The Commons: Convictions without courage

The Conservatives want to withdraw from Kyoto. If only they would say so.

Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press

The Scene.“Kyoto is in the past,” Peter Kent intoned today at an announcement about something else. Not that he was confirming his government’s intention to withdraw from it. But not that he was denying it either. “This isn’t the day,” he explained.

Doing stuff is easy. It’s justifying the doing that’s hard. And so Mr. Kent is not yet ready to say for sure that the government is willing to do something about what it now only implies. The correct day for that is apparently scheduled to be a month from now, just before Christmas. But then someone who knew as much went and told the evening news. Only now Mr. Kent is insisting on pretending that didn’t happen. “I won?t comment on a speculative report,” he said this morning.

He will say that the previous Liberal government’s decision to commit to the protocol was “one of the biggest blunders they made.” And the Prime Minister did once dismiss the whole thing as a “socialist scheme.” And the Conservative platform in 2006 didn’t even mention it. And successive governments have now spent more than a decade successfully ignoring it. And the current government has said it won’t extend past next year its commitment to it. But let it not be said that the government is prepared to actually withdraw from it. At least not yet. At least not that Mr. Kent is willing to say.

Not that the government’s unwillingness to announce a decision stops the opposition from lamenting that decision.

“Mr. Speaker, Canadians are flabbergasted to find out the Conservatives want to break our solemn commitment on the Kyoto protocol,” Peter Julian ventured off the top this afternoon, his face scrunched up, his left arm pleading for reason. “Canada’s obligations under this agreement are legally binding. Canada’s obligations to fight climate change are morally binding. Canada’s obligations to future generations should be clear to all. How can the Conservatives justify abandoning Canada’s legal and moral obligations to fight climate change? How can they betray future generations so irresponsibly?”

The government side could not justify it. Or would not. Or some combination thereof. But the Industry Minister, leading the government cause this afternoon, had arrived with a few points his side wished to enter into the record. “Mr. Speaker, our government is balancing the need for a cleaner and healthier environment with protecting jobs and economic growth,” Christian Paradis explained. “We need an effective agreement. Effective means it must include large emitters. The Kyoto protocol does not include major emitters like China and the United States and therefore will not work.”

Not that its not working means the government is prepared to withdraw, but not that its not does not mean they might soon enough.

Megan Leslie was moved to mockery. “By withdrawing from the Kyoto Protocol, Canada is isolated from the rest of the world,” she ventured. “Conservatives prefer to play alone in their tar sandbox.”

Without a direct response to offer right now, Mr. Kent took the opportunity to practice his French. “Au contraire,” he declared. He ventured that a “good number” of countries were coming around to Canada’s position—though not the position to which Ms. Leslie was referring because that position has not yet been assumed (even if everyone now assumes it to be so).

Ms. Leslie returned the condescension in kind. “Au contraire,” she sighed. “That was not an answer. The truth is Conservative inaction on environment is killing Canadian jobs. Now they are trying to change the channel by re-announcing their failed clean air agenda. The irresponsible government is making us a laughingstock internationally. Why will Conservatives not come clean with the world, why will Conservatives not come clean with Canadians, and why will they not admit that Canada is pulling out of Kyoto?”

Mr. Kent took Ms. Leslie’s reference to re-announcing as an excuse to re-re-announce what he’d been trying to announce today before reporters insisted on asking him about what he might be announcing a month from now. “We will provide $600 million over the next five years in scientific research, monitoring, modelling, regulation, and enforcement required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other toxic pollutants,” he responded to a question that no one, not even one of his government’s dutiful backbenchers, had bothered to ask.

Bob Rae stood here and attempted to broker clarity. “Mr. Speaker, I am sure the government wants to be honest, straightforward and transparent, and that is what leads me to ask a very simple question,” he prefaced, but in fact he had four questions. “If it is the intention of the Government of Canada to renege on a treaty that was ratified by the Parliament of Canada, why would the Government of Canada not say so now? Why would it not just bring it forward for debate in Parliament now? Why not do it before it goes through the charade of participating in the conference in Durban? Why such a double standard?”

Mr. Paradis opted not to answer any of these, choosing instead to blame the previous Liberal governments for failing to live up to the protocol that Mr. Paradis’ government dismisses entirely (but remains technically obligated to). “The Kyoto protocol does not include major emitters, like China and the United States,” the minister repeated, “and therefore will not work.”

Not that that necessarily justifies withdrawing from it, but not that it might not.

The Stats. The environment, eight questions. The health care and the military, four questions each. Employment, firearms and infrastructure, three questions each. The economy, national security, crime, firearms and bilingualism, two questions each. Canadian Wheat Board, aboriginal affairs, immigration, transportation, Egypt and Lebanon, one question each.

Christian Paradis, seven answers. Peter Kent and John Baird, four answers. Denis Lebel, Candice Hoeppner and Leona Aglukkaq, three answers each. Rob Nicholson, Denis Lebel, Peter MacKay, Jim Flaherty and Ted Menzies, two answers each. Gerald Keddy, Gerry Ritz, John Duncan, Rick Dykstra and Diane Ablonczy, one answer each.

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