Sunday, July 08, 2007

Partisan Environmentalists?

Jennifer Ditchburn's has written an article, which attempts to give credence to the Conservative Party criticisms that supposed neutral environmentalists are partisans, who favor the Liberal Party. Allow me to poke holes in the flimsy evidence presented, because it bothers me that the Conservatives feeble attempt to distract from their own failings gets a measure of credibility in this article.

Which political party made a concerted effort, since day one, to shut environmental groups out of the government thought process? A careful reading of the history to this point shows a consistent pattern of snubs, a lack of consultation, attempts to eliminate environmentalists from international delegations, pretty much complete disdain and acrimony. The reason, the last thing in the world the environmentally bereft Conservative Party needed was a bunch of expert opinion shaping their bandaid policies. Any political party that would release the original Clean Air Act as credible and substantive, clearly couldn't engage people in the know, for fear of laughter. The Conservatives failed to engage the environmental groups because they didn't take the problem seriously, up until opinion polls and bad coverage demanded a partial revision. If there was an initial disconnect between the federal Conservatives and the environmental groups, the fault clearly lies with the hostile attitude of the government.

The Conservative complaint, the Liberals had the audacity to consult with experts in crafting their plan. Pardon me, but I expect my government to seek the advice of those in the know:
The grievances between the Conservatives in particular and some in the environmental movement broke out into the open a month ago during an appearance Environment Minister John Baird made at a Commons committee. He suggested Matthew Bramley of the Pembina Institute, an environmental think-tank, had helped write the Liberal environmental plan called the Carbon Budget.

"I do know the Pembina Institute is a very well-respected group with a lot of very smart people," he said as he defended the government's plan for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.

"I also know that they helped write the Liberal plan. They're naturally going to defer to the plan they helped author."

Bramley with the obvious response, simple dodge and weave:
"We released an in-depth careful analysis of the government's most recent proposals on greenhouse gases at the end of May, and the only response we've had from Minister Baird is an apparent attempt to attack our reputation instead of dealing with the substantive issues we raised," Bramley said.

Funny, I don't see Baird making the same accusations, as it related to the devastating conclusions of the supposedly friendly CD Howe Institute.

The article reveals this tidbit, as supposed proof of bias:
But a Liberal insider who spoke on condition of anonymity said Bramley was intimately involved the Carbon Budget, and even helped draft questions for Liberal MPs to ask of various witnesses during committee hearings.

"Nothing went into the plan without Matthew Bramley's prior approval," said the Liberal.

You have a plan that environmentalists unanimously agree is flawed, and then the fact that the opposition solicits advice somehow translates into partisanship? I would like to ask NDP MP Nathan Cullen if he had any consultations with environmentalists about potential flaws in Baird's plan. I guarantee the answer is yes, unless of course Cullen is incompetent and doesn't do his homework. Political parties constantly seek the advice of expert opinion, on a hole host of matters, particular ones that are as complex as GHG's. The Tories completely shun Bramley, then are surprised when he seeks influence elsewhere. NOTHING to see here.

The article also takes a shot at Louise Comeau of the Sage Centre and Climate for Change. The hilarious part, the criticism of partisanship begins with:
She also provided advice, while at a previous job at the Sierra Club of Canada, to the Progressive Conservative government of Brian Mulroney.

The article criticizes Comeau for helping craft the Liberal's 2005 plan:
Comeau acknowledges she was consulted on the Liberal Kyoto plan called Project Green in 2005, but insists she was not involved in the actual writing of the document. One former government official saw it differently, saying Comeau was deeply involved in the formulation of the Liberal plan. Comeau also commented on the plan in the media as an environmentalist.

Again, what a travesty, using one of the most seasoned people to formulate policy. I am mortified!

But author Jamie Heath, a former chief of staff to Layton and formerly with Greenpeace, says Comeau and others are far more critical of the Conservatives than they were of the Liberals - even though the Liberals were unable to meet the commitments of the Kyoto Protocol themselves.

