SAINT-SAUVEUR, QUEBEC — “Not nothing” was how Justin Trudeau portrayed his environmental track record over the weekend.
“Not nothing” isn’t much of a boast from a man who, six years ago, stood on the stage at the crucial Paris climate conference and solemnly intoned: “Canada is back.”
I was in that room in Paris, in 2015, just a few weeks after the vote that had seen Justin Trudeau’s Liberals get elected on a frothy promise of “real change.” I felt hopeful we would finally get it right on climate.
Once back in Canada, however, and with less fanfare, Trudeau announced that his own targets and timelines to fight climate change would, in fact, be those of his much-maligned predecessor, Stephen Harper.
Oh, and he never managed to meet even those.
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At the end of last year, Trudeau announced a bold, marvellous new climate plan. Only problem is, nothing has come of it yet. On April 22, Earth Day, he joined Biden and other leaders and, needing something to say, started outbidding himself. Nothing really new, just more ambitious targets. And he’s promising to get it done by 2050, when he’ll be 79 years old.
In the six years he’s been in power, Trudeau has seen GHGs increase every year and, yes, we do have the worst record of G7 countries. Hey, we were the first country to withdraw from the Kyoto Accord, might as well stick with a winning formula.
That Liberal formula on climate change has been to pose, preen, position and posture, then purchase a pipeline.
Trudeau solemnly promised Canadians and our international partners that he would stop subsidizing oil and gas companies. He’s still doing it to this day.
Canadians seem less upset to have Liberals mess up our international obligations than Conservatives. Harper called Kyoto a socialist scheme. Trudeau embraced it. The result for future generations, however, will be the same in both cases: Canada has been a laggard on climate under both Liberal and Conservative governments.
‘Vapourware’ is a term coined a generation ago in the information technology sector. It refers to an announced change made to attract attention and distract from competitors that is based on…nothing. Hot air, in the ‘vapour’ reference.
Trudeau is trying to hold onto his Liberal vote. He fights back hard when the Greens or the NDP point out the total absence of results from six years of announcements. He talks about experts who think he’s finally got it right.
Problem is, of course, that that Liberal formula wasn’t invented by Trudeau. It was invented two decades ago by Jean Chrétien, when he had Parliament ratify the Kyoto Protocol. Canada then went on to have one of the worst records in the world for greenhouse gas increases.
As Chrétien’s former Chief of staff Eddie Goldenberg later put it, signing Kyoto was all about galvanizing public opinion, not meeting our Kyoto target. He candidly admitted they had no plan for that.
That obligation was to reduce Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions by 6% from 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012. They in fact increased by over 30%.
The trick for the Liberals has always been to say the right thing on climate and to use climate change as a political communications tool.
It’s easy to understand. To Bay Street, the Liberals are friendly figures who can be counted upon to do the right thing, in this case continue to allow unbridled growth in the oil and gas sector while talking a good game in order to get elected.
The Canadian voting public really cares about the environment and climate change. The ability of the Liberals to explain away their recurring failure may be about to hit a brick wall. Canadians wanted action and voted Liberal. All they got was announcements of plans and more announcements, not results.
Voters for whom sustainable development is a key issue, younger voters in particular, can see past the Liberal smokescreen on climate change. They’re not going to be conned again.
With a race too close to call, the final week of campaigning will concentrate on the largest cities where voters may be susceptible to the classic Liberal siren song not to ‘split the vote.’ That often works against the Conservative bogeyman.
The Liberals may have gone to that well one time too often, though. Singh appears to be holding onto his votes and is poised for a breakthrough in the GTA. Annamie Paul impressed many with her deep understanding of environmental issues during the debates. Both will be seeking to convince and inspire voters who worry about the type of planet we will leave to our children and grandchildren.
For once, Liberal vapourware may not be enough.
Tom Mulcair was the former leader of the federal New Democratic Party of Canada between 2012 and 2017.