TORONTO – Federal Environment Minister Peter Kent has only been on the job for three weeks but says he’s already tired of the criticism from people who think the government is not taking any action on the environment.
“As an aside, just weeks into this job let me say how especially frustrating I find the constant, critical refrain that this government has no environment plan,” he said Friday in Toronto during a noon-hour speech with the Economic Club of Canada.
“Not only do we have one, we are one of the very few countries that does.”
Canada also does not need to enact any new laws to deal with the issue of climate change or reach targets for greenhouse gas emissions, Kent told the crowd in his first major speech since being promoted to the high-profile portfolio earlier this month.
“What many people don’t realize is that Environment Canada already has the legal tools it needs to execute our plan,” said Kent, who was most recently Foreign Affairs minister. “It requires no new legislation.”
He is the fourth environment minister to serve under the Stephen Harper government since it was elected in 2006.
The 20-minute speech was broad in scope, providing little specifics on what steps the government plan to undertake to reduce greenhouse gas emissions targets by 17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020.
Instead, Kent acknowledged it is vital for Canada to align environmental policies with the U.S., if either country wants to meet these targets.
“Canada’s tend to get their hackles up whenever they hear terms like ‘harmonize’ or ‘align’ in the same sentence as the United States,” he said. “But however much we growl about it, when it comes to meaningful work on the environment – and climate change in particular – there is no practical alternative.”
Kent, a former award-winning television broadcaster, emphasized in the speech littered with references to his past career, that the Conservative government’s stance on the environment is one that must find balance with economic development.
He also pledged the government will respond within 90 days to a report from an advisory panel of independent scientists last December calling for a plan on water monitoring around the oilsands regions.
Liberal MP, and environment critic, Gerard Kennedy said this inaction has resulted in Canada being called a “colossal fossil” on the international stage in terms of how the country is dealing with the environment.
“Climate change is a very serious problem and the Canadian government is an international laggard,” said Kennedy, following the speech. “Canada has no credibility on this issue.”
He said the Conservatives have been dragging their feet on these issues, and it has now resulted into an economic liability.
“What we heard today unfortunately is just a rehash of what the government has been staying, that they’re not putting forth any specifics, there’s no guidance to industry in what they can expect,” said Kennedy. “This is deliberate inaction.”
Greenpeace activist Shane Moffatt said he also would’ve liked to hear more on what the government is going to do with the Alberta oilsands.
“We heard a lot of nice words there today but from Day 1, the minister has made it his job to promote the tarsands industry,” said Moffatt. “I thought it was flowery words but a lack of policy.”
Following the address, the group handed Kent a mock-up of a new business card and letterhead with the new title, “Minister of Oilsands Promotion and Propaganda” with “Environment” Canada.
Adam Scott, a spokesman with the group Environmental Defence, echoed the same criticism, calling the speech too vague in outlining promised short and long-term environment goals. “He talked a lot about the government’s strong commitment to the issue and the fact that they have taken leadership on climate change for quite some time,” he said. “But the reality is there’s no evidence of that. They haven’t implemented any of the regulations they’ve talked about for years.”
Environment Minister targets critics in first major speech