Janice Harvey takes a look at
the parties
ing up to 
the 2004 
federal election



L'environnement pourrait être la pierre d'achoppement d'un gouvernement conservateur minoritaire

Janice Harvey jette
un coup d'œil sur les
portions traitant
de l'environnement
des plateformes
électorales des
partis pour déterminer comment
elles se présentaient
avant l'élection
fédérale de 2004.




The environment
could be the deal-breaker
in a Conservative minority government


Janice Harvey
Freelance columnist
June 16, 2004

o far, the environment has been lingering in the background of campaign sparring among parties. Even the advent of the Greens as a national party, with candidates in all 308 ridings, has not resulted in the environment being elevated to elite status among issues. Yet this, above all others, could be the pivot point for post-election manoeuvring. Here's how it could evolve.

If the Conservatives won a minority government, they would have to look to another party to prop them up. The Bloc Quebecois and possibly the NDP would be in a position to allow the Conservatives to govern, or not. Given Jack Layton's position as the national leader of the left, diametrically opposed to the Conservatives on virtually all fronts, it is inconceivable that he would compromise on any aspect of the Conservative agenda.

On the other hand, Gilles Duceppe, the leader of the Bloc, has much less at stake than Layton reputation-wise, despite the socially progressive platform of his party. As an avowed separatist, he has said his top priority is Quebec, and he would support the Conservatives in anything that would prop up his own agenda of driving a wedge between Quebec and Ottawa.

In that vein, Stephen Harper's vision of a weak, ineffective federal government and strong, independent provinces would be the bond between Duceppe and Harper that could keep a Conservative government in power. Never mind that Canadians have, over the century, decidedly favoured a strong role for the central government as the glue which holds our sprawling country together.

With his 'Quebec First' stance, Duceppe would not likely fight against a two-tiered health system in Parliament as long as Quebec would be left alone to set its own agenda and the cheques from Ottawa kept coming. The same holds for education, childcare, pensions, employment programs, or any avenue through which the federal government directly interacts with Canadians. Stephen Harper has already said he would allow provinces to opt out of federal programs but get the money just the same, with the inevitable effect of the disappearance of any consistency or equivalency across Canada where social services are concerned.

As for the Conservative social agenda, which is anathema to the Bloc's progressive policies, Duceppe appears willing to gamble. Ironically, it could well be the federal Constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which the separatists shun, that could end up protecting women and minorities in Quebec and everywhere else against Conservative attempts to roll back hard-won gains. Harper's willingness to use the 'notwithstanding clause' to allow provinces to opt out of constitutional protections would also play into Duceppe's hand.

So across the wide spectrum of issues that would separate the Conservatives from the Liberals and NDP, one could imagine Gilles Duceppe milking Harper's decentralization ideology for all its worth. Only on one front - the international Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gas reductions to which Canada is signatory - has Duceppe drawn the line.

Stephen Harper opposes the Kyoto Protocol and, to the great glee of Alberta Premier Ralph Klein and the oil and coal industry, would renege on Canada's commitment. Duceppe has committed to defend Canada's signature on the Protocol. Quebeckers, you see, are both internationalists and environmentalists. This issue transcends partisanship and, as a result, cannot be manipulated by the separatists to their own advantage. Duceppe must toe the line on Kyoto or suffer the consequences. This issue could bring down a minority Conservative government.

This is much bigger than a piece of environmental legislation. It's an international treaty supported by all industrialized countries but two. To come into effect, it needs the buy-in of either Russia or the United States. Russia is now negotiating a financial package with the European Union in exchange for ratification. If John Kerry beats George W. Bush in November, the US would be quick to follow. With either one or the other in, Stephen Harper would then be the Kyoto spoiler, making Canada an international pariah, a reputation most Canadians would abhor.

Since Jean Chretien brought the Kyoto resolution to Parliament before signing, Harper would have a moral obligation to bring a resolution to renege on Kyoto back to Parliament. His minority government would lose that vote, according to Duceppe. This could precipitate an opposition non-confidence motion and the fall of the government.

While global warming may not influence the vote, with a Conservative minority government it could well be the deal-breaker.