Quebec gets it right on global warming

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While Environment Minister Rona Ambrose fights for her political career over the federal government’s inaction on global warming, Quebec has put forward its own plan to deal with the problem – and it’s one that could teach the feds a thing or two.


Ms. Ambrose has been taking serious heat for her government’s flouting of the Kyoto Protocol and international law. While most industrialized countries are not only sticking with the accord, 30 out of 34 of them are well on their way to meeting their commitments.
Meanwhile, back in the great white north, Ms. Ambrose and Prime Minister Harper have shut down every climate change plan and insisted that the federal government will follow a “made-in-Canada” approach – as though the previous plans were made somewhere else.
Ms. Ambrose says she scrapped existing programs to fight global warming because they weren’t working. She may be partially right about some of them. Some programs only appealed to people who were already doing their part to reduce climate change. These folks are sometimes called “free riders” because they got a financial incentive or rebate to do something they were going to do anyway. As a result, these programs were really more like tax cuts than effective greenhouse gas reduction policies.
Yet, in spite of Ms. Ambrose’s complaints, the only thing in the recent federal budget that her government touted as a climate change initiative was a tax incentive for transit riders. However, the tax deduction was not nearly enough to encourage new riders, which means it simply becomes a tax cut – with zero reduction in global warming emissions.
So when Quebec unveiled its climate change plan last week, it was a refreshing change. The plan actually has a target to reduce emissions – 1.5 per cent below 1990 levels by 2012. The province still wants to meet Kyoto, but it expects the federal government to help them get there. And rather than use tax cuts that only benefit free riders, it has a series of initiatives and regulations designed to get the province to its goal.
For example, a new mandatory building code to be introduced in 2008 that will update virtually all aspects of design, including building envelope, heating and air conditioning, lighting and ventilation. The new code is expected to improve the energy efficiency of new buildings by 25 per cent. It’s an initiative that other provinces have been slow to adopt and the federal government has largely ignored.
Another step: mandating gas mileage standards to be equal to those introduced in California. Canada’s fuel efficiency standards are currently voluntary and weak. By insisting that auto makers sell their cleanest, most modern models in Quebec – the very models that are also destined for California – Quebecers get cleaner air and end up with lower fuel bills. Don’t all Canadians deserve to have this advantage too?
The plan also includes serious investment in wind energy and public transit, and a carbon tax on the bulk sale of oil – a progressive “polluter pay” initiative that helps the market reflect the true cost of fossil fuels on society. Right now, polluters are able to pass the cost of their pollution onto taxpayers through increased health care costs and environmental damage. A carbon tax is a more fair and equitable way of dealing with the costs of pollution.
Quebec’s plan isn’t perfect. It includes highway expansion projects and large hydroelectric dams that will cause more problems than they will fix. But it’s a big step in the right direction. If Ms. Ambrose wants to keep her job, and ultimately Mr. Harper his, they would do well to pay attention.

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