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Science & NatureEnvironmentHarper's Conservatives: green? or greenwashing?

Harper’s Conservatives: green? or greenwashing?

by Theresa Peluso

Did you get a flyer from your local member of Parliament last month stating that "our Conservative Government has acted to protect our natural heritage and the health of Canadians", and asking you to "voice your choice" about who's on the right track to protect Canada's environment?  What did you think?  What did you do?

 I decided to do some research on what our government has done to merit this claim.  Here's what I found out.

Claim: Harper's Conservatives have cracked down on water pollution.


Fact:  The federal government is currently renegotiating the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.  Under this agreement, first established in 1909, and periodically updated, Canada and the U.S. pledged to “restore and main­tain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity” of the Lakes, and virtually eliminate “the discharge of any or all persistent toxic substances” into the waters of the Great Lakes. The Agreement also sets out objectives for controlling various forms of pollution of these waters. The water quality and integrity of the Great Lake ecosystem continue to be affected by old problems, and are threatened with many new ones, including climate change; hence the renegotiation.

According to a report by Great Lakes United (GLU), an international citizens' coalition, there has been very limited discussion with citizens' groups and anyone else not on the government's negotiating team.  GLU is concerned about the lack of public input into key issues, such as improving enforcement and compliance, increasing binational cooperation, and expanding scientific capacity in dealing with emerging threats. In addition, the Conservatives have cut the Environment Canada budget for 2011-2012 by $222 million compared with last year. Huge cuts have been made to many programs, including the program activities of Water Resources and Internal Services, as well as the Action Plan on Clean Water. These programs address every single concern of the GLU; yet they're being reduced. 


Question:  Although the government is renegotiating the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, will the Conservatives actually commit the necessary funding to this Agreement, given that they have reduced Environment Canada's budget for water-related issues?

 Claim: Harper's Conservatives have made investments to improve Canada's air quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

 Fact: Environment Canada has warned that budget cuts (see above) could impact more than 700 scientific and research positions, and could affect Canada's contribution to four major international agreements, including the U.S.-Canada Air Quality Agreement.

 The federal government has shut down four out of five stations that currently monitor the ozone layer. The website that distributed the data has disappeared.  Many international scientists are alarmed because our country, because of its vast size and northern location, is a bellwether for Arctic ozone depletion and for pollutants that stream to our continent from other continents.  It will now be increasingly difficult to monitor harmful radiation and the soot and pollution in our atmosphere. According to Environment, monitoring of other pollutants is also being downgraded.


Question:  If there are no data to prove that our air is polluted, does that mean our air is not polluted? 

 Fact: The government has done little to reduce carbon emissions.  According to the 2011 report on Canada's climate change plans, tabled last November by Scott Vaughan, commissioner of the environment and sustainable development, the government's current climate change plan lacks the "tools and management systems needed to achieve, measure and report emission reductions." The plan is made up of at least 35 different programs that are "disjointed, confused, non-transparent".

Vaughan also expressed concern about the government consistently lowering its greenhouse gas (GHG) emission targets since 2007. According to his report, the expected emission reductions dropped from 282 million tonnes in its first plan to 28 million tonnes in its most recent one, a drop of about 90 per cent. The following month in Durban, Peter Kent announced that Canada was withdrawing from its commitment to the Kyoto Protocol.

Question:  Does this continual lowering of the bar indicate that Harper's Conservatives are serious about controlling our carbon emissions, especially when Canadians are on record as having one of the worst carbon footprints per capita in the world?

 Claim:  Harper's Conservatives have invested in clean energy research and development.

 Fact:  Although Environment Canada's budget was drastically cut last year, the Financial Post (March 23, 2011) noted that the federal budget that same year left "more than $1 billion in tax breaks for oil companies on the table".  According to a 2008 report by KAIROS (a Canadian ecumenical group), a tax break allowing tar sands operators to defer taxes on 100% of capital spending will not be phased out until 2015. KAIROS also states that "by 2015 GHG emissions from the tar sands alone are predicted to equal or exceed the annual reductions from all the programs announced to date by the federal government."

Question:  How can the government "invest in clean energy research and development" by cutting funding to environmental programs and increasing funding and tax breaks for polluting industries? 

 Claim:  Harper's Conservatives have protected vast natural and marine areas.

 Fact:  Two years ago, the government announced plans to add 10 new national parks in the next five years, and to create five new marine conservation areas. A year later, Nature Canada stated that "Parks Canada does not have the resources needed to act fast enough to establish new parks while the best opportunities still exist. For example, the March 2011 federal budget only provided 2% of the funding needed to meet the federal government’s commitment to establish new National Parks". In addition, money and resolve is needed to enforce the laws that safeguard these protected areas, and this is not in evidence. Nature Canada notes:  "In fact oil and gas drilling has even been allowed in some National Wildlife Areas and other protected areas. This is obviously wrong. "  Here's what Mike De Souza writes in the Financial Post (Dec. 22, 2011): "Contamination of a major western Canadian river basin from oil sands operations is a “high-profile concern” for downstream communities and wildlife, says a newly-released “secret” presentation prepared last spring by Environment Canada that highlighted numerous warnings about the industry’s growing footprint on land, air, water and the climate. The warnings from the department contrast with recent claims made by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Environment Minister Peter Kent that the industry is being unfairly targeted by environmentalists who exaggerate its impacts on nature and people."

Question:  What point is there in designating an area a national park if no effort is made to protect it?

 So, what do YOU think?  Who's on the right track to protect Canada's environment? Go ahead and voice your choice at




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