Opinion: Environment & Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna gets failing report card

Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna gets failing report card
Environment & Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna (Mike Gifford/Flickr cc licence)

The following is an op-ed by Dr. Eoin Finn – B.Sc., Ph.D., MBA

In October 2015, SFU Energy and Materials Research Group  Professor Mark Jaccard published a report titled “Canadian Climate Policy Report Card: 2015”. In part, it is a damning critique of the (Harper) Conservative Government’s climate action record, though it documents over three decades of inaction by Governments of all stripes.  Its Executive Summary concludes that:

[quote]Over the past three decades, governments in developed countries have made many commitments to reduce a specific quantity or percentage of greenhouse gases by a specific date, but often they have failed to implement effective climate policies that would achieve their commitment. Fortunately, energy-economy analysts can determine well in advance of the target date if a government is keeping its promise. In this 2015 climate policy report card, I evaluate the Canadian government’s emission commitments and policy actions. I find that in the nine years since its promise to reduce Canadian emissions 20% by 2020 and 65% by 2050, the Canadian government has implemented virtually no polices that would materially reduce emissions. The 2020 target is now unachievable without great harm to the Canadian economy. And this may also be the case for the 2050 target, this latter requiring an almost complete transformation of the Canadian energy system in the remaining 35 years after almost a decade of inaction.[/quote]

This summary even-handedly describes a similar era of inaction under the (Chrétien /Martin) Liberal governments. After all, it was a Liberal government that signed the 1997 Kyoto agreement, and then lollygagged along to their 2006 ejection without taking a single significant action to ensure its ambitious targets could be met.

Real Change?

Trudeau and McKenna (Photo: Environment & Climate Change Canada/Flickr)
Trudeau and McKenna (Photo: Environment & Climate Change Canada/Flickr)

Justin Trudeau’s October 2015 electoral elevation to power came with a Liberal policy book promising “Real Change” on this file. It started well. A new National Energy Board Environmental Review process was promised. November’s COP21 in Paris saw Canada espousing lofty climate goals to the theme of “Canada is back”. February meetings in Vancouver with provincial Premiers urged setting a price on carbon. A climate change test was added to environmental assessments, and promises to eliminate fossil-fuel subsidies and promote sustainable technologies were trumpeted.

However, of late, the decisions of the Government, and this Ministry in particular, evoke a creeping sense of déjà vu and backsliding on the climate file and the instructions in Minister McKenna’s mandate letter. Cogent examples of these decisions include:

  • Failure to clarify what, exactly, Canada’s GHG emissions target should be if we are to play our part in meeting the COP21 goal of limiting climate change to an increase of less than 20C.  There is a looming gap between Environment Canada’s 2030 GHG emissions estimate of 817 megatonnes and the Copenhagen target of 524 millions. Nobody in McKenna’s remit (or Energy Minister Carr’s) seems to wants to grasp that 300 megatonne nettle, nor venture an estimate of what further reductions will be needed to meet COP21 commitments
  • Maintaining the Harper Government’s unambitious and inadequate GHG emission targets of 17% reduction by 2030, which, without swift action, we have no hope of meeting
  • Bowing to the desires of a few Premiers to kick the carbon-tax proposal down the road and (they hope) out of sight
  • Inaction on the review of the Oil & Gas industry emissions that successive Environment Ministers in the Harper Government had promised year after year. This industry contributes over 26% of Canada’s GHG emissions. Singling it out for inaction suggests that this Government is also a “captive regulator”
  • A decision to continue the 30% accelerated capital cost allowance for LNG facilities – a fossil-fuel subsidy granted by the Harper Government in 2014
  • Approval of the Woodfibre LNG plant in Howe Sound, despite its almost 1 million tonnes of annual GHG emissions. This puzzling and highly-unpopular decision also belied another Trudeau promise – that of “politicians may issue permits, but only communities can grant permission”
  • Cabinet’s approval of NEB’s decision to approve Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline extension, LNG Canada’s 40-year license extension for its Kitimat plant and Steelhead LNG’s 5 export licenses – each of which represents a vast expansion of Canada’s GHG emissions
  • Publicly supporting the Keystone XL and Energy East pipeline proposals
  • Silence and inaction on repealing any of the Harper Government’s egregious environmental legislation – particularly the omnibus Bill C-38, which shredded environmental protections in the Species at Risk Act, Navigable Waters Act, NEB Act and 60+ others
  • Promises to reform the National Energy Board and its farcical review process replaced with nominating yet another dubious set of second-guessers. This is hardly the stuff of meaningful reform to “restore public confidence” in the NEB;
  • Not one concrete legislative or regulatory action on Liberal energy efficiency promises – boosting renewable alternatives, setting tighter automobile emission standards, elevating building insulation standards, promoting public transit initiatives, and inaction on the PM’s lofty promise to the U.N. that “Climate change will test our intelligence, our compassion and our will. But we are equal to that challenge. I encourage other signatories to move swiftly to follow through on their commitments”. Since then – nothing, nada, zilch.

