Before the election I attended an all candidates debate on the environment. I walked out feeling like I didn’t get exactly what was promised — it felt to me like just a broad discussion on how bad climate change is with not a lot of substance. Then it hit me: none of the parties really put forward a concrete vision for what the future ought to look like on this file. For the various parties of the left, that doesn’t seem to be a problem, at least electorally. They all talked about the importance of “climate action” and “green economy” and other buzzwords, and as long as they are doing the classic demand of their base to “do something,” it will always look like they have the most robust plan. The Conservatives, meanwhile, can’t do that; “doing something” is anathema to them ideologically, as they believe government ought to be particular about what it does. What I heard from the local candidate was that the party would offer a bunch of boutique tax credits — things like home upgrades and so on — and that they would repeal the carbon tax. To me, this just sounds like they chose a couple of insignificant things to make them seem “green,” which plays well with the base but will not win over moderates in an era where the environment seems to be taking centre stage. In order to be electorally successful in the future, Conservatives must put forward a clear, consistent position on the environment and on the climate which is rooted in their first principles.
The Role of the State
Conservatives believe that the first responsibility of the government ought to be protecting the life, liberty, and property of its citizens. The environment poses a threat to life and property, and yet most governments don’t seem interested in tackling it. Communities across Ontario and Quebec, including two of their largest cities — Ottawa and Montreal — faced severe flooding last spring, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. There is an obvious role for the state here in providing funding for flood prevention, and in a world where everyone is talking about preventing climate change but nobody is talking about mitigating its effects, this is an easy and important way for Conservatives to set themselves apart. Part of mitigating the effects of climate change should also include a plan for how to deal with the individuals who may end up being forced to relocate if the sea level rises. We hear about various Pacific Island nations that are projected to be underwater in the near future, and yet no nation wants to take a leadership role in planning for if that day comes — Canada could be the first.
I’m shocked that Conservatives aren’t already talking about this part. The Liberal government enacted a number of interventionist policies under the assumption that innovation cannot occur without state interference, with the most notable example being the “innovation superclusters initiative.” This $1 Billion boondoggle ought to be an ideal way for Conservatives to set themselves apart and provide a clear, contrasting vision of the Canadian future. Conservatives should rally behind reducing or eliminating corporate subsidization and start pointing to examples of innovation — particularly environmental innovation — that came about by way of private actors in the free market. Syncrude’s famous buffalo herd and various Elon Musk projects (with an asterisk that the government in California offers him its fair share of boondoggles) are great examples to point to. Conservative economic policy, particularly tax policy, could be framed as making Canada more competitive and helping to greater unleash Canadian innovation.
The principle that decisions ought to be made on the closest possible level to the person effected is another Conservative belief. Whereas various activist organizations are lobbying for things like a national plastic straw ban, which is obviously in opposition to this principle, Conservatives ought to focus their messaging on giving municipalities the tools to handle this themselves, and reminding people that the environment is shared jurisdiction. To their credit, Conservatives do at least talk about moral panics like this, but it is mostly focused around making fun of their existence (and you know what, they’re right to do so: plastic straw bans are stupid). Unfortunately, that much isn’t going to win you many votes, but what will is reinforcing a specific vision of the country that allows the moral panickers the maximum amount of freedom to enact whatever trendy laws they wish on their own terms.
Parks are an important part of the character of our nation. I know that whenever I think of nature in this country, I’m taken mentally to Algonquin park — to ravines that I canoed down where the water was so clear that it looked like a mirror, and to the Jack Pine trail where one of the most important works of Canadian culture was produced. To their credit, some Conservative messaging already focuses on the role that the party played in developing our national parks, (Scheer mentioned that John A. MacDonald himself established Banff, Yoho, and Glacier parks) but while that does build up environmental credibility, it doesn’t present a clear vision of the country. Messaging dealing with the importance of preserving national parks, as well as non-federally regulated places like provincial parks and greenbelts, so that our children can enjoy them in the future is a good start. Concrete policies that show how they would do that are even better.
The Role of Oil and Gas
Fossil fuels aren’t going away any time soon. It is impossible for a country of our size to maintain our standard of living without using them to generate electricity and to power our cars. Policies that punish people for driving to work and heating their homes — like the Carbon tax — are things that Conservatives already oppose, but one area they don’t touch on is discussing the role that oil and gas play in our future. The narrative on the left nowadays is that one day fossil fuels will just become obsolete and oil and gas companies will cease to exist, which seems highly unlikely. Conservatives ought to talk about how these companies are just as committed to averting disaster as anyone, and should discuss the role they’re already playing in that by trying to make their processes greener. In addition, oil and gas companies have some of the best human capital at their disposal and will be instrumental in developing technological solutions like carbon recapture in the near future.
Evidence Based Policy
Part of the current narrative is that solar panels and wind turbines will somehow transform the power grid into one that is zero carbon. At that debate, I heard the NDP candidate talk about how Germany ought to be a model for us to follow on that front, since they got rid of all their fossil fuels and their nuclear power in exchange for wind and solar. This is a terrible idea, and I wish someone on the stage challenged her on that. Germany’s situation is such that, on cloudy and still days, they have to import power from neighbouring Poland — power generated by burning coal. On sunny and windy days, they produce more power than they use and have to sell it at a loss to neighbouring countries. This direction would be terrible for the environment and for the actual power grid, and there is a window for Conservatives to offer a better solution. Nuclear power and Hydroelectric power, in places where the latter is applicable, work far better for larger power grids as it is possible to control how much energy is actually being generated — a necessity in a world where the amount of power being produced has to match the amount of power being consumed exactly. Granted, this is an area of solely provincial jurisdiction, so this particular line only applies as a defensive argument when this topic gets raised. Still, it remains an important aspect of how the future will look.
Without a clear vision of the future, voters will gravitate to whatever vision gets offered. Right now none of the Canadian parties have one, but that doesn’t mean that none exists; in the US, the left has been able to make headway with the “Green New Deal” simply because there is demand for something on this front. Canada won’t get anywhere with a program that seeks to ban air travel and slaughter all the livestock in the country, so a better, competing vision has to be offered, and Conservatives are in the best position to do just that.