Tory trial balloon

Harper headshotThe Canadian Press tells of a trial balloon from Canada’s Conservative government, purporting to hint at the outline of the government’s long-promised climate-change plan. This thing has been coming out any day now for about a month, since the federal budget of March 19.

The 13-page plan, marked secret, says regulations and programs introduced by Ottawa and the provinces will mean that emissions can be expected to start to decline as early as 2010 and no later than 2012. After that emissions will decline steadily, according to the document.

A spokesman for Environment Minister John Baird said the plan “sounded like action and we promised action.”

It does sound like action, certainly much more significant than what the Tories thought they could get away with when they proposed their Clean Air Act last fall. It’s so vague, however, that it’s hard to get a grip on for any meaningful assessment. It’s difficult even to compare what’s there with what’s in the Liberals’ proposals (PDF) of last month.

  • The Liberals’ plan doesn’t actually contain predictions of success, as such. It does say that starting in January, 2008, Canada’s Kyoto targets would be the basis of a carbon-trading system for heavy industry that would punish companies for over-emitting according to the going rate of carbon credits, up to $25, with penalties rising as time goes on. But strictly speaking, it doesn’t say that the Liberals would get us to X megatonnes of carbon dioxide emissions by such-and-such a date. If the Tories’ has numbers in it, you could say that makes it more ambitious. Of course, if the numbers you were using were merely pulled out of John Baird’s tuckus, you’d be just this side of lying.
  • The CP report says the Tories wouldn’t even be trying to meet our Kyoto targets. They’re probably unrealistic by now anyway, so this might be an asset — better to plan for achievable targets than unachievable ones, as long as the definition of “achievable” acknowledges that significant effort will be involved.
  • If the plan includes domestic emissions-trading, that’s a positive step. It should allow for international emissions trading — if Canadian investors can buy foreign stocks, they should be able to buy foreign emissions credits, or generate credits cheaply abroad and use them here for more economically efficient purposes — but a few weeks ago the Tories were swearing an emissions exchange system was off the table.

Nevertheless, I don’t see a lot to get excited about in this outline of a rough draft. One commenter at the Globe suggests this is the first step in setting up a plan that sounds good to people who aren’t paying close attention but that none of the other three parties in the House of Commons will be able to live with. That’d be breathtakingly cynical and bad, but I don’t think we can rule it out.

Only one way, really: Release the plan, Mr. Baird.

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