Can the environment help a candidate win a federal election? The environment has repeatedly been cited as one of the most important issues to Canadians, especially to young Canadians. It's inevitable that each party will address this issue in some way, at least during the campaign season, but which ones are simply memorizing facts for the cameras, and which ones have promises that are effective and will be kept?
The Conservatives have an overwhelming eight words on their website relating to the environment, "Action to ensure clean air, land, and water." Descriptive isn't it? This party seems to be spending so much time telling us all the things the Liberals are doing wrong that they don't have any left to develop more than a vague, incomplete sentence on one of the nation's most important issues. At the candidate's environment debate on January 6th, Liberal Environment Minister Stephane Dion reminded us that Stephen Harper stated climate change is "a scientific hypothesis and a controversial one" and that Kyoto "is a bad deal, a terrible deal... the worst international agreement this country has ever signed." It seems painfully obvious that Harper is little more than a Canadian version of George Bush and that the Conservatives have little genuine interest in protecting Canada's environment.
The Liberals focus a good deal on energy issues, including reducing smog and meeting our Kyoto commitments which would, in theory, reduce greenhouse gasses by 270 megatonnes. By addressing Kyoto, a concept that most Canadians have heard of, even if they don't understand it, the Liberals appear to be pro-environment. On January 7th the Liberals also announced that $1 billion dollars would be used over 10 years to clean up the St. Lawrence River and Great Lakes, which are some of the most polluted areas in the country. The real question is whether or not this party will fulfill their promises, rather than simply talk about them. The Liberals have made enough of the right moves to fool the indiscriminate voter, but by no means are the Liberals extraordinary in their scope or their execution of environmental protection.
While the Liberals merely address the environment, this issue is at the heart of the NDP party's existence. The NDP addresses far more issues than the Conservatives or Liberals such as toxic wastes, oceans, the Arctic and biodiversity. Their tangible promises include three new acts, the Clean Water Act, which will establish national standards and protection for our water, the Clean Air Act which aims to meet our Kyoto goals, and the Polluter Pay Act which includes the introduction of mandatory, rather than the current voluntary pollution prevention measures. During the environmental debate on January 6th, NDP candidate Gord Perks pointed out: "We don't tax companies if they use child labour. We tell them they cannot use child labour." Likewise, the NDP party would rather stop pollution and greenhouse gases before they are emitted, rather than politely asking for voluntary cooperation and then needing to spend $1 billion to clean up the problem afterwards.
The Green Party addresses every major environmental issue through a comprehensive sustainable development plan available on their website. A few highlights from that plan include implementing a strategy not just to treat cancer but to prevent it, meeting and surpassing the Kyoto requirements, and to introduce proportional representation into the Canadian voting system. Despite the fact that nearly five per cent of the Canadian vote in last year's elections has been taken by the Greens (Bloc Quebecois had 12 per cent and the NDP had 15 per cent) they have not yet had a representative in the House of Commons. Obviously a Green Party majority is not expected to grace parliament anytime soon, but a handful of Green Party representatives in office would mean more voices that speak strongly for the environment and won't just be paying lip service.
Some Americans fled to Canada when they woke up to find Bush their president for a second term. If Canadians wake up on January 24th and find Harper the new Prime Minister you can join me on the next flight to Europe. Really, is there any better reason to vote than to ensure Harper stays off the throne? With the exception of protecting the environment, of course.