“Laissez-faire, I don’t care.”
The leader of Canada’s Liberal Party is young, fresh, and virile. His name is Justin Trudeau, and he is ready to lead from the rear on the climate file. Last week, he said that the federal government should offload climate action responsibilities to the provinces. That’s nouveau Trudeau – saying stuff that makes us think … about why he bothered to say it.
During a radio interview that followed his winter caucus meeting, Trudeau lamented that Stephen Harper’s federal Conservatives have shown no leadership on climate change. Strictly speaking, this isn’t true. While Harper’s government hasn’t made any meaningful effort to stop climate change or to prepare Canadians to deal with its consequences, it has actively led efforts to stop others from tackling the issue. In fact, Harper’s government proudly displays the numerous awards it won for thwarting international progress on climate change. So, in a bizarre way, Trudeau is wrong.
Continuing, the former high school heartthrob pointed out that several provinces have stepped up to fill the federal climate leadership void. He listed British Columbia, Alberta, Quebec, and Ontario as the provinces that now put a price on carbon for 86% of Canadians. Once again, though, the dreamy young man was just a bit off. Ontario said that it might tax carbon emissions, but has not formally put a policy in place to do so. While Trudeau rightly contends that Quebec trades emissions credits and that BC taxes carbon at $30/tonne, it is hard to call Alberta’s intensity-based ~$2/tonne gimmick a legitimate carbon pricing scheme, especially now that Canada has retired the penny. Anyway, right or wrong, what would Trudeau do to help the government catch up to these provinces? Not much.
Despite complaining about the federal Conservatives’ lack of environmental leadership, Trudeau says that the federal Liberals would do little more than observe and report the provinces’ efforts. He implied that the time for the federal government to take action had come and gone. In this climate, election season, it would be impossible to propose any sort of effective environmental policy.
His remarks suggest that the hot young stud is more interested in letting others do his dirty work than he is in taking action. In his own words, his hypothetical federal government’s job would be to “co-ordinate [provincial efforts] and make sure Canada is seen as taking [climate change] seriously.” Yes, that’s right, “seen.” Don’t mistake that for actually taking climate change seriously.
If one thing seems certain, it’s that Trudeau cares about appearance. He has his look down (boy, does he ever!), and now he’s working on good-looking policy. Attention to appearance might explain how he can call for limits on tar sands emissions while supporting the Keystone XL pipeline and the necessary increase in tar sand development and emissions that would result from its construction. Policies like that don’t make sense unless they are designed for purely aesthetic purposes.
So what, then, can we infer about the Liberal Party? Does the big red tent’s beautiful exterior invite passersby to enter, only to find a stinking pile of garbage inside? It’s too early to say, and imprudent to judge an organization based on one man’s words. Other Liberals might not share Trudeau’s cognitive dissonance. Recall that Stéphane Dion, the Liberal environmental champion, criticized Stephen Harper’s hands-off approach to governance, including environmental governance, with the words “Laissez-faire, I don’t care.” Is this that same Liberal Party? No. Dion’s Liberals barely escaped with their lives, whereas Trudeau is primed to challenge for a victory in the upcoming election. So, really, then, we might be better off spending less time worrying about the Liberal Party and more time wondering about Canadian voters.