Big talk from John Baird

Environment Minister John Baird is dumping hard on the Liberals’ greenhouse-gases plan. He talked to reporters by conference call from a ministerial meeting in Germany. The CanWest account is here, the Toronto Star‘s here, the Globe‘s here.

You can never tell with Baird, whose truly awesome political gift is for contentless speech, never more in evidence than when he’s talking about a plan that’s not yet been revealed. From the CanWest story:

“From the conversations, both formal and bilaterally, I think that the kind of initiatives that Canada will roll out are going to be among the toughest in the world for the next five years,” Mr. Baird said. “Canada will take every reasonable effort to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions in the short-term.

“We will be coming out before the end of the month with the industrial regulatory package,” Mr. Baird said. “It will include the targets, the compliance mechanisms, and a not insignificant technical paper for both greenhouse gas emissions and air pollutants.”

However, he refused to say whether the package would include absolute emission reduction targets to meet Canada’s existing Kyoto commitment, which the Conservative’s earlier environmental legislative proposals didn’t.

“Among the toughest in the world” can mean almost anything, particularly since there aren’t all that many real emissions-cutting plans in operation just now. Toughest in the sense of the number of industries they affect? In the sense of how deep the cuts are supposed to be (it’d be hard to out-tough the Dion plan on this point)? In the penalties it’ll impose for not meeting the targets, whatever they might be?

“Reasonable” is another word that can be used to render inoperative almost anything else Baird promises.

From the Star version:

“If the only compliance measure is a financial burden, I’m not sure if push will ever come to shove or if people will ever actually move on reducing their emissions,” he said.

I am surprised to hear a fellow like Baird raise the idea that financial incentives might not be enough to get major emitters to emit less. They’re one of only two real tools the state has at its disposal to make people do things they don’t want to do, imprisonment being the other. Ultimately this is all going to come down to financial burdens.

What Baird seems to be saying here is that the market mechanisms in the Liberal plan — requiring greenhouse-gas emitters either to buy emissions credits or pay into a green-technology account for every tonne of carbon they emit over a certain limit — aren’t enough. The implied alternative is stricter regulations with heavy fines for overshooting the targets. This is what you might expect from the NDP, not a Common Sense Revolutionary like Baird, so I doubt he really means it, but of course we’ll have to wait for his plan to be made public before we can really tell what he’s talking about.

Since Baird became environment minister he’s been saying all the right things about climate change, but it’s been two-and-a-half months now and he’s still just talking. Whether the Tories are serious about the environment or just serious about looking as though they’re serious is still up in the air.

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One response to “Big talk from John Baird

  1. Pingback: Cold Hard Wonk » The Bilaterality of Smoke

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