Harper Conservatives finally play the Kyoto PR game

This week’s series of federal announcements on renewables, wind power, tidal power, etc., sounded a lot like Liberal redux. To be fair to the government’s critics, that’s because a lot of it was Liberal redux. But this accusation has an extremely limited shelf-life. The Conservatives have finally realized the value of genuflecting to wind and tidal power as a way of pacifying professional green critics, and their announcements this week might dull the roar.

And there’s one major difference between last week’s Conservative announcements and those the Liberals trotted out in the eight years after they signed Kyoto: Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn’s insistence that nuclear energy must play a vital role in Canada’s future.

This is the first time in a long while that we’ve had this kind of candour from a federal minister. It’s also the first time the blowback from the usual anti-nuclear suspects has been so faint. This in itself is interesting. Why so faint? Was it because the Conservatives are finally playing the PR game?

Or was it because the greens themselves have finally gotten serious about emission reductions? As I and others have pointed out, emissions from Ontario electricity generation were 12 million tonnes less in 2006 than in 2000, chiefly because 4 nuclear reactors have come back into service since 2003. Did the anti-nuke crowd weigh these massive emission reductions against the relatively small and totally manageable radioactive waste problem and decide to abandon their theological opposition to nuclear power?

John Bennett of the Climate Action Network, normally a relentless critic of nuclear, was uncharacteristically quiet on the nuclear part of Lunn’s announcement. Bennett is a smart guy and I have always wondered if his position on nuclear wasn’t just a bit laboured and doctrinaire. Perhaps he read the writing on the wall and decided to focus his talent and energy on battles he can win.

Another interesting development was International Trade Minister David Emerson’s visit to China. Lunn’s recent admonitions that the Ontario government choose CANDU reactors in its upcoming nuclear expansion ties in with this. As I mentioned on January 10, the feds are trying to boost AECL’s value to a prospective private sector buyer. It’s not just Ontario that might buy new CANDUs. You can bet that Emerson, in between the obligatory bouts of lip service to red-herring environmental technologies like hydrogen fuel cells, was pitching AECL’s flagship heavy water reactors to his Chinese hosts.

Imagine what AECL would be worth if it could nail new sales in Canada and China.

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