Climate Politics: Canadian Edition

Canada's Parliament Building

I’ve recently devoted more than a few words to describing Republicans’ dishonesty about climate change. That’s only sure to ramp up as the 2012 election approaches.

But just to the north of the U.S., there’s an election less than a week away. And whether you’re a Canadian voting in the election, a U.S. citizen curious about what views are beyond our binary system, or someone that cares about climate change, how it all shakes out matters.

A recent poll showed that Canadians on the whole are much more accepting of climate change compared to Americans. But that doesn’t mean their political parties place equal emphasis on taking steps to address it. Discover the climate change politics in our neighbor to the north.


How would the Conservative Party in Canada stack up against Republicans in the U.S. when it comes to climate change? They’d seem downright liberal! Well, sort of.

Canada’s Conservative Party actually mentions climate change in their party platform six times. However, their platform is low on specific policies and successes.

Why? Because what the Conservative Party doesn’t want to remind Canadians of is how the Conservative-dominated Senate killed Canada’s climate bill in November 2010. This is a bigger deal than many Americans might think because in Canada the Senate is appointed by the governor general based on advice from the Prime Minister, not elected by the people.

Generally it rubber stamps whatever the House of Commons, which is elected, passes. In the case of the climate bill, though, Conservative Senators pulled a very sneaky maneuver to block the bill, already passed by the House, which would’ve required Canada to reduce emissions to 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 and 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. So not so liberal after all.


Is climate change an economic issue? That’s how Liberals see it. In their platform, it’s all about the loonies, baby.

The Liberal platform points to a successful carbon tax in British Columbia as proof the economy won’t crater if steps are taken to put a price on carbon. It also highlights four Canadian provinces that have partnered with seven U.S. states to start a regional cap and trade system by 2015.

In addition, the platform also includes a number of economic incentives to reduce energy including credits for increasing efficiency, renewables and reducing usage.

On the downside, they also talk about promoting clean tar sands. Let’s be clear: clean tar sands are as real as the tooth fairy. But tar sands do make up an important piece of the Canadian economy so it makes sense that they have a place in the platform even if it is a pipe dream.

National Democratic Party

The National Democratic Party (NDP) is the most left-leaning of Canada’s political parties. It was one of their Members of Parliament (or Congressmen in Americanspeak) who introduced the climate bill in the House of Commons that the Senate subsequently killed. Not surprisingly, the NDP platform advocates for those same emissions reductions.

The NDP also promotes better public transit as one avenue to address climate change. It’s a thought that doesn’t show up much in the U.S. or international negotiations, but one well worth exploring.

Bloc Quebecois

Is there a regional party that plays such a large role nationally anywhere else in the world? Not to my knowledge (but please feel free to chime in). Though the Bloc Quebecois never run candidates outside of Quebec, they’re such a force in the province that they have a significant number of seats in the House so their position matters.

Given their territorial leanings, it’s not surprising that they prefer a territorial approach to climate change using a cap and trade system. They also have two other policy ideas to support consumers. One is a credit for people who buy cars that pollute less. The other is even more progressive: they propose carbon labeling for all products. Similar to nutrition labeling, the idea is to help consumers make informed choices.

The three non-Conservative parties all offer some innovative policy solutions. However, will any win a majority to try and implement them? As of now, the answer appears to be no. While the NDP is making gains, they are unlikely to gain enough seats to become the majority.

What seems most likely is Canada will continue to govern in a minority government. That means no party has a plurality of the seats in the House of Commons. While the party with the most seats holds nominally more control, all will ultimately have to work together to reach compromises.

Given the gains of the NDP, though, it seems possible that if they joined forces with the Liberals, they would have enough seats to be a real force. That means even if Conservatives hold that nominal majority, they’ll likely have to face the music (and will of the people) and work to make sure Canada is ready to fully address climate change.

Special thanks to Cynthia Thomson, my Canadian colleague and French translator extraordinaire.

Photo credit: palindrome6996/flickr