Sunday, January 07, 2007

John Baird: Harper's "Neutralizer"

Andrew Coyne had an interesting column discussing our new Environment Minister. Coyne contends:
But the issue of the election? Don’t bet on it. The point of Mr. Baird’s installation is to ensure it does not become an issue. Like a hockey coach on home ice, Mr. Harper has the advantage of the last line change: Mr. Baird has been sent out to check Mr. Dion. But the intent is to neutralize, not to polarize.

Coyne's logic is based on this assumption:
But the Tories will have correctly calculated that much of the public’s concern for the environment is essentially fraudulent. While there are true believers on both sides, the broad mass of the public wants Something Done about global warming, but wants Someone Else to pay for it. All that is required to satisfy these voters is to put on a reasonably convincing show of action, to flatter their consciences without disturbing their pocketbooks. As with gifts and remedial math tests, it’s the thought that counts.

I don't dispute the fact that Harper desperately wants to neutralize his achilles heel. However, I don't necessarily buy Coyne's cynicism about public sentiment. This view presupposes that Harper operates in a vacuum that he controls. If this was the true reality, then we wouldn't have the current predicament with the Clean Air Act. That piece of legislation was offered with Coyne's philosophy in mind, and it failed miserably. In other words, smoke and mirrors was rejected, Canadians weren't as gullible as Coyne suggests.

Coyne would be accurate, if not for the fact that we have an expert class that the media seeks, to wade through the nuances. If John Baird tries to neutralize the issue, it can only be achieved through real action, because there are too many voices that demand it. The government, as it recently found out, doesn't control the talking points on climate change, others will be judge and jury, and the public will take cues from them.

Listening to Harper and Baird today, the language was defensive, as though effort would be made because of demand, as opposed to genuine conviction. Harper purposely used the words "long term" in a disarming way, which offered a hint to where we are headed. Harper also said that at the end of the day, Canadians would rather have something than nothing- hardly ambitious. Baird sounded like a broken record, when he used the phrase "moving the ball forward" five times. The trick, and this is where the Coyne point might work, go far enough to look relevant and use relativity as friend. The Clean Air Act was so embarrassing, the bar was set so low, that the Conservatives can now make meager look like a meal.

Enter Layton. I believe this is Jack Layton's moment. Will he have the moral fortitude to walk away from half measures, even though political temptation might suggest otherwise? Coyne's logic falls apart if Layton exposes the fraud, the overt attempt to simply neutralize, because it destroys Harper's credibility- essentially back to square one, where no disputes the environment will be central issue. It is up to Layton to prefer nothing over just something. If Layton remains pure, Harper is exposed. If Layton remains pure, manages to implement much of his excellent private member's bill, then we all win and the issue is rightfully neutralized. If Layton champions the half-baked, it gives Harper the neutralizing cover he craves, clouding the issue to a net-draw. In my mind, Layton is the central character in deciding whether Coyne's opinion is correct.


KSM said...

Excellent point about Layton.

I have a hard time trusting Layton to do the right thing when it may not help him in the polls.

wilson said...

As soon as the Greens, Libs and NDP put a price tag on their 'Kyoto' we will see just how sincere Canadians are about the environment.

Oh, and don't forget, the #1 GHG producer and biggest energy USERS live in Ontario.

Steve V said...


I don't really want to play the tribal game, but your facts are shit:

GHG By Province

The numbers are even more pronounced when you factor in population.

Olaf said...


I don't really want to play the tribal game, but your facts are shit

I love it when people begin a comment with a polite demure, and then lay down the hammer with abrupt profanity. It's just funnier that way.

wayward son said...

Wow, Wilson61 has shown himself to be an idiot once again.

I personally think that the best thing that Layton can do is walk away while creating a shit-storm of media controvery. Other than that I think that the Tories will drag their feet into the next election and then use the we're working with the NDP card to the public.

Hearing Baird say that he needs to "get up to speed" at least a half dozen times on the Sunday report makes me think that Harper has just bought another 2 months of innaction on negotiations with the NDP on the Clean Air Act - and when an election could be any time 2 months is a very long time.

Anonymous said...

How could anyone not know, at this stage of the game, that Alberta is the biggest producer of GHG's? Wilson61 has been trolling every progressive blog around and blithering on about Kyoto and GW since forever, and he didn't even know this basic fact?

Stick a fork in him, he's done.

LNeumann said...

Excellent analysis. You're right on about Layton. He's got to do the right thing here or we're all screwed.

If Harper gets in with a majority he'll likely reneg on any deal with the NDP that is not iron-clad.

croghan27 said...

I am a fan of the CBC - and a fan of hard working journalists - if you look at the CBC's website you can notice that after pointing out that Baird is the new Minister for the Environment, they interview him.

Half of the interview is Baird castigating the Liberals for years of ignoring doing anything meaningful about serious environmental matter.

If the article mirrors the interview - you are correct: <"Mr. Baird has been sent out to check Mr. Dion. But the intent is to neutralize, not to polarize.">