Angry white men, unplugged

With all the finger-pointing and the anger in Parliament these days, it is better to have the sound turned off

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The Gazette, Wednesday, November 28, 2007

At the gym on Monday afternoon, I switched on the television on the exercise bike to question period on CPAC. I know, get a life. But it was either that or a replay of the Grey Cup, actually more like the western semi-final, on RDS.

There was no sound, so it was fascinating to watch the images without words, gestures without voices. What was wrong with this picture? It was a bunch of angry white guys, really angry. Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff from the Liberals. Gilles Duceppe and Bernard Bigras from the Bloc. Tom Mulcair from the NDP. And Environment Minister John Baird, in reply to all their questions, for the Conservatives.

Since their anger was directed exclusively at Baird, they were clearly attacking the government for Stephen Harper's insistence on abandoning binding emissions reductions targets at the Commonwealth conference.

Well, at least this is a debate about an important question of public policy - climate change, and the future of the planet.

All the parties in the House except the Conservatives hold fast to the Kyoto targets of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions to six per cent below 1990 levels by the 2008-2012 target period, even though these binding targets are clearly unattainable. It's an inconvenient truth that Canada on the Liberal watch from 1993-2006 saw its emissions rise to 127 per cent of 1990 levels, a 33-per-cent miss. This period includes Dion's 18 months as environment minister from July 2004 to February 2006.

It's also a fact the United States, with 25 per cent of the world's emissions, refused to ratify Kyoto, and that its record is only half as bad as Canada's. And that China and India, with another 25 per cent of global emissions, while signatories to Kyoto, have no obligations in the relevant period. So, three countries with half the world's emissions aren't at the table, putting the burden entirely on countries like Canada, which can't meet their targets anyway.

Sounds like a great deal. Who agreed to it? Jean Chrétien, buying himself a Kyoto legacy when his government had no plan, and bureaucrats had to make one up as they went along. It is one the great public-policy failures of the last decade.

Harper's position is "No more Kyoto Kool Aid." He's not drinking it, and more to the point, he's not selling it. While Harper once said the science of climate change was inconclusive, leading to Dion's charge he was a climate-change denier (as in Holocaust denier, get it?), he now acknowledges it is the most urgent global issue of our time.

Harper has been selling another package, first to the G8, then to the Asia Pacific summit, and last weekend to the Commonwealth conference. His targets are a 20-per-cent reduction below current levels by 2020, and at least 50 per cent by 2050. Oh, and no binding targets on some without binding targets on all.

What he proposes to do about it isn't bad, it's just not Kyoto, which explains the raging white guys in the House on Monday. Wanting to see what was actually said, I went and looked it up on the virtual Hansard at the parliamentary website (, which is a great public service. The least that can be said is what while the issue is serious, the level of rhetoric is over the top.

Listen to them:

Dion: "Mr. Speaker, the world agrees that climate change must be fought by firm targets and binding commitments. The world agrees, except for the prime minister of Canada and George W. Bush. At the Commonwealth conference the prime minister stood in the way of progress. He sabotaged the conference. Why is the prime minister leading Canadians in a race to the bottom on the worst ecological threat facing humanity?"

Duceppe: "Mr. Speaker, just as Australians were sending John Howard packing because of his anti-Kyoto stance, our prime minister had nothing better to do than take advantage of the recent Commonwealth meeting to sabotage an agreement to establish absolute greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets."

Bigras: "Mr. Speaker, the reality is that the prime minister embarrassed us this weekend and acted like an environmental criminal."

Mulcair: "Mr. Speaker, the government keeps hiding behind the negligence and incompetence of the Liberals, who, truth be told, did nothing for 10 years. Now it is hiding behind India and China. ...Where will the Conservative government hide from future generations when global warming has reached dangerous levels on our planet?"

There's no understatement in any of this, and not a trace of debater's grace. It's all about the soundbite, and your party's share of 30 seconds of video on the nightly news. Sometimes it's better without the volume. Click.

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