Critics want Prime Minister Stephen Harper ousted
Two of the leaders in raising Canadians’ awareness about climate change say the time has come for Conservatives to replace Stephen Harper as leader. In separate phone interviews with the Georgia Straight, Green Party of Canada Leader Elizabeth May and Andrew Weaver, a Canada Research Chair in climate modelling and analysis at the University of Victoria, said they each know many Conservatives who agree with the scientific consensus that human activity is increasing the planet’s average temperature. But both claimed that Harper’s intransigence on this issue is preventing Canada from taking any positive action.
When asked if the federal government’s position could change under a new Conservative leader, May replied: “Absolutely.”
“In the current Conservative caucus, I would suggest the majority understand and support climate science,” she added.
However, May claimed that in his eagerness to rapidly develop the Alberta tar sands, Harper is “carving out a destiny for Canada where we produce raw products for other countries—for other people’s refineries and other people’s jobs—and pay no attention whatsoever to the importance of reducing greenhouse gases.”
She said that she has asked numerous climate scientists in academia and government if they’ve ever briefed Harper on this issue. To date, she has found no evidence that he’s spoken to any of them. Despite this, she pointed to members of his own cabinet, including Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney, who recognize the magnitude of the problem. Environment Minister Peter Kent has defended the scientific evidence presented by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in letters to Harper and other Conservative MPs, according to correspondence recently obtained by Postmedia reporter Mike De Souza.
May noted that after Harper became prime minister in 2006, Environment Canada removed all references on its website to scientific findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is a United Nations–sanctioned group of scientists that tracks this issue. May blamed Harper’s refusal to acknowledge the science on several factors, including his libertarian political philosophy.
“He doesn’t like the United Nations,” she said. “He doesn’t like the idea that there [can] be global governance over something that affects an industry. He wants unfettered capitalist growth. He doesn’t like environmental regulations. He doesn’t want to have environmental protection, and he doesn’t believe that the climate crisis is real.”
At a United Nations climate conference in Durban last year, it was reported that 13 of the hottest years in recorded history occurred in the past 15 years.
Weaver, who was part of a large group of scientists that won the Nobel Peace Prize for their work with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said that Harper has “very tight” control over his caucus and cabinet. Weaver added that Harper controls any messages sent by the Canadian government outside of the country. In the past, Weaver has condemned the federal government’s “muzzling of scientists”.
“This is all very disturbing in a democracy,” he said. “It points to the top. I firmly believe we need a change in leadership.”
Weaver insisted that he has voted for every party over the course of his life. He claimed that this Conservative government bears little resemblance to previous Progressive Conservative governments in Canada, maintaining that an “extreme element” in the former Canadian Alliance party performed a “reverse takeover”.
When asked who should become the new leader of the Conservatives, Weaver replied: “I would love to see Jim Prentice. I’ll be straight up in saying that. Jim Prentice was an outstanding environment minister. He was a Conservative, but he’s gone.”
Prentice announced his retirement from federal politics in 2010, not long after he held a high-profile “wilderness summit” on Haida Gwaii with environmentalist David Suzuki, which was broadcast on the CBC program The Nature of Things. Prentice, a former Progressive Conservative, is a senior executive with CIBC.
Weaver expressed concern that under Harper’s leadership, Canada is “dismantling” environmental regulatory bodies and independent agencies, such as the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, which provide advice. “The agenda is clear: it’s exploit and develop tar sands as quickly as possible, sell it to whoever we can get it to, and eliminate anything that might actually put barriers in place—whether they be scientific barriers or social barriers,” he said.
Weaver added that he has struggled to understand why Harper is doing this, and wonders if there might be a religious motivation. It has been widely reported that Harper is a member of a Christian and Missionary Alliance church. Meanwhile, the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation has created an “Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming” (which is endorsed by such prominent climate-change deniers as Guelph University economist Ross McKitrick) and called upon political leaders to abandon “fruitless, indeed harmful policies to control global temperature”.
May, however, said that she has seen no evidence that Harper is a Christian, notwithstanding reports of his membership in an Alliance church. “I know what a lot of people assert his religious beliefs to be,” she stated. “I’ve seen no sign that he is actually a practising Christian.”
Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter at twitter.com/csmithstraight.