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Conservatives feel heat on climate change | Opinion




a group of people standing in front of a sign: Students gather on Parliament Hill as they protest climate change on March 15 in Ottawa.


© Adrian Wyld
Students gather on Parliament Hill as they protest climate change on March 15 in Ottawa.

(Editor’s note: The opinions in this article are the author’s, as published by our content partner, and do not represent the views of MSN or Microsoft.)

A few days ago, Lisa Raitt made a serious blunder. For no obvious reason, she decided to attack Prime Minister Justin Trudeau by saying there was no clear link between extreme weather and climate change. 

Thousands of angry tweets later she took down her provocative post. It’s not clear whether this will mean temporary damage for the usually thoughtful and professional deputy leader of the Conservatives — or something more permanent.

Every couple of decades a cause arises that seizes younger voters. In the 1960s and ’70s it was sexual liberation and civil rights, in the ’80s and ’90s it was nuclear disarmament, gay marriage and apartheid. A decade ago it was antiglobalization, anti-1 percenters. Today it is #MeToo. For the decade ahead it appears certain to be the climate crisis.

Interestingly, in response to each one of these groundswells, traditional politicians — especially on the right — made serious gaffes. It is tempting to chuckle how wrong-footed politicians were about arms control, AIDs, Mandela, equal marriage and on and on — except that it was painful at the time to those they dismissed.

Although they could claim green credentials in their very name, Conservatives today still don’t seem to get it about climate. They have slowly shifted away from pure climate denial, to an anti-carbon pricing message. They have moved from laughing at renewable energy to supporting a fossil fuel transition — just not right now.

This is a tough issue to get right, admittedly. Even Elizabeth May got into a dust-up with her own Quebec activists for her position on oilsands refining. A vicious Twitter battle raged last week provoking division among Greens on their very core values.

Trudeau is being hammered on his tanker ban — ‘dangerous tankers’ are OK off the Cape Breton coast but not B.C.’s Sunshine Coast. Why? Jagmeet Singh wobbled and then corrected course on LNG. But compared to Scheer, Kenney, Ford and now Raitt, these leaders look like deep green climate warriors.

The political damage that conservatives did to themselves globally on environmental policy decades ago haunts them today. They gave birth to Green politics in Europe, Australia and now Canada. The internet is awash in embarrassing quotes from their leaders like “global temperatures go up and then they go down, so what?”

With the rare exception of a Brian Mulroney or a Peter Lougheed the environmental track record of Canadian conservatives is not pretty, either. Look up Mike Harris on global warming if you want a mordant chuckle. Andrew Scheer must now walk a terrifying razor blade on climate. Without greater climate credibility among young Torontonians, Montrealers and Vancouverites he will lose.

Pushing too hard on his new-found conviction about carbon, he runs into three angry Conservative premiers in his heartland, each of whom is in various stages of denial about pricing carbon. He will give a major environmental policy speech in a few days’ time. One may safely predict he will take bullets from all sides of the debate no matter what he says.

But every politician — including Green ones — should make no mistake, authentically articulating a credible path on climate will become the determinant of victory or defeat. Veer to hard green at the expense of jobs and fiscal impact, you die. Veer to soft compromise and delay, you’re also done.

Liberals and New Democrats must make the case that a resource-based economy is a heavy carbon emitting economy. Reducing emissions through electrification of the oilsands, pushing zero-emission vehicles by law, and yes, increasing carbon taxation rapidly are essentials — creating good jobs while we do it, is too.

Not easy. For Canadian conservatives this will be a credibility challenge as hard as race is for American conservatives. If I were Conservative strategist my calculus would be: “We can afford to irritate Kenney and Ford with a tough, creative, market-focused green agenda. Where else are their voters going to go? We can’t afford to lose the voters who demand proof of our new seriousness on climate. That way lies certain defeat.”

Robin V. Sears is a principal at Earnscliffe Strategy Group and was an NDP strategist for 20 years. He is a freelance contributing columnist for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @robinvsears



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