Skip to content

Canada’s climate policies, free trade and deep integration

Globe and Mail columnist Jeffrey Simpson wrote on December 22 that, “Ever since the negotiations leading to the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, Canadian governments have hugged the U.S. approach. Prime Minister Jean Chretien gave his negotiators at Kyoto one overriding mandate: Stick close to the Americans. It didn’t much matter where the Americans went, Canada would be there.”

Today, the Canwest News Service reports Prime Minister Stephen Harper saying, “We’ve seen in the past decade and a half that, if the Americans don’t take realistic actions on emissions, it’s very difficult for Canada to do much, because quite frankly factories and economic activity will simply relocate south of the border if the Americans are not harmonized with us.”

Similarily, Environment Minister Jim Prentice told a business audience in Montreal just before he departed for the climate talks in Copenhagen, “Given the integration of our two economies it is essential our targets remain in line – not more, not less. It all comes down to jobs.”

And so Simpson’s argument appears to be correct. Canada will follow in lock step with American policies. But at least one part of this seems disingenuous.

Harper added in his recent comments that, “If the Americans are prepared to act, it’s essential that we act.”

Yet the Harper government has lobbied to weaken environmental policies in the United States relating to the tar sands over the past year, saying those policies could be considered trade barriers and violations of NAFTA and the WTO.

And when it appeared that it could be harder to export dirty tar sands bitumen to the U.S., the Harper government responded by saying Canada would export that bitumen to China.

And so Canada’s contribution in Copenhagen was not the political leadership and vision that climate science says is required, but at best tepidness, at worst obstructionism.

Our government argues that it all comes down to harmonization with the U.S., no matter the environmental cost.

The Globe and Mail reported on December 17 that a major report by the International Upper Great Lakes Study Board found that climate change has already caused a discernible drop in the water levels of the Great Lakes, a source of drinking water for millions of people.

Is this the price Canadians are willing to pay for deep integration with the United States?

Do we prefer the path of an economy increasingly shackled to the U.S. or an independent and just climate policy?

This is no longer a question of only national sovereignty, it is one of planetary survival.

The signs that we saw on the streets of Copenhagen had it right – system change, not climate change.