Janice Harvey takes a look at how the various environment platforms were shaping up during the lead up to the 2004 federal election


Leur position sur la planète Terre

Alors que le
de la planète peut
ne pas influencer
les résultats du
vote le 28 juin,
Harvey prétend
qu'avec un
cette question
pourrait devenir
de première



Where they stand
on Planet Earth

Janice Harvey
Freelance columnist
June 2, 2004

nfortunately, the Conservative site was not working on Monday morning, and since newspaper deadlines wait for no party, I had to move on. If you want to try, their website is www.conservative.ca. That said, the Liberals and Conservatives are meting out their platforms one plank at a time, and so far, neither has favoured us with the environmental plank. Only the NDP and Green Party have actually released a full election platform. The Liberal web site features the environmental content from the Speech from the Throne and a budget; I will assume that their election statements won't veer too far off this.

In a nutshell, it's this. They will work to address cross-border issues with the US (no details), get clean drinking water to First Nations reserves, and spend $4 billion over 10 years to clean up contaminated sites. They reiterate their commitment to the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, but offer only the voluntary "One Tonne Challenge" directed at individuals as the only concrete step towards implementation. Potentially, the most significant environmental commitment, albeit indirect, is to fund infrastructure and provide cities with new revenues through GST relief and gas tax sharing. Water and sewage treatment, rail and public transit are all potential beneficiaries of this money. Under-whelming.

Albert Einstein said, "We cannot solve the problems we have created with the same thinking that created them." In other words, you have to think outside the box. Right now, the only parties doing this are the NDP and Green Party. Their environmental planks are substantive, with some differences in emphasis and strategy that may be significant.

"We cannot solve the problems
we have created with the
same thinking that created them."

The emergence of the Green Party as a national force in this election seems to have sharpened the NDP's pencils. It isn't by accident that a "Green Canada" is front and centre in the NDP's slogan, which was launched in B.C. where the Green Party could interfere with a potential NDP breakthrough. The good news is there is substance behind the slogan.

The NDP has outlined a strong agenda in energy, clean air, transportation, and greenhouse gas reductions (all three are related). Making the transition from a fossil fuel economy to one built on energy efficiency and renewables is the greatest challenge facing Canada, and the NDP has it covered quite well, including looking after workers and communities affected by the transition.

They have an "okay" but weaker agenda on clean water, toxic chemicals and biodiversity protection. These elements seem less well developed, and the ocean (fishing) is missing completely, other than an important reference to industrial aquaculture. Overall, the NDP's strength appears to be a strategic approach to marrying environmental imperatives with economic development. There is a conscious effort to address issues facing workers in traditional sectors, like energy and auto-making-a clear reflection of the involvement of labour in the party and the efforts of unions to set their own progressive agenda on energy and climate change.

Likewise, the Green Party platform has its strengths and weaknesses. The Greens cover more ground than the NDP, including the critical need to reduce the release of toxic chemicals into our environment, the existence of fishing and mining issues (but not aquaculture or corporate agriculture), and waste management. But they provide less detail on how to achieve their goals, suggesting that the party knows the "what" but not necessarily the "how." That may not be fair, given that their platform document directs readers back to the website for full details, but this is not a good strategy. I did not have time to re-visit the website for more information, and most people probably wouldn't bother. The platform document should be comprehensive enough to convince readers of the substance of the policy and the party.

Where the Green Party stands out is in their focus on taxation and subsidy shifts as a driver of change. In essence, they would tax the activities that we want to discourage - like pollution - and reward those that should be encouraged - like employment. It makes sense, but telling Canadians today that gas taxes should be raised by 10 cents a litre is like waving a red flag at a bull.

For a citizen looking to vote green, either party stands up on the ideas level. Strategic thinking on implementation, however, lies so far with the NDP.