reading list, in a Calgary Herald article, Wildrose Alliance leader Danielle Smith is echoing much the same thing:

    Smith, in the city Monday to speak to the Canadian Club of Calgary, challenged the federal government's notion that the country's climate change measures must mirror what's adopted south of the border. Instead of parroting the U.S. or joining an international agreement to succeed the Kyoto accord, Smith said Canada and Alberta should focus on homegrown measures to improve energy efficiency and expand the use of cleaner fuels, such as tapping natural gas over coal to produce electricity.

    "I'm worried about us embarking on costly schemes to try to reduce our overall emissions rather than doing the obvious things that will come easier," Smith said of UN climate change negotiations that began Monday in Copenhagen.

    Typical Alberta /oil patch creed.

  18. There's a perceptual difference between making you reduce more when you're ignoring the reductions anyway and committing to paying cash fines. It's all "cost", of course. Either government-forced carbon dioxide reduction or a government fine would take money out of the productive sectors of our economy and move it elsewhere. But when you have it in black and white saying "reduce emissions or carve a cheque for $5 billion" it alters the perception.

    (Of course, everything depends on the sizes of the targets and the size of the fines. Since, to pick my completely baseless placeholder of a figure, $5 billion is less than the compliance costs of most carbon-reduction treaties that have been proposed, it may be in a government's best interest to pay the fine and in so doing save some economic capital. But short of empowering an international police force to throw non-compliant legislators into the clink it's hard to do better.)

  19. Is rejection of "one size fits all" thinking really that extreme?

  20. It's the weasel words that he continues to use: "achievable, practical and that we know our country can reach" – they have no meaning, and are entirely consistent with a strategy to delay as long as possible until one is forced to act by the rest of the world. It's a tread water strategy.

  21. More about the leaked draft:

    "…What the west had failed to grasp, he said, was the very deep hurt that had been growing steadily since the climate negotiations were effectively taken over by heads of state and were conducted outside the UN, the only forum in which poor countries feel they are equally represented…"


    So while Canadian and US rightwing extremists hate the UN, other countries feel it represents them better than other organizations.

  22. If Ontario, Quebec and BC far exceed the federal minimum, doesn't that give them far more carbon credits to trade?
    Should these 3 provinces welcome a lower target so as they can cash in on the carbon trading?
    just asking

  23. This government is representing Canada,
    not China, Russia, or Inda.

    Why did Chretien sign Kyoto, and then do nothing?

  24. And Kyoto? What was that?
    Why play enviro hero and then do nothing.
    Liberals were awarded 89 Fossils from 1999-2005.

  25. Heh, give us back the $116 Billion we contributed to equalization over the last 10 years,
    and we will get out of your Canada.

  26. I am an Albertan and a loyal Canadian. If you want out of Canada, wilson, then goddamwell move to some other country!

  27. Kyoto was the impedus for Alberta to develop the oil sands as quickly and extensively as possible – to ensure the economic and political cost GREW so significant that complying would require a major restructuring. Alberta's representative at the Canadian Embassy at the time, former provincial energy minister Murray Smith, head huckster, said as much. Their biggest risk was that the world would move on to alternate energy forms, and Alberta would be left with oil sands that were no longer wanted.

    Alberta and the Reform/Alliance and now Cons, supported by the oil patch, have done as much to undermine Kyoto – partly through misinformation – that lead in large part to the Fossil Awards. Cries of NEP2 also spooked the spineless Liberals.

  28. Eric Reguly wrote a piece covering this partly in Feb 2008, the wrap up piece in a +/-10 day series on the oil sands:

    The lack of planning was evidently the plan, so to speak, of former premier Ralph Klein and Murray Smith, the energy minister later installed in Washington as the province's cheerleader. That they got away with the no-vision thing should come as no surprise. No one was watching the dynamic duo and shouting: “Slow down, boys!” The deed is done. The developments now under way can't be put into cold storage.


  29. Princeton Prof William Happer and fellow phyicists are demanding the American Physical Society rescind its 2007 statement of support of the AGW alarmists, pending an independent analysis.

    "By now everyone has heard of what has come to be known as ClimateGate, which was and is an international scientific fraud, the worst any of us have seen… We have asked the APS management to put the 2007 statement on ice until the extent to which it is tainted can be determined, but that has not been done. We have also asked that the membership be consulted on this point, but that too has not been done."
    Of the signatories so far, Happer says, 77 are fellows of major scientific societies, 14 members of the National Academies, one is a Nobel laureate, and there is a large number of authors of major scientific books and recipients of prizes and awards for scientific research. The 230 odd signatories can hardly be dismissed as lightweights compared to those who spread the message of impending climate disaster."

  30. Pretty easy to claim "consensus" when you can simply co opt entire groups "agreement", even when they explicitly say that don't agree, nor do they want to be represented as being in agreement.

    It's an interesting movement when the likes of "holly stick"'s type of slandering of renouned scientists ("deniers") passes as informed enlightenment.

