The Commons: Anyone can be environment minister

What does Chuck Strahl have to do with the Tories’
efforts against climate change?

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The Scene. Demonstrating their interest in climate change as a matter of great consequence, the official opposition led this afternoon with Michael Ignatieff’s 95th, 96th and 97th attempts to convince the Prime Minister that the government’s spending priorities are woeful and that the Liberal home care proposal is a superior alternative. After the Prime Minister had batted away these entreaties just as he had the previous 94, the Liberals sent up Lise Zarac, a backbencher, to ask about the latest report of the environmental commissioner and his passingly troublesome suggestion that the government lacked anything like a comprehensive plan for what the Prime Minister once termed “perhaps the biggest threat to confront the future of humanity today.”

And here, in the form of Chuck Strahl, did the government demonstrate the seriousness with which it views our potential apocalypse.

In fairness, John Baird, the government’s part-time environment minister, was away this day—off to carry this country’s banner at climate talks in Cancun. But Mark Warawa, the Conservative who has for four years now held the title of “Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment” and who presently collects an extra $15,834 per annum as compensation for performing that task, was most certainly present. And while Mr. Strahl is certainly a fine performer and seemingly a pleasant enough man, it is unclear what, if anything, he has to do with leading this government’s efforts against what is perhaps the biggest threat to confront the future of humanity today.

Indeed, of all the ministerial portfolios, environment is perhaps one of only two or three that Mr. Strahl has not, in the course of a 17-year political career, been somehow assigned. He is presently the Minister of Transport. Previously he held the titles of Minister of Indian Affairs, Minister of the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency, Minister of Agriculture and Minister responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board. As an opposition member he was variously his party’s assigned critic for democratic reform, cultural industries and public sector renewal. He was an assistant critic for foreign affairs. He has toiled as a member of committees charged with studying Canadian heritage, fisheries and oceans, sport and the “conversion of military industries to civilian purposes.” He was once apparently a member of an internal cabinet committee on energy and the environment, but is not at present.

His is an entirely honourable history of public service. None of which would presently explain why he stood this day to officially convey the government’s attitudes toward climate change. But convey he did—in just the sort of self-assured, loudly voiced manner for which he was likely assigned the task of doing so. Indeed, if there is one thing that has defined this government’s environment ministers AR (After Rona), it is this impervious manner of speaking.

“We welcome the commissioner’s report,” he explained. “We of course are working to address those concerns that were raised. We welcome his suggestions. In fact we are already taking action on preventing and preparing for environmental emergencies, something that he highlighted, strengthening our water monitoring program and investing in climate change adaptation. Those recommendations are welcome and they are consistent with what the government is already doing.”

For sure, any suggestion that this government draft some sort of plan is in keeping with this government’s long-standing stated interest to do something about doing just that. The only thing standing in the government’s way, you’ll understand, is everything and everyone.

“We are dealing with the Copenhagen accord right now in Cancun to make sure that all major emitters sign on the dotted line,” Mr. Strahl later explained for the benefit of the NDP’s Thomas Mulcair. “There is no use having an accord when the major emitters of the world are not signed on and doing their part. We want all world economies to be part of this program.”

In short, it seems, there’s no use us doing anything if we can’t be sure every one of the other 202 sovereign states in the world are going to do at least as much—”We not only have to have adaptation strategies and mitigation strategies, but we have to have worldwide strategies. All of the world’s economies need to buy into the same program. We have to reduce those GHGs. It cannot be Canada’s solution. It has to be a worldwide solution,” Mr. Strahl polysyllabically explained.

Not that this rather daunting precondition for action seems to be discouraging the government side. In fact, Mr. Strahl promised that the Environment Minister would “shortly” have a “climate change adaptation framework” available for review. This a mere three and a half years after Mr. Baird announced an intention to turn the metaphoric corner. One imagines Mr. Baird is now this close to getting the signature of his counterpart in Djibouti necessary to make that possible. In the best interests of reducing our national carbon emissions in the interim, you are advised to keep holding your breath.

A short while later, Mr. Warawa managed to stand long enough to boldly proclaim that, “there has never been a government more committed to cleaning up the environment than this government.”

The opposition laughed uproariously at this.

“The Liberals laugh but what a mess they created on the environment,” Mr. Warawa shot back.

And, indeed, by that standard, this government’s achievement is not all to be laughed at.

The Stats. The environment, 11 questions. Government spending, six questions. Health care, four questions. Firearms, aboriginal affairs, trade, arts funding, the census, employment and veterans, two questions each. Bloc Quebecois, the economy, copyright and Air India, one question each.

Chuck Strahl, six answers. Stephen Harper, five answers. Leona Aglukkaq, four answers. Vic Toews and James Moore, three answers each. Christian Paradis, Rona Ambrose, Gerald Keddy, Stockwell Day, Tony Clement, Diane Finley and Jean-Pierre Blackburn, two answers each.