Now that CO2 is a regulated substance under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA), the government is obliged to do something about it. True, the Conservatives could drag their heels and wait until they win a majority government before either removing CO2 from the list of regulated substances or temporizing by way of some long-winded consultation exercise. But of course they would have to win a majority to have the freedom to do this. And the next election might be won or lost over their action, or inaction, on the environment.
So they’re back at square one, which is right now. And right now the Conservatives can do one of three things. One, they could just ignore the CEPA and hope no one notices. But as I mentioned in my June 18 post, the Liberals, led by Pablo Rodriguez (Honoré-Mercier), indicated they will try to force the Conservatives to do something about CO2. If they could somehow combine with the Bloc and NDP on the Parliamentary committee that looks at environmental issues, the Liberals could make some real mischief: a combined opposition could outvote the government on the committee.
Two, they can try taking CO2 back out of the CEPA. But this is non starter. Even if they managed to cut a deal with the non-Liberal opposition, or even with a Liberal leadership hopeful on the committee, it would be difficult to avoid protests from the green movement, especially the Quebec-based one.
The Conservatives’ third option is the most daring, and could yield the most benefits. They could pull a Richard-Nixon-goes-to-China, and take a giant step into truly meaningful environmental policy by starting a cap-and-trade system for CO2 and pollution emissions. Concurrently, they could double the Wind Power Production Incentive (WPPI) from 1,000 to 2,000 megawatts and extend it to nuclear generation. Then, they could offer a $2,000 GST rebate to anyone who buys a hybrid car. This would match Ontario’s provincial sales tax credit for similar purchases.
The cap-and-trade system could start within four or five years. This gives more than enough time to kick-start new nuclear projects, especially in Ontario—provided the Conservatives give nukes some incentive via the WPPI. This might also encourage Quebec to rehabilitate Gentilly 2. As I pointed out in my June 8 post, the Ontario move alone would displace 20 million tonnes of emissions annually from coal-fired generating plants. Twenty million tonnes is a bigger reduction than any measure the Liberals ever dreamed of when they were running things. And it’s just one province.
How Nixonian would that be? Very. No one expects this from the Conservatives. The moral effect could be overwhelming. Think of it: environment problem—solved. No one can argue with the sheer size of the emission reductions entailed in Ontario’s nuclear plans. “Fiscal imbalance” problem—solved. Federal money goes to Ontario, Quebec, and New Brunswick for new reactors or reactor overhauls. And perception problem—solved. The centerpiece of the WPPI is wind power, and every green advocate has been calling for more wind power. How could they possibly disagree with this?
Could these moves pay off with Quebec and Ontario votes? Take the giant step and find out.