By Krystyn Tully, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper
On January 23, 2006, the Conservative Party won 124 seats in the House of Commons, enough to oust the ruling Liberals and form the next Government of Canada. The election was our second in the last two years and the outcome – a deeply stratified Parliament with strong representation from four different political parties – suggests that we can expect another one before too long. In the meantime, there are two things that Great Lakes residents need to know about Canada’s 39th Parliament.
First, the Conservatives may be the governing party, but they do not have enough elected members to overrule the opposition parties. This means the government is unable to introduce even the most basic changes without the opposition’s consent, so we are unlikely to see dramatic policy changes affecting the Great Lakes in the short-term.
Second, the election has been an exciting time for journalists, pollsters, and political junkies, but not so thrilling for environmentalists. References to clean air and clean water can be found in every party’s written platform, but they rarely popped up on the campaign trail. Most notably, environmental issues were not featured in any of the four leadership debates. The new government was not elected with any clear mandate to change, eliminate, or expand national environmental programs. So, without a lot of debate about air, water, or wildlife, it is hard to say exactly what they will do.
With Conservatives in power for the first time in thirteen years, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper thought it would be interesting to make a few predictions about the new government’s environmental agenda. Based on the party’s statements to the media and written platform, we predict that the following environmental themes (if any!) will develop in the Great Lakes Basin this year:
Cracking Down on Cargo Sweeping
One of two oft-repeated environmental promises on the election trail was the Conservatives’ vow to crack down on the shipping industry. Last fall, articles in Now and This magazines drew national attention to the rampant practice of “cargo-sweeping”– cleaning out the holds of cargo ships and dumping the waste directly into the Great Lakes. The shipping industry dumps some 2,500 tons of petroleum coke, lead ore, coal and other contaminants into the lakes each year. The Conservatives railed against the practice throughout the campaign. Cargo-sweeping is illegal,Waterkeeper has argued. And the Conservatives supported this position while in opposition.It is not yet clear what enforcement program they will introduce to curb the practice.
Abandoning Kyoto, introducing the Clean Air Act
The second oft-repeated environmental promise was the pledge to abandon the Kyoto Accord in favour of a “home-grown” Clean Air Act. Arguing that the Kyoto targets cannot be met, the new Prime Minister believes “made-in-Canada” targets will be more effective in reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. It is not yet clear how new targets would speed up emissions reductions or protect the Great Lakes from the effects of global warming.
Selling water to the world market
One Conservative member from British Columbia commented during the campaign that he hopes to increase sales of water to other countries. James Lunney suggested that water withdrawals would have minimal impacts on ocean levels, create jobs, and quench the thirst of an “increasingly desperate” world. Mr. Lunney told constituents he had yet to hear an argument to dissuade him from the idea that Canada could develop a “good export market” for its water, aside from “emotional rhetoric.” It is still unknown if Mr. Lunney’s views are shared by party leaders or if the Conservatives are interested in joining Ontario and Quebec, as they work with the eight Great Lakes states to regulate water use in the Great Lakes Basin. In the future, the Conservatives hope to subject every international agreement to a vote in the federal Parliament, a process that the Great Lakes Basin Sustainable Water Resources Agreement did not undergo.
Beefing up property rights
Though it is highly unlikely that a fragile minority governmentwill be able to change the Canadian Constitution in the near future, the Conservative Party hopes to add property rights to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The party also wants to pass legislation that will compensate people who are deprived of property as a result of government legislation or policy.This proposal harkens to the controversial “Takings Clause” in the United States, which is being used to strike down environmental protections unless the government compensates landowners. If this kind of legislation is introduced, the federal government might be forced to pay polluters to comply with environmental laws.
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