Don’t Blame Canada Anymore

Climate Policy Triumphs Over South Park in New Trudeau Government

Canada's Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna
Canada’s Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna

We Americans tend to think of Canadians as nice, friendly, well-intentioned folk, a little more left-of-center than the US — sort of what Blue America would be if it didn’t have to deal with the south. For the last 10 years, though, that has been anything but true: the Conservative government of Stephen Harper brought US Movement Conservatism north, and in the recent election campaign used good ‘ol American-style race-baiting as the centerpiece of its election strategy.

But Canada is still Canada, and Harper lost to the Liberal Party and Justin Trudeau, whose new government was sworn in today. One place where this will really matter is in climate policy, where the Tories pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol and tried to turn the country into an extractive petro-state. The “Grits” — a uniquely Canadian term for the Liberals — endorse putting a price on carbon and Trudeau himself is looking to play an active role in the upcoming Paris talks. It’s easy to make fun of Canada’s relative weakness in international politics because despite its vast physical size, it is a relatively small country with an even smaller military that can’t throw its weight around. But when it comes to climate, Canada is incredibly important because of its vast oil reserves, centered now of course on Tar Sands. If Canadians decide to pump oil and tar, that will matter far more than its small size army.

Trudeau’s new Minister for Environment and Climate Change is Catherine McKenna, a new member of Parliament elected in an upset in her central Ottawa district (or “riding,” as they call it up north). The good news about McKenna is that she has a tremendous amount of energy and a good deal of international experience: she is an international trade lawyer who has been active in global human rights causes. The bad news is that she does not appear to have a strong background in the details of climate policy and — as mentioned before — she is a rookie member of Parliament. So expect a whole lot of (political) energy and activity in Canadian climate policy — and also a lot of rookie mistakes and embarrassments. Here is a good if short writeup from The Ottawa Citizen; here is one from The National Observer.

If those embarrassments get bad, we will still be able to “Blame Canada.” Otherwise, we will just blame them for Justin Bieber.

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Reader Comments

3 Replies to “Don’t Blame Canada Anymore”

  1. Thanks for keeping current on the Canada file, Jonathan. Two noteworthy points about the cabinet appointments in addition to the naming of this clearly serious and competent, albeit junior, member as Minister for Environment and Climate Change.

    First, the name of the portfolio is new. Canada has never previously had a minister for Environment *and Climate Change*. This is a signal not just of taking the climate issue more seriously, but also of designating leadership clearly under her authority — i.e., Environment Canada (or some other coordinating structure under McKenna) will have the lead, not Natural Resources (which had de facto institutional lead and deep-sixed the file under Harper), Agriculture, or Industry.

    Second, the new Minister of Foreign Affairs is Stephane Dion — the most experienced and committed person on climate change in the cabinet, indeed probably in the caucus. Dion was environment minister in Paul Martin’s government, Intergovernmental Affairs minister in Jean Chretien’s (in which position he authored the “Clarity Act” re potential future separation referenda), and Liberal Party Leader from 2006 to 2008. As party leader, he ran in the 2008 election on a proposal for a nationwide carbon tax — and lost, thereby consigning federal carbon-tax proposals to the wilderness for the intervening years.

    The first step for a re-start of Canadian climate-change policy will have to be a deal with the Provinces, and it will be challenging to get anything in place in the few weeks before Paris. But this cabinet signals a major attempt to re-invigorate the issue.

  2. Happy to see an article about Canada. Reads like you did some research on Canada and took a few playful jabs;-). However, I do take offence on your comment about Canada’s weakness in international politics is off base. If being a shining example of an inclusive, multiculural, tolerant and prosperous country to the rest of the world is not holding our weight internationally, how does founding the UN and concept of peace keeping forces stack up?http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1957/pearson-facts.html

    Also, you should stop using the term tarsands, use oilsands it is the scientific and correct term. Using tarsands makes you sound like an activist, instead of an academic or policy expert.

  3. Dear Jonathan,
    Who in the #*^k gives a rat’s derriere about Canada!!! We need to know about our own Clean Power Plan. Where is it? There used to be a lot of excitement on this forum for the CPP. What happened? Where is Ms. Megan Herzog when we need her?

    What difference will California’s greenhouse rules have on our global climate if other States are legally allowed to do nothing? Who will pay for that?

    Yes we understand there is nothing more that the California Environmental Bar can do to fix this mess, perhaps another doobie would help. Where is Herzog???

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About Jonathan

Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic – Land Use, the Environment and Loc…

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