Kyoto faces its first major electoral test in Canada

On June 27 I said Kyoto’s traction—or lack of traction—as a public issue in Canada might finally be proven by an electoral test. This was because Bill C-288 (a private members bill sponsored by Pablo Rodriguez, a.k.a. P-Rod) had received royal assent on June 22. P-Rod’s bill calls for the federal government to come up with a plan to implement the Kyoto Treaty within 60 days, and to develop regulations by mid-October.

That is, the regulations are to have been developed around a week after Ontario’s provincial election.

Saturday’s Toronto Star carried an article citing recent polls that suggest the environment, “driven by climate change,” may be the number one issue in Ontario’s election campaign. “It’s a potent issue that political parties ignore at their peril,” says Environmental Defence’s Rick Smith.

Hold on, Rick. The Star article also points out that, according to the smart guys who run and interpret the polls, the three major parties can pretty much get by by paying lip service to the environment. Unless somebody screws up big time, some other factor will decide the October 10 outcome.

Maybe there’s another way to read this. P-Rod’s 60 days came and went in late August without much media fuss. If the federal Conservatives have developed the required plan, they’re keeping it secret. In fact, it looks like they’re thinking hard about joining the Asia-Pacific Partnership for Clean Development and Climate, an alternative to Kyoto. This might suggest the environment is actually lower on the agenda than all the experts think.

Oddly, the Star article didn’t mention anything about the feds missing P-Rod’s deadline. Why should it, you may ask—it’s about Ontario not federal politics. Well, for one thing the Star’s editorial leanings are not toward the federal Conservatives. The Star ordinarily pounces on any Conservative mis-step, real or perceived, no matter how minor. Besides, the McGuinty Liberals keep talking about closing the province’s coal-fired generating plants as their contribution to meeting Ontario’s Kyoto targets. So Kyoto is a provincial issue.

Which means either the greens, who scoff at the Asia-Pacific Partnership, have decided to forego a juicy opportunity to force the Ontario parties into a commitment on climate change by attacking the federal government—or they’re planning something. If it’s the first alternative, maybe they’re catching the dreadful feeling that the environment isn’t all that big after all. But I bet it’s the second. The greens won’t willingly slide away into irrelevance.

Like I said, this will be an interesting fall.

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