Whatever became of Gary Doer the green premier?

February 11, 2010

I saw Gary Doer recently in Copenhagen, waiting his turn to speak with a high-ranking official of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency at a social event we were co-hosting during the UN climate summit.

As the new Canadian ambassador to the U.S., this is exactly the kind of thing Doer should be doing: networking and forming relationships with American officials. But, as Doer embraces the Harper government’s instructions to defend the tarsands industry, he is undermining his green legacy as premier of Manitoba and, worse, undermining the interests of his home province in years to come.

A few years ago, Business Week magazine named then-premier Doer as one of the top 20 leaders in the world taking action on global warming. He took the province into the Western Climate Initiative, a partnership with California and several other states and provinces to develop a regional system to control large polluters, doing so, in his words, “in the absence of clear federal leadership.” At the time, he stated Manitoba shared a vision with California.

Today, however, Ambassador Doer is enthusiastically selling Americans on the do-nothing approach of the federal Conservatives on climate change, and is the face of the tarsands industry’s fight against U.S. states, led by California, that want to reduce the carbon content of transportation fuels. His sales job is wrapped up in the rhetoric of “harmonizing” with the U.S., but in reality everyone knows Ottawa is still doing nothing to rein in large polluters, with the result our emissions keep going up instead of down.

Manitoba faces a triple whammy from the climate games the Harper government is playing, and that Ambassador Doer is supporting in his U.S. lobbying. The most obvious one is endangering young Manitobans through the deterioration of our atmosphere, but two other negative impacts will unfold on the course we are currently on.

First, at some point, Canada will be forced to place an absolute cap on global warming emissions—one that shrinks over time. Under such a cap, if any one industry does not make its fair share of pollution cuts, then others under the cap must do more to compensate. During the Copenhagen climate summit, the CBC obtained secret cabinet documents showing the Conservatives are considering a plan to let the tarsands industry more than triple its global warming emissions, which would force industries elsewhere—including Manitoba—to shoulder the tarsands burden over and above the cuts they need to make anyway.

Second, a growing tarsands industry is turning Canada’s currency into a petrodollar that rises and falls along with the price of oil. With oil giants themselves admitting we are heading into world-wide global oil scarcity, the price of oil is expected to go through the roof, taking our dollar with it.

This will have the impact of making Canadian-made goods more expensive in international markets, hurting exporting industries in Manitoba and elsewhere.

When you accept the job as Canadian ambassador, you accept being told what to do and say by Ottawa, regardless of your personal beliefs. Gary Doer knew this going into the role, which is in large part why the choice of an NDP premier by a Conservative government raised eyebrows across the country. But, there could be no illusions where the Harper government stood on global warming at the time of the job offer, nor any doubt Doer would be heavily involved in the issue in the U.S. after the election of Barack Obama as president.

It is sad to lose Gary Doer to the tarsands and to the Harper government’s hostility to the emergence of the clean energy economy.  vDefending the interests of Manitoba, however, is the job of the government of Manitoba and the pathway to do this is clear.

Continued inaction from Ottawa means regional partnerships like the Western Climate Initiative are as important as ever. Manitoba should also band together with other progressive provinces to push back on federal efforts to grow tarsands pollution at the expense of others and to engage in a national debate about energy, currency rates and prosperity in the emerging low carbon economy.

Matt Price is policy director for Environmental Defence, a charity dedicated to protecting the environment and human health.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 11, 2010 A11

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