"People like ... Louise Comeau need to be intellectually honest in that you can't validate extraordinarily backwards policy from the Liberals, and then the moment a Conservative party comes into office demand that Kyoto targets be met come hell or high water," said Heath.

You have two approaches. One engages the expert opinion, which makes them feel like they have a voice in the process. The other alienates the experts, essentially stifles opinion and treats them as outsiders. Partisanship aside, which of the two would lead experts to be more or less sympathetic? If you feel you can influence, you are probably less apt to be critical, whereas hostility is met with hostility. Human nature doesn't translate to conspiracy.

The article, thankfully, ends with this from Steven Guilbeault
"This is an attempt by the Conservative government to shut down criticism of their policies by trying to intimidate and discredit people who voice their disapproval of their policies," said Guilbeault.

"They are trying to send a chill through the environmental community. The fact of the matter is their climate change policies deserve to be roundly criticized and that is why the Canadian environmental community has been unified in their condemnation."

I don't worry about "cozy" relationships with politicians, especially given the current climate of us vs them. I want environmentalists engaged in the process, and I see any appearance of partisan preference as a testament to Conservative hostility. Can we not ask the same questions of industry, which by all accounts clearly have the government's ear? What I find really troubling, the Conservatives puke out this nonsense, and reporters find it necessary to cobble together mostly nothingness to lend credibility.


Not surprising, the Conservative apologists find misguided vindication.


ottlib said...

A few months ago I commented on one of your posts to the effect that the global warming deniers were going to do what the tobacco companies did when it was first suggested smoking causes cancer.

This is just part of that strategy.

Fortunately, such a strategy will not be any more successful for the global warming deniers than it was for the tobacco companies.

Steve V said...

There is an analogy there for sure.

Gayle said...

My friend, whose wife is in the civil service, describes the Harper government as "anti-research".

It is not just the environment - it is in all areas of government. They are not interested in facts; they are only interested in ideology.

That the liberals may have reached their conclusions based on research rather than ideology has probably never occured to them.

knb said...

;), great minds..., Steve.

ottlib, good point. In fact, if they really go at this, it'll backfire on them.

Gayle, it seems pretty clear that they do very little research or consultation. If they do consult, it's often with "like minds". It becomes apparent soon after bills are tabled. All opposition parties are able to shoot holes in them and the con's seem completely perplexed. Even the budget, Flaherty still has not said who he consulted and what the results were, re' Income Trusts.

Steve V said...

Great arts and minds :)

"That the liberals may have reached their conclusions based on research rather than ideology has probably never occured to them."

What a novel idea.

The Mound of Sound said...

Gayle's right. The "flat earth" Harpies are ideologically driven and that is inconsistent with fact-based policy making. For Stephen Harper, biases replace facts. Does this sound at all like Harpo's American Idol in the Offal Office?

ottlib said...

The reason why I do not like or trust the Conservatives has nothing to do with their ideology. On many issues I consider myself a conservative (note small 'c').

My problem is Stephen Harper and his ilk believe they know all of the answers before they even know the questions. That is a bass-ackwards way of doing things and it always ends in tears.

Steve V said...

"Stephen Harper and his ilk believe they know all of the answers before they even know the questions."

And, in the end, that will be their ultimate undoing.

Tomm said...


Great post. I really enjoyed Ditchburn's article and also enjoyed your attempt to disassemble it.

Ditchburn is no fan of the PMSH or his government. For her to have written the article required substantial internal courage since she knew the article would be seen by some as an apology for the government's positions and movements. But she did it anyway.

I'm impressed. What she says appears to be absolutely true. Certainly, you didn't question the facts, only the CPC motivation for their policies.

Her main contention that there is a environmental lobby industry that is mounted and firing rounds at the Canadian government is doing so with the Liberal Party in its back pocket, or vice versa, depending on your position.

She appeared to have proved her point.

