The Harper record on climate change: Believers and big spenders!

- September 26th, 2013

Corn pile at Greenfield Ethanol

On Friday, the latest report from the Integovernmental Panel on Climate Change will be released. It will be controversial. Here, for example, is colleague Lorrie Goldstein arguing that the real purpose of the IPCC is not scientific but “to re-distribute global wealth.”

Lorrie and many of my colleagues will, no doubt, be taking on the scientists and established opinion about climate change .

As for me, I’m more interested in following the politics of it all. The opponents of the Harper government love to holler that the Harper government are climate change deniers. Really? Well, bad news for those folks.  Here’s an interview I did at the end of 2011 with Peter Kent, the Conservative MP who was, at the time, Stephen Harper’s environment minister. I asked him flat-out — first question —  if his government believes that human beings are causing global warming and whether or not we can do something about it:

Doesn’t sound like a climate change denier to me!

The simple fact of Canadian politics here is that, if you do not believe in climate change, there is no federal political party that shares your view. There almost was one in Alberta in its last provincial election but, boy, did that idea get shouted down.

But back to what Kent said to me in that interview:

“There is no question that since the Industrial Revolution there have been anthropogenic, man-made effects on our global climate. The argument continues in the scientific community how much is evolution and how much is man-made but there is certainly something we can do.”

So what is the something that the Harper government has been doing? Well, truth be told, the Harper Conservatives, like the Martin and Chretien Liberals before them, have not been doing very much. None of them, in fact, got the job done. Which might, come to think of it, be a good reason — if climate change is the only thing you’re voting on — to consider choosing the NDP or the Greens next time around. Not to say they’d actually get it done but it’s pretty clear the other two parties, while they talk a good game, just don’t have the political stomach for the job. Those New Democrats brought us universal health care. Maybe they can fix the environment, too.

Still, that doesn’t mean Conservatives aren’t prepared to spend hundreds of millions of dollars — billions even — on a problem they are accused of not admitting even exists. Take biofuels, for example. Early on, the Harper government got the idea that if corn- or plant-based ethanol displaced enough fossil fuels, we’d easily roll back greenhouse gas emissions.  Apparently no one bothered to point out that  there is serious doubt that corn-based ethanol is actually a lower-emission alternative to fossil fuels but why complicate things? Ethanol is a good, solid, job-creating green story!

And since the Harper government very likely needs a good, solid, job-creating green story to tell on the day of the release of the IPCC reporter — tomorrow —  Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver has been dispatched to the ethanol plant in Varennes, Quebec, a plant I toured when it was commissioned a few years ago. (That’s my picture, above, of a pile of dried corn at the plant ready to be turned into fuel).

That plant in Varennes is owned by Greenfield Inc. which has been a Harper government favourite ever since the government thought it ought to get behind ethanol in a big way.

So to Greenfield alone — the firm that will host Minister Oliver tomorrow so that he can say some nice things about Canada’s commitment to being green — has received $285 million million in direct government subsidies since 2008. Not bad! Seems to support colleague Goldstein’s argument that, yes indeed, climate change policy is all about redistributing wealth!

In fact, Greenfield received about one-fifth of the $1.5 billion set aside in Budget 2008  for biofuels. Here’s a  a handy list of the successful applicants for that money..   (You can see what attracted former MP Rahim Jaffer to try to set up his own ‘green firm” to lobby his old buddies for some of this money. All Jaffer wanted was $175-mllion or half what Greenfield was getting!)

Incidentally, my favourite handout has to be one that went to Kyoto Fuels. I mean, can you imagine? A firm calling itself KYOTO Fuels asking the Harper government for money? Well, it worked! Kyoto — based in Lethbridge of all places — scored $31 million! 

So you can see why Harper’s opponents ought to be the last ones to be upset about the Conservative track record on climate change. It’s Harper’s Conservative base who ought to be furious!  Not only do Conservatives “absolutely” believe human beings cause climate change (see Kent, above) but the Conservatives do not believe the “free market” can solve this problem (see ‘carbon tax’) and instead believe that using hundreds of millions of dollars in direct tax subsidies is the best way to go!

Note: This post was corrected and updated at 0900 ET on Fri Sept 27. An earlier version indicated that in 2011, Greenfield received fifth grant. In fact, Minister Paradis was announced subsidies for the entire industry. That has been noted and the totals for Greenfield’s subsidy have also been adjusted.

Categories: Environment, Politics

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2 comments

  1. David says:

    While the Greens do believe in climate change, the focus seems to be about sustainability and stability. Renewables like solar, wing, geothermal, tidal wave… They won’t run out and are getting better and cheaper yet with research and increased production. Saving our planet from dilibit spills and coal smoke stacks improves our health and removes us from expensive oil dependency, aside from any global warming concern. We need oil for plastics and such. It should be extracted at an appropriate rate as a valuable limited resource without just burning it up into smoke. As a side note..I love my Chevy Volt, charged on renewables.

  2. Lorrie has always been a bit of a nut case when it comes to Corporate Canada

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