Sunday, November 1, 2015

Canada's climate delegation looks more like Canada

Last week I suggested the leadership style of incoming Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (whom I didn’t vote for, I should note) might be better-suited to Canada’s governing tradition than was the style of outgoing PM Stephen Harper.
Now, will he listen?
One of PM-designate Trudeau’s first announcements indicates I was right. In December Paris hosts an extremely important climate conference. Approximately 25,000 delegates from 196 countries representing nations, sub-national units, NGOs, inter-governmental organizations, and other stakeholders will meet to seek consensus on an overall climate change agreement as well as many smaller agreements or initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by industry, sector, or region. And Trudeau has announced that, in addition to official negotiators sent by Canada’s federal government, he will also be accrediting provincial premiers and leaders of opposition parties, or their designates. This even goes as far as the leader of the official opposition party with the fewest seats, Elizabeth May of the Green Party, who despite her small footprint in the House, has more experience at these conferences than all of the other party leaders combined.
Already on the comment pages of national newspapers I have seen bizarre complaints about this action. Some people, not clear on the concept of how our elected government works, deem it pointless to send any opposition MPs, since they don’t control the House or write and pass legislation. This assumption is wrong both specifically and in general. It is, of course, the prerogative of any MP to write and submit legislation, and bills by opposition members (including Ms. May) can and have been passed by the House, sometimes unanimously under majority Conservative government. Even climate bills originating with the opposition have passed. So there is no reason to exclude MPs, as PM Harper did, just because they aren’t in the governing party. All MPs were elected by Canadians to represent us on national matters, and that includes international discussions.
The inclusion of provincial premiers is also a promising development, as it indicates a shift from the previous government’s disinterest in consulting or even talking with leaders of our provinces. Under Harper, provinces were expected either to get in line behind federal initiatives, or stick to their own business and stay quiet on the federal scene. But since addressing climate change will perforce require the involvement of provincial governments, as well as municipalities, First Nations, and every individual, family, and business in Canada, it only makes sense to include as many as possible in the negotiation process instead of returning to Canada with some commitment derived from a narrow view and imposed from the top down, no questions asked or answered. We need wider input on what we can and are willing to do, beyond the usual suspects of the PMO’s negotiators and their fossil industry friends.
So as Stephen Harper’s unparalleled collection of five consecutive Fossil-of-the-Year Awards is packed up from 24 Sussex and shipped off for permanent display in Calgary (perhaps Harper will sponsor a US-style presidential library in his own name?), a new approach is moving in just across the street in the Trudeau’s temporary residence. This approach will declare to the world, on the Paris stage, that Canada has shaken off the decade of darkness when she followed the dictates of a single chant denying our role on climate action and is ready to take full responsibility, and leadership, under a diverse chorus who can offer many solutions and forge many connections with the other sincere delegates who share a dream, if not a plan, of preserving the friendly climate which has fostered all human prosperity so far. Our delegates may not all sing from the same songbook, but they will all have the best interests of their constituents, Canada, and the world at heart.

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "Green leader has valuable experience at conferences" and online as "Climate change top of mind for Trudeau"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and vice-president of the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.

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