The Commons: Stephen Harper, environmentalist

“I was telling Laureen before I left the house today,” the Prime Minister quipped, “that these are people who when they say they prefer organic food you know they mean it.”

The assembled attendees of the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters’ first National Fish and Wildlife Conservative Congress (featuring a live falcon on display in the hallway) duly chuckled.

On the same day the leader of the opposition was flying to Alberta to make peace (or at least try to avoid total war) with the oil sands, the Prime Minister had crossed the Rideau Canal to a downtown Ottawa hotel to style himself an environmentalist. Or, rather, a conservationist.

“If you were at the federation’s 2009 conference, you may recall that I said conservatives were natural conservationists,” he reminded.

His argument three years ago was actually based on something he’d said four years before that. “It’s also no accident,” he said in that 2009 speech to the anglers and hunters, “as I told you four years ago, that the words conservation and Conservative are derived from the same root. A Conservative is a conservationist.”

Who can argue with such etymology?

His next two sentences could be safely said here, far away from the House of Commons where those mean New Democrats would have laughed.

“It is a duty we gladly accept, that of protecting Canada’s environment and its natural endowments, for the benefit of future generations,” he said. “That’s why we give environmental protection and conservation the priority that we do.”

Mr. Harper proceeded to review the actions his government had taken. Generally distrustful of government’s capacity—even their own?—the Conservatives has invested in willing and well-chosen partners. Since 2006, 150,ooo square kilometres—Mr. Harper wisely converting from the 60,000 square miles his speechwriters had listed—of new parkland has been established. The “productivity of the recreational fishery” was being increased.

And also there was now less paperwork involved in owning a hunting rifle. “One more thing we did, of course, as we promised during our election campaign, during several election campaigns, but we were actually able to do it now, we’ve also put an end to the wasteful and ineffective long-gun registry.”

There was sustained applause and a few “woos!”

“Promise made, ladies and gentlemen, promise kept.”

Mr. Harper seemed almost apologetic about the fact that there were still three pages of text left to deliver.

“Now if I can, allow me to return for just a moment to environmental conservation,” he begged. “And let me just say this, I won’t take too much of your time, but I just want to say this: As Conservatives, we believe in both environmental protection and economic growth. And we believe there is no inherent contradiction in that.”

Indeed, the Prime Minister believed this so much, he restated the principle twice more as he went on.

“This audience should have no doubt about our society’s capacity to achieve both economic growth and environmental conservation,” he said.

“With well-informed management of our wildlife resources, there need be no conflict between responsible economic development and environmental protection,” he explained.

This much sounded like something Stephane Dion might have once said. (“Let us discard the old mentality that sees protection of the environment as a hindrance to economic development”). One imagines, for that matter, that even Mr. Mulcair would agree with the general sentiment expressed here.

But here the details divide. “Nobody is suggesting that development should not be thoroughly scrutinized or that every development should necessarily be approved,” the Prime Minister explained, the tone perhaps oddly defensive. “We are simply saying that the process must be clear and it must be fair.”

And who could argue with such reasonableness? Especially with the bountiful riches such reason would bring and the basic needs those riches would provide.

“Now we do expect that this will accelerate investment and job creation by offering certainty to people. And those people are out there, those people who, together, are ready to invest as much as half a trillion dollars in resource development over the next decade. Canadians need that investment. It is such investment that feeds families and buys homes and makes possible the services that Canadians depend on. It cannot be ignored. The challenge is to manage it and how it affects our land, water and air.”

And so to society’s capacity to do two things at once. As “educated outdoorsmen,” the assembled hunters and fishers no doubt knew that a hundred years ago, Mr. Harper noted by way of example, the continent’s wildlife were struggling amid so much economic development. But now, thanks to sportsmen and scientists alike, the pronghorn antelope were plentiful! (Conservative campaign slogan for 2015: “A pronghorn antelope in every yard and a pronghorn antelope in every pot!”)

Soon thereafter, Mr. Harper proceeded to his big reveal: the creation of a new “hunting and angling advisory panel,” as promised during the last election.

“We expect that it will reflect the wisdom in this room and beyond,” he mused, “helping to ensure that our government’s decisions are based on sound science and balanced advice.”

Now he was just taunting his government’s critics.

A few sentences more and Mr. Harper was done. Before he left the stage, his hosts presented him with a handsomely framed picture of a bird. A “small token” of thanks for “his support, his ongoing strength and his interest in and understanding of the outdoor community.”

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