The Commons: Now is not the time for subtlety

Oil and the climate are at war and you must pick a side

It was just two weeks ago, asked about Alberta’s carbon tax, that Peter Kent was moved to muse aloud about a contentious and contested topic. “There hasn’t,” he ventured, “been a great deal of subtlety in talking about carbon pricing.”

Perhaps this lack of subtlety is something like the root cause of our current impasse. Or perhaps this is no time for nuance.

The foreign press is now referring to Joe Oliver as the Canadian “oil minister, which is terribly unfair to the trees and rocks and water he is also responsible for making use of. Of a year-old op-ed, Mr. Oliver is accusing a NASA scientist of “crying wolf” and suggesting that James Hansen “should be chaining himself to a mannequin in Rodeo Drive,” which would be pointless unless the mannequin was itself nailed down. And now another scientist is likening Mr. Oliver to “a Shetland pony in the Kentucky Derby,” who is “making Canada look like a country full of jerks,” which is terribly unfair to at least the three or four of us who aren’t.

It was on something like this note that Mr. Mulcair stood to harangue the government side this afternoon.

“Mr. Speaker, when the Minister of Natural Resources is not quoting fictional climate scientists, he is attacking the real ones,” Mr. Mulcair reported in his speed-up-then-slow-down way of lecturing. “Yesterday in Washington the Minister of Natural Resources lashed out at a former NASA climate scientist calling his work … ‘nonsense.’ He accused scientists who speak out about climate change of ‘crying wolf.’ ”

There was a question here, but it was mostly rhetorical. “Was the Minister of Natural Resources sent to Washington to insult U.S. government scientists?” Mr. Mulcair wondered.

James Moore, filling in for the prime minister, was no doubt happy to make the contrast Mr. Mulcair had thus invited.

“Mr. Speaker, the reason why the Minister of Natural Resources is in Washington is to fight for Canadian jobs and protect our environment,” Mr. Moore explained. “This is in perfect clear and stark contrast with the reason why New Democrat members of Parliament went to Washington, D.C., to fight against Canadian interests, to fight against the creation of Canadian jobs, and to come back here to Ottawa and offer no plan with regard to climate change.”

No plan? Then what have all those Conservatives been crying about?

Mr. Mulcair was apparently ready for this.

“That is interesting, Mr. Speaker,” the NDP leader mused, a piece of white paper now in his hand. “Here is a direct quote from the Canadian Press, April 19, 2013 during the visit of the Minister of Finance to Washington, ‘Keystone will be good for employment in the United States.” More than 40,000 well-paying jobs will be created in the U.S.”

There seemed to be a clap on the government side, before the point of Mr. Mulcair’s point became clear.

“We are fighting for jobs in Canada,” Mr. Mulcair declared. “We have no lessons to take from them.”

The New Democrats stood and applauded.

Mr. Moore started to stand up, but Mr. Mulcair was actually not quite done and now the NDP leader switched to French to state his question as various Conservatives shouted for the Speaker to call time.

“Mr. Speaker,” the Heritage Minister lamented when he was finally allowed to respond, “it is sad that the Leader of the Opposition does not understand comparative or competitive economics. The fact is the Keystone XL project will create jobs on both sides of the border. This project is projected to create over 140,000 jobs in Canada.”

Of Mr. Moore’s fact, there can be no doubt. Of Mr. Moore’s projection, there might be some debate. (The minister’s figure is drawn from a projection by the Canadian Energy Research Institute of jobs “created and preserved.”)

“Just because it will create jobs in the United States does not mean it will not create jobs in Canada,” Mr. Moore continued. “This is a fallacy left over from NDP economics when those members fought against the FTA and fought against NAFTA, and they continue it again today. At their convention they said they took socialism out of the preamble of their constitution, but it is clear that it is alive and well in NDP economics.”

A few rounds later, it was Peter Julian of the New Democrats, lamenting for a government that denies climate change and sells our national resources to the Chinese government. Which might not bother Mr. Julian so much if he realized the Chinese were interested in putting a price on carbon.

Regardless, Peter Kent stood here to proclaim much progress.

“Our government is the first Canadian government to actually reduce greenhouse gases,” the Environment Minister declared. “We have decoupled emissions from economic growth.”

Except that that decoupling would seem to predate most of the government’s policies on emissions.

Mr. Julian was unpersuaded. “Mr. Speaker, that desperate spin does not hide the fact that only the NDP has sustainable policies and that is why Canadians need an NDP government in 2015, because Conservatives failed in the climate change fight,” he proclaimed. “Canadians deserve better.”

Like a refinery?

“Will the minister stop denying climate change,” the New Democrat begged of the absent Mr. Oliver, “start acknowledging the danger in the rise in global temperatures and support the NDP motion to combat climate change now?”

Mr. Kent moved now to reassure Mr. Julian of at least some general belief on the government side. “Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Natural Resources has made it clear on any number of occasions in any number of venues just how important this government considers the climate change challenge to be,” Mr. Kent said of his colleague.

But then the minister did not want to finish this day without reminding Mr. Julian of what the New Democrats were scheming to do. “At the same time,” Mr. Kent continued, “the NDP would pick the pockets of hard-working Canadians with a $21-billion carbon tax. That would not guarantee the reduction of a single megatonne of greenhouse gases. Our government has a plan. The NDP has no plan, other than to exploit hard-working Canadians.”

Except that if Canada is to meet its reduction targets, it will seemingly do so in part because of provincial carbon taxes.

If not for the fact that this was no time to be seen committing subtlety, it would be tempting to suggest that both of these sides are somehow right.

Looking for more?

Get the best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.