  31. But don't expect to see the above startling revelation in any major news outfit.

    More newsworthy than most headlines today, let alone worthy of coverage,

    but the media has set its agenda, and informing the public of such inconvenient facts doesn't fit in the gameplan.

  32. Or – if restoring our global credibility was a priority – we could have spent the last few years mediating international consensus that left the world better prepared to tackle an agreement now.

    Instead, we've spent years running interference. We're doing it even today, with our Prime Minister arguing that we should wait for the global economy to recover before tackling climate change: http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601082&a

    If we were hypocrites post-Kyoto, we're even bigger hypocrites now.

  33. On my crankier days (which are steadily increasing, I fear), I suspect that the Conservatives' position on climate change is still that it is a conspiracy of nanny-state socialists, Eastern liberal elitists and foppish Euro-weenies to rip the bread from the mouths of hard-working Albertans.

    No doubt, if their internal polls suggest that votes can be harvested in swing ridings by making the appropriate gestures, they'll stage suitably glossy environment-friendly photo opportunities. I can visualize Stephen Harper being photographed with a polar bear, both pretending to enjoy the experience. The polar bear's smile will likely seem less forced.

  34. The fact that you can't see beyond our national borders and interests says it all really…ok…what if everyone takes that attitude…no doubt you'll say tha's as good as we can get…can't ask anymore than that can we?

    "Why did Chretien sign Kyoto, and then do nothing"?

    I'll just bet you're dying to know the real answer too? The fact that you even phrased the question like that indicates you've made up your mind whatever i or anyone else might say.

  35. David Anderson the former liberal environment minister had similar things to say…also interesting stuff about the dynamic at play in the liberal cabinet at the time…basically he didn't have enough powerful friends in the cabinet.

  36. Give Canada back the tax breaks and investments that helped to set up the oil sands wilson…while you're at it give back the equalization funds that helped AB out before the 60s oil boom. Don't bother…for every crank like you there are a thousand AB's who feel differently.

  37. Trust me. It's unattainable. Do you have any idea what would have to be done to meet the original Kyoto targets at this point?

  38. Did anyone ever call you a cynic when you were kid…just asking!

  39. You'll be pleased to note that Murray Smith is my former MLA.

  40. Revive our nuclear reactor program, fast track the phase in of cellulosic ethanol and biofuels, punch Alberta in the face, keep the ecoenergy retrofit program alive.

    The technology is there to use, we just have to dig in and take charge. The upside of being an innovator is that everybody else then wants to buy your technology.

  41. I'd be interested to see a document that shows how unattainable the Kyoto targets are…eg mandating automobile fleet mileage improvements of x% per year for the next 10 years would reduce Canadian per capita energy consumption by z t/yr, mandating that all the energy required to extract, upgrade and refine petroleum products from oilsands must come from nuclear energy within 15 years would reduce Canadian per capita energy consumption by w t/yr and so on.

    How close could we get?

  42. Huh? Yeah, I moved away from his riding a long time ago. I've had lots of notable MPs and MLAs in my life. My former MPs include Joe Clark, Preston Manning, Stephen Harper, and Jim Prentice. My former MLAs include Ralph Klein, Jim Dinning, and Murray Smith.

    • Now we know who to blame!

  43. I was having troubles following the thread…I was trying to figure out if you meant

    a) I used to live in the riding represented by Murray Smith (or he retired or whatever) and thank goodness I'm not represented by that dufus anymore (ie former MLA), OR
    b) Hi Dot, I disagree with your comment, and so it pleases me to inform you that Murray Smith used to be my MLA.

    At first I thought the former, but after a few rereads I'm going with the latter.

    Btw, did you have the opportunity (desire) to support Jim Dinning when he made his run for the Alberta PC party leadership? I can sort of understand why Calgary isn't so happy that Stelmach won the leadership, although I'm a bit surprised that they haven't 'rallied around the new leader' to any extent at all.

  44. None of the above. It was because Dot was so oddly curious about who my MP was (see comment above).

    I didn't support any of the candidates who ran for PC leadership, because I thought that they all sucked. However, I suppose Prentice would have been the most competent of the lot, even though he was clearly beholden to various deep pockets.

    • I considered participating in the leadership vote; in the end I just spectated.

      I couldn't decice between what I liked about Dinning (I rated him to be the most socially progressive of the (main?) 3) and what concerned me about Dinning, which is the same concern that you identified. I was comfortable with Stelmach as the eventual winner.

      Who do you have in mind when you refer to Dinning and the deep pockets?

  45. It was because Dot was so oddly curious about who my MP was

    Not so odd if you've lived in Calgary and have been keenly aware of the lack of diversity, or the homogeneity of thought on these issues. Very provincial. You are an exception on many issues, maybe not this one.

