CTV.ca News Staff
Canadians talk about the environment, but few people want to give up their cars, change their water use habits, or reduce their consumption. As long as people keep believing the internet, Right wing conspiracy theorists, and the propaganda from Big Oil, no politician will make this a major issue.
In the 2008 election, the environment was front and centre. Each party’s environmental programs and policies were designed to showcase their green credibility and convince Canadians that they truly cared about the planet.
In 2011, with the country and much of the developed world still apprehensively emerging from the rubble of the recession, the environment has largely been relegated to the back seat.
Nik Nanos, president and CEO of Nanos Research, said 2008 was a good year for environmental issues and the parties that espoused green values.
The Green Party, for all intents and purposes, had a seat in Parliament and leader Elizabeth May was included in the debates. The Liberals’ Green Shift platform was all over the news, for better or worse, and Canadians in general seemed concerned about environmental issues.
This time around the dynamic has changed. Polling numbers released on Friday showed that the environment was the primary ballot box issue for just 4.5 per cent of those surveyed.
For most Canadians health care was the top issue, followed by jobs and the economy, high taxes and education, and finally, the environment.
The simple reason, Nanos told CTV.ca, is that no one is talking about the environment this time around.
“For the environment to be an issue there needs to be a champion,” he said. “In the last election it was Stephane Dion and Elizabeth May and as a result Jack Layton was more focused on the environment as well. And by having the Green Party in the federal leaders’ debate that also added more focus to the environment.”
“Fast forward to 2011 and we’re in a situation where the three main parties are more likely to focus on health care and jobs.”
Leaders focus on black, not green
Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s main message throughout the current campaign has been that we should carefully continue on the path to economic recovery, but introduce corporate tax reductions in order to stimulate investment.
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff has focused his campaign around tax cuts and giving more to families, while NDP Leader Jack Layton envisions a country that is less focused on military spending and more on health care and humanitarian work.
Even May has been unable to focus on the environmental issues her party holds dear, instead forced to spend much of the campaign arguing unsuccessfully for why she should be included in the leaders’ debate.
May, for her part, said recently it is “bizarre” that environmental issues aren’t getting major coverage in this election. After all, it’s not as if those issues have been resolved since 2008.
“Our focus is on a livable planet and we have a very good, reliable plan to reduce greenhouse gases,” May told Canada AM in a recent interview.
“I find it bizarre to think that it’s not an issue to talk about the climate crisis in this election. It’s a huge issue globally and Canada doesn’t live in a bubble where nature doesn’t exist, we should all be talking about it.”
May’s platform includes a “toxic tax” system that would charge polluters who emit carcinogenic chemicals to the atmosphere.
She argued that Canadians don’t need to choose between a strong economy and strong environmental policies. The Green Party platform offers the best of both worlds, May said.
Environmental issues more nuanced this time around
Gillian McEachern, program manager for climate and energy at Environmental Defence, agrees jobs no longer have to come at the expense of the economy, and vice versa.
More and more, she told CTV.ca, there’s an awareness of the connection between clean energy sources and job creation, such as in the case of Newfoundland and Labrador’s massive Churchill Falls hydroelectric project.
She argued it’s not so much that the environment is not an issue in this election, but that the tone of the conversation has shifted.
The green initiatives this time around are more nuanced, McEachern said.
“I think partly what we’re seeing is that environment has morphed into, in some ways, other issues. We’ve seen a lot of talk about energy issues, for example. Churchill Falls was framed around clean energy, we’ve seen Duceppe talking about needing to get off oil, we’ve seen Michael Ignatieff responding to Obama’s comments about the oil sands.
“So I think there has been quite a bit of attention on energy issues and this discussion around clean energy, which might not be thought of as environmental issues, necessarily.”
That’s not a bad thing, McEachern said. It suggests environmental issues are shifting into a more mainstream presence than in the past.
As a result, the notion that you can either vote for a party that supports the environment or one that will create jobs — but not both — is beginning to crumble.
“It’s no longer seeming like an either-or choice: Do you want a safe planet and clean drinking water for your kids or do you want a job today. I don’t think people are thinking that they need to make that choice anymore, that they can actually have both,” McEachern said.