The 2011 Canadian election is very bad news for the climate movement. Climate, and the environment more broadly, was not a significant issue in the election campaign. Canada’s dysfunctional electoral system handed a party that received less than 40% of the vote on the right side of the political spectrum a commanding majority government that will be in power for 4 years. Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party of Canada had the least ambitious climate platform; the parties representing the other 60% of voters had more aggressive policies in their platforms.
Nonetheless, the results are in and we need to adapt to the new reality. I recommend focusing on three core strategies:
1. Build a much broader and deeper climate action movement outside the formal political process, focusing on youth. The root cause of the failure of the climate movement is the inability to mobilize sufficient public pressure on government. This effort needs to be intensified.
2. Put pressure on Stephen Harper to deliver cost-effective policies that have a realistic prospect of achieving their near term target of a 17% reduction in greenhouse gases below 2005 levels by 2020. The silver lining in a Harper majority is that he is a man of Alberta, and the leader most likely to be able to convince the oil patch and the Government of Alberta of the need to act. If he is going to be Canada’s Nixon, let him be like Nixon going to China and deliver Alberta and its industry on climate action. We need to promote an effective national dialogue and steer Harper away from his platform’s peculiar focus on command and control regulations and towards a cost-effective strategy to meet his platform’s emission reduction targets. He won’t do this without strong political mobilization (see strategy 1).
3. The one bright green lining in the blue Tory storm is the election of Elizabeth May to the Green Party of Canada’s first seat in the House of Commons. This position will give Ms. May a distinctive opportunity to focus attention on the cause of climate action. This voice of commitment will need support.
In the urgent human race to combat dangerous climate change, four years is too long to wait in Canada. We need to adapt to the new political situation and intensify efforts.