The Coming Tory War on Prosperity

Commentary, Environment, Frontier Centre, Worth A Look

Who would have thought that a vote for Harper’s Conservatives would turn into a vote for David Suzuki’s warped war on modern prosperity. That Prime Minister Stephen Harper is now openly flirting with Suzukiism was reinforced yesterday as he explained his Cabinet shuffle and the government’s new environmental focus. He said he aimed to tackle long term environmental issues that have been badly neglected. “Most Canadians simply don’t understand how far Canada is behind on major environmental indicators compared to other developed countries – not the developing world – compared to other developed countries we are behind.”

In a newspaper interview just before Christmas, Mr. Harper said Canada’s environmental record is “the worst in the developed world … in just about every measure.” In an interview with CTV, he said Canada’s environmental performance “is, by most measures, the worst in the developed world. We’ve got big problems.” Now defunct Environment Minister Rona Brockovich made the same claims earlier in the year.

There is only one study model by only one group in the world that ranks Canada as the worst environmental performer among developed nations, and that’s the work of David Suzuki and a collection of academic activists associated with Simon Fraser University and the University of Victoria. The latest in the line landed last month from the Suzuki Foundation, a report that begins: “Canada has among the worst environmental record of any developed country, ranking 28th out of 30 OECD countries.”

Authority for this claim, absurd on its face – ranking Canada behind the likes of Greece, Poland, Turkey and Mexico – is a 2005 report, The Maple Leaf in the OECD, produced by the Suzuki Foundation and environmental academics from Simon Fraser. That report in turn draws on Canada Vs. The OECD: An Environmental Comparison, a 2001 work by David R. Boyd, eco-research chair of environmental law at the University of Victoria.

The 2001 Boyd report, the founding catalogue of misleading indicators, warped assumptions and outrageous conclusions should send the Harper Tories running for cover. Instead, the government has adopted the report’s methodology as legitimate foundation for political policy.

The first and obvious clue that the Boyd report is trouble is the appearance of Mexico as No. 2 in the ranking. Is Mexico a model for green policy? Will Canada send new Environment Minister John Baird to Mexico on a fact finding mission to unearth the secrets of Mexico’s environmental success?

Mexico ranks high on the Suzuki-Boyd rankings for one main reason: low growth and dismal standard of living. Take transportation: Canada ranks 26th for distance travelled by road vehicles per capita, while Mexico ranks 1st. Canada ranks 25th in the high number of vehicles per ca pita, while Mexico is 2nd with few vehicles. Why? Nobody in Mexico can afford cars or road travel.

The transportation area captures the overriding moral theme of the New Conservative standard for environmental success. Economic progress, symbolized by the ability of people to own motor cars and travel about, live well, produce energy, keep warm and keep cool, leads to environmental failure that must be corrected. Economic stagnation and reversal produces success. Mexico is good, Canada is bad.

The Suzuki-Boyd standards take economic success and growth – real productivity – and turns them into negatives. The very existence of more Canadians is portrayed as a curse that drags Canada down. “Population is a key element in calculating overall impact on the environment…. Surprisingly, Canada places 26th out of the 29 OECD nations in population growth.”

Canada’s success as a food producer is a cause for low rankings and a liability that must be corrected. “Animals kept for livestock purposes cause a range of environmental problems.” Canada ranks 16th in livestock per capita. Per capita! This fits with the latest United Nations scare mongering report that listed farm livestock as a bigger source of greenhouse gas emissions that the automobile. Which industry are the New Conservatives going to tackle first – farming or automakers and gasoline producers?

When Mr. Harper says Canada has fallen far behind the developed world, he is endorsing the idea that Canada should be condemned for its prosperity. Canada uses more energy per capita than Mexico because it produces more energy to sustain its high standard of living – and because Canada has a climate and geography and industrial structure that thrives on energy. Canada exports energy to the world, especially the United States. By rating Canada’s energy performance against nations that produce little energy (Switzerland, for example,) is ludicrous.

The more recent 2005 rankings from the Suzuki Foundation follow the same pattern, although it managed to correct some of the worst of the original Boyd report. The Boyd version ranked Canada 25th in use of fertilizer per capita, a meaningless measure. The 2005 report managed to rank Canada second by measuring fertilizer use per unit of arable land.

But other idiotic and un Conservative comparisons emerged. Canada ranked 28th on “environmental pricing,” which is a euphemism for higher taxes. Ranked at the top of the environmental tax list were Turkey and Mexico.

By adopting the Suzuki measures of national environmental success, Mr. Harper and his government have signed on to a world view based on the idea that modern industrial society is an evil system. The way forward for Suzuki is to step back into the crude, simple and impoverished world of centuries past. Mexico is better than Canada, Cuba is better than the United States. It’s a war on prosperity.

Is this the foundation for Canada’s New Conservatism?