As you point out, so what? is it meaningful? Perhaps not, except I don't think you want Imperial Oil or Encana Energy over at the Harper's for supper. Are you more comfortable if the Liberal Party is cozied up with the environemntal lobby coalition instead? or would you really prefer some middle ground?

It seems to me that having Bramley or Comeau write your stuff, puts you at their mercy. What is "their" agenda? Should the Canadian public be made aware of the influence?

Interesting stuff, thanks for the post.


Steve V said...

"What is "their" agenda? Should the Canadian public be made aware of the influence?"

I look forward to full disclosure of John Baird's meetings with oilpatch execs, prior to the final version of the Green Plan.

Here's the catch. Let's just say for arguments sake that Harper came to Ottawa proclaiming the need to tackle GHG's. A new era, Harper had an epiphany, pledged to work with environmental experts to develop policy. Do you really think all these people would have resisted, out of some "duty" to the Liberal Party? These people would have jumped at the opportunity to engage, irregardless of political stripes. What you see as cozy, I see as pushed, and I see nothing in Ditchburn's article to suggest any credible conspiracy.

Tomm said...


No question that if Harper had opened the doors, these guys would have walked right in. Instead he slammed the doors closed and told his Ministers to quit taking their calls.

I don't understand it either. It's certainly not what I would have done, or what I want my PM to do either for that matter.

Onto your comment about oilpatch execs, I expect my government to be talking with any and all affected business interests, just like the environmental lobbyists.


Steve V said...

"No question that if Harper had opened the doors, these guys would have walked right in. Instead he slammed the doors closed and told his Ministers to quit taking their calls."

Tomm, I think you just showed the partisan argument is bunk.

BTW, I agree, all stakeholders should be consulted, including industry. I was merely countering your "influence" suggestion.

Tomm said...


No I didn't.

The fact is he DID slam the doors so that many environmental lobby groups are coalescing around what they think will be the palace Coup leader (i.e. Dion) and working actively in undermining the CPC support on this file.

Some environmental lobbyists don't care what's in the governments legislation or policies, they now just want to kill it on principal. I think that is what the sad part is. They now have taken their lobbying power and may now be using it to undermine the governemnt for non-environmental reasons.

And we will never know, because who is telling us what's going on behind closed doors or within the intent of a policy? Only those that are vested in some way.

A good excample of using environmental lobby power for non-environmental reasons is Pablo's Law.


burlivespipe said...

If it's a criminal offence to coalesce behind another party other than the gov't in hopes of getting action/policy, i think the CONs should be closing their doors and lowering the blinds. While there is little listening being done, Harpor has courted numerous groups and still has not revealed who has influenced him during his first leadership run. Lay your cards to the table, Deceivin' Stephen.
Ditchburn is in a pickle. Her boss now has lost the Canwest money ticket, it could conceivably kill CP within a year. She dearly wants to be back on TV, but CTV has made it clear that their reporters are to be 'open-minded' when it comes to the gov't. You can't be Bob 'Rectal thermometer' Fife's lunch date at the next Harpor family souree without some plum 'pro-Harpor/anti-Grit' creds...
However, we may have to readjust our own theories, since it seems unbelievable that Harpor or Flahtery consulted anyone with a financial background for most of the decisions made in the past year. Unless of course if they were channelling John DeLorean.

Olaf said...

Good post Steve,

Just as a side note: I think it's worth pointing out that Dion's green plan, which was so heavily lauded by environmental groups, included intensity targets, not hard caps on industry. These groups didn't say boo then, and instead applauded Dion for the effort.

Then, a bit more than a year later, Harper came out with a plan that included intensity targets, and the environmental groups treated the idea with abject scorn. "Just an excuse to polute more while pretending something is getting done", they charged. Why this criticism wasn't leveled mercilessly at Dion's "greenest budget in Canadian history", is worth considering.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like the old CPC spin machine has been hard at work again.