by Allan Woods, Toronto Star
Not much changed personally for the Thornhill Tory MP since the election. He’s back in the job he held before the campaign and has no major plans to change course now that his party isn’t beholden to a majority of opposition MPs.
He said the five-week election temporarily delayed the introduction of new regulations to cut emissions in line with an international pledge to get to 17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020.
“But we’re on that now. From the swearing in of cabinet (Wednesday) I went right back to the department and we’ll be turning to that this afternoon in terms of the next steps,” Kent said Thursday.
First on the agenda are new federal rules to cut emissions from coal-fired electricity plants, a particular scourge in Ontario. Generating stations will be required to either find new sources to fuel their plants, such as natural gas or nuclear power, or pump the carbon emissions underground with a carbon capture and storage set up system.
“The oilsands … will be in the next set of regulations that will come down after the coal-fired electricity generating sector,” Kent said. “We’ll be addressing that later this year.”
But any companies eager for a cap-and-trade system to help them meet those stringent targets are out of luck, at least for the next few years, he added.
The scheme works when government sets a cap on greenhouse gas emissions and allows polluters to buy credits to meet their targets from those firms who fall below the cap. The financial incentive is meant to spur a greener economy.
Following the 2008 federal election, which coincided with the election of U.S. President Barack Obama, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said his goal was to harmonize Canada’s climate change policies with the U.S. because the two economies were so closely linked. They had already discussed creating a North American cap-and-trade system to cut emissions.
But as the U.S. moves toward the 2012 presidential election, anything divisive new measures that are seen as putting new financial burdens on an already fragile economy won’t get a hearing in Obama’s White House.
And as Harper has said over five years of minority government — and five cabinet shuffles involving the politically sensitive environment portfolio — Canada will do no more and no less than its southern neighbour. Nothing has changed there either.
“There’s no expectation of cap-and-trade continentally in the near or medium future and we don’t believe that it would be wise to go with a shallow market in a closely integrated continental economy,” Kent said.
“It can always be something to consider in the future.”
The new Tory majority could be a blessing and a curse when it comes to the environment. There will be less concern with climbs and dives that controversial climate-change measures force in public opinion polls, but the ruling party will have also have no one to blame if its initiatives fall flat.
The Conservatives head back to the House of Commons on June 2 to face an NDP official opposition that is more stridently opposed to Conservative climate change positions than was the now-decimated Liberal party.
Kent allowed that there might be more “noise” coming from the opposition benches, but he said the Tory majority will give him freedom to plan for and act on long-term initiatives, as well as to give more responsibility to parliamentary committees.
“But as the Prime Minister said: the c-word — cooperation — is our goal as Parliament sits,” he said. “Noise shouldn’t affect good government policy.”