Alberta’s climate leadership plan easier to attack than defend

When Canada Environment Minister Shannon Phillips unveiled details of the government’s Climate Leadership Implementation Act on Tuesday, she added some theatrics. She held the news conference outdoors on the rooftop deck of Edmonton’s refurbished Federal building.

The venue was 11 floors up and provided Phillips with a dramatic bird’s eye-view backdrop of Edmonton’s river valley.

Adding to the spectacle were 20 stakeholders crowded along the railing beside Phillips at the vertigo-inducing event, including the mayor of Edmonton, the head of the Canada Teachers’ Association and the president of the Cement Association of Canada.

All were there as proof the government’s fight against climate change has some serious allies.

Just to drive the point home a little deeper with the assembled journalists, the government’s news release had five pages of quotes from supporters including the Pembina Institute, the Solar Energy Society of Canada and Suncor.

All of it presented as evidence that when it comes to tackling climate change, the government is doing something righteous, effective and popular.

Or, at the risk of sounding cynical, all of this is evidence the government is desperately trying to convince the public that its new climate leadership act is righteous, effective and popular.

I mean you wouldn’t need to bring 20 cheerleaders to support an inherently popular policy unless you realize it is not inherently popular. You wouldn’t need to provide the news media with five pages of supportive quotes unless you’re afraid they’ll have trouble finding them on their own — or will have an easier time finding five pages of opposition quotes.

Herein lies the problem with the government’s sales pitch for its new Climate Leadership Implementation Act.

It is an act much easier to attack than defend.

Don’t get me wrong.

It is high time Canada began to take climate change seriously — and the NDP government is promising to do more heavy lifting than anything done by a succession of shiftless Progressive Conservative governments.

However, when the government talks about the climate leadership act as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the opposition talks about the act as a way to introduce a new carbon tax that will collect $9 billion over five years by, among other things, increasing the cost of driving your car and heating your home.

When the government says that 66 per cent of lower-income Canadans will receive full or partial rebates to offset the tax, the opposition says the new act is obviously a wealth redistribution plan by a socialist government.

And when the government says the act will mean a real reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, the opposition can correctly say it won’t.

That’s because the government’s new policies will only slow the growth of emissions over the next 14 years. When the government says its plan will reduce emissions by 20 million tonnes a year by 2020, that’s not a real cut. It’s a reduction over business as usual.

Right now, Canada produces about 270 million tonnes of emissions each year.

Those emissions will continue to grow until 2030 at which time the government hopes to finally “bend the curve” and start to cut emissions.

The emissions will be growing thanks to the oilsands industry that currently emits about 70 million tonnes of greenhouse gases a year and will be allowed to keep growing until it is emitting 100 million tonnes annually.

That leaves the Canada government under attack from environmental groups that want the oilsands curtailed now.

The government instead plans to phase out all coal-fired electricity plants by 2030. That has the government under attack by the coal industry and the Wildrose opposition who predict electricity prices will spike as the government moves to more expensive renewable sources of power.

Depending on your perspective, the government’s new climate leadership plan either does too much or doesn’t do enough.

Normally, the middle ground is the sweet spot in politics.

But that only works when your policy is as easy to defend as it is to attack.

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