    You might enjoy this "debate" at the Petroleum Club I came across on a Green Party site put on by the Canada West Foundation including Murray Smith and Elizabeth May (she tries to wrap herself in Peter Lougheed, who I agree with to a great degree-but is reprimanded by Roger Gibbins. I think she was just happy to be there)

    The other participant is Deborah Yedlin, columnist for the Calgary Herald. I consider her a shill for the Oil Patch. She used to have a column in the G&M ROB up until 2006 called The View from Alberta , or something like that, and would repeat almost verbatim CAPP's talking points – often passing on spin and misinformation (in my opinion) unflltered. I called her on a few – through unanswered emails. In one column (unrelated to the O&G industry), she divulged her hubby was an analyst for an investment banker in Calgary. Hmmm. Current G&M editor John Stackhouse was the editor of the G&M ROB at that time. Note how she reads CAPP talking points in the video.


    • Thanks Dot, it looks like an interesting debate! I'll check it out when I have a moment.

    • My thanks, as well, for the link. I would have preferred the debate to be a bit more 'debatey', but overall I was pleased that to a large extent the debaters (Smith and May in particular) did seem to be listening to each other and not just shouting past each other.

      Deborah Yedlin is one half of a business panel that 'appears' weekly (?) on a local radio morning show. The other half is Michael McCullough, of Alberta Venture magazine. McCullough is interesting to listen to because he at least seems to have given the topic some thought, and I am often surprised by his analysis of the topic. Yedlin, on the other hand, mostly just takes up valuable airtime, apparently reading from a script, as you said.

      t doesn't seem to matter what the topic is, the situation always seems to be grim for business. Canadian dollar is rising against the US? Oooo, that's bad for business and bad for Alberta. Dollar is falling? Oooo, that's bad for business and bad for Alberta. Dollar has been stable for 8 months? Oooo, that's bad for business and bad for Alberta……yup, I get it, bad for business.

    • After some ruminating…

      Murray Smith's defense of the oil industry on the basis that some of the best people that he has ever met are those in that industry was sort of odd; is an emotional appeal really the best argument that he could prepare? Are those people so great only because they work in the industry?

      I suspect that those people would be great people no matter which particular industry they worked in. The skills that those folks have would be just as relevant and rewarded if they worked at a nuclear power plant or in a facility that processes uranium ore or a factory that builds windmills and so on.

  46. So long as any global agreement on C02 reductions facilitates easy free-riding, Canada should free-ride. I say this, by the way, as somebody who believes global warming is real. Why should Canada free-ride?

    1. Canada's industrial mix, low population density and climate change mean that we will bare a disproportionate share of the costs of C02 reductions.
    2. Even if we make costly reductions, unless all major economies are tagged with enforceable and binding targets, others can simply erase any C02 reductions we do make.

    Frankly, Copenhagen's and Kyotos are likely to fail. Because of individual state sovereignty, collective action problems will take place. I propose a different approach.

    The US navy has an overwhelming lead over any other country (or against all other countries combined) in nuclear submarines, and aircraft carriers – not to mention other high-tech weapons like Aegis cruisers. The US air force has capabilities that outclass all peer competitors as well. US cruise missiles are more accurate and longer ranged than anybody else's. Finally in terms of military and commercial satellites, the US is a clear number 1. Finally insofar as anybody "owns" the Internet, the US controls much of the global infrastructure in that respect. The US does not rule the world, but it can does control the sea routes, airspace, outer space and cyberspace channels by which resources, commerce and information get to nations.

    Want to seriously reduce C02 emissions? Craft a series of targets and blockade those that fail to meet them. Until states are willing to do this global warming will continue to be a problem. Multilateral problem solving doesn't work because the larger the groups involved, the greater the incentive people have to shirk (for instance, if you are reading this at work on the company's time, I would be inclined to guess you work for a larger company).

    This approach does have a "who will police the police" (particularly when the police are a big emitter themselves) problem and is imperfect. We may also calculate that we are not willing to trade state sovereignty for effective eco-enforcement. I can see where that perspective comes from. However, lets stop pretending that if we can just get world leaders together and solve the world's problems with hugs and good intentions.

  47. It's no wonder Kate recieved almost a million hits last week on her coverage of climategate.

    Today's latest is truly stunning. They don't just tally up the temperature folks. They "adjust" the raw data do delete the "cold bias".

    You see, the raw data, doesn't show appreciable warming. So its "adjusted".

    While the media intentionally avert their eyes from this, everyday folks are getting access:


    • Oh Biff
      You are not even quoting a site with the climategate emails but a blog for all things denial. We disagree on climate change so I would ask you could we have a peer review on small dead animals and who supports them financially?

  48. hosertohoosiertohokier

  49. You have nicely illustrated why so many of us earnestly hope that Copenhagen achieves absolutely nothing, and that the climate hysteria will gradually subside.

  50. Yes- the inordinate 'social cost' is the research and development of sustainable technologies that the rest of the world takes seriously, and Canada does not because it would conflict with its national interest to use oil. Elected by oil, and driven by oil, Harper and Prentice are in governmental conflict of interest with climate change policies.

    Keep protecting the tar sands at any cost, Prentice and Harper, because no one else in the east will vote for you now, despite your ridiculous counter spin of the facts. The tar sands are the greatest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, and use 210 gallons of freshwater to produce one gallon of oil. Disgusting by any measure.

    • Wrong!

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