Meet Ontario’s great green hope

Dalton McGuintyI suppose if you think of the federal Conservatives’ greenhouse-gas plan as a national baseline, maybe it’s not so bad. In a country where responsibility for environmental matters is divided between the provincial and federal governments, there’s nothing to stop the provinces from going out in front of the federal government on this file.

British Columbia, as I wrote the other day, is well ahead of the feds, already signing on to a cross-border carbon-exchange program (in principle).

Now Ontario’s Premier Dalton McGuinty is promising more stringent rules than the feds’, too. Of course, federal Environment Minister said the same thing when he saw the federal Liberals’ plan, so I’ll believe it when I see it, but it’s an encouraging sign.

What saddens me is that the Conservatives are supposed to be the party that understands economics and believes in smaller, less intrusive governments. If they actually believed in reducing greenhouse-gas emissions as a necessary public-policy goal, they’re the party I’d trust most to bring together the best minds in industry and science, say, OK, let’s make this thing happen with minimum pain, and then do it. That’s what they’re doing with smog, using substantially the same means as I think they ought to be applying to greenhouse gases.

But because they apparently don’t believe that cutting greenhouse-gas emissions is a worthwhile goal, just a political football, they’re doing about the least they can do while still saying they’re doing something. Look at what Baird told David Suzuki when they ran into each other at a green-products trade show today, according to the Toronto Star story I linked above: “We’re the toughest in the world over the next 13 years.”

That’s true (or at least plausible, I admit I haven’t checked), but only because nobody else has a plan beyond 2012, when the Kyoto accord expires. There’ll be another round of negotiations before then, and then everyone else who’s trying will have tougher targets than we do. Baird’s statement is factual but dishonest, like the whole plan he laid down yesterday.

Why, for crying out loud, are the Conservatives leaving the field of honest policies on this to big-government parties that are happy to treat corporations as though they’re villains?

At the provincial level, McGuinty stamps his feet and assigns his health minister to run private clinics and MRI operators out of the province, then proclaims himself the champion of health care. There’s frankly no reason to believe he’ll be any more sensible on environmental issues, particularly in the wake of a damning report (PDF) from Ontario’s independent environment commissioner on how the enforcement of existing environmental standards has fallen to ruin due to gross underfunding. (Gord Miller shares blame around all three parties that have held power since 1992, but McGuinty’s almost a full term in office and hasn’t fixed anything.) But this is the guy I’m forced to hope will clean up the mess the feds are declining to take seriously.

Great.

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