Blowing hot air

Recent interviews with Minister McKenna have deteriorated into the avoidance, obfuscation and outright nonsense many had come to regard as par for the Harper Government course. Even allowing that this Ministry deteriorated hugely in the 10 years of Harperite neglect, this about-face and foot-dragging is deeply disappointing to scientists and NGO’s, many of whom worked hard on the election that put the LPC in power. Remembering the counsel that “those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it”, this trend is highly discouraging to those who thought October’s election result would herald sunnier ways on the climate front.

Kinder Morgan, PNWLNG will tell the tale

Lelu Island and Flora Bank - site of Petronas's controversial, proposed LNG terminal near Prince Rupert (submitted)
Lelu Island and Flora Bank – site of Petronas’s proposed PNWLNG terminal near Prince Rupert (submitted)

The Minister’s (and Government’s) grade on its climate report card: a big fat “F”. As they say in the North – big sled, no dogs. 

Two litmus tests for her and the Liberal Government loom large – decisions on the Kinder-Morgan/TME pipeline expansion and Pacific NorthWest LNG.  Approving either would undermine policies for “Real Change”, return Canada’s international reputation to the doghouse, consign to the dumpster the promises of a better First Nations relationship and severely dent chances of re-electing Federal Liberals in BC in 2019.

On this form, if Professor Jaccard is to write a 2020 update to his report, it won’t arrive at any different conclusion.


Dr. Eoin Finn is Director of Research for My Sea to Sky, an NGO concerned about proposals to re-industrialize iconic Howe Sound, BC.


6 thoughts on “Opinion: Environment & Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna gets failing report card

  1. On the climate change file Justin appears to be just another salesman for non renewable resources. His intent? To carbon tax Canadians and allow industry to continue as they were. Ms. Clark has let him know that she has a burgeoning LNG/Fracking industry in her sights and she will not be changing course. She certainly has no intention of offending her Petronas friends in Malaysia.

  2. Anyone who expects any real improvement from the current government is living in the same world as Tinkerbell and Nanny McPhee. Junior Trudeau has had more than a year to DO something significant and we’re still waiting. He has marched in parades, he’s gone on holiday and been photographed minus his shirt, he went to China, he went here, he went there, I’m sure he’ll go somewhere else, and he has smiled, smiled, smiled, but he hasn’t DONE anything significantly progressive. Actually, he hasn’t done anything significant, progressive or not. He’s far richer than any of us will ever be but he thinks we should pay for his children’s nannies. Yes, nanny plural.
    We so desperately wanted to get rid of Harpy we voted for a conceited twerp. He’ll continue to do and be what he has been since he was elected and then just before the next election he’ll pull his head out of his basic fundament just in time to do some little thing…maybe legalize pot…then, like little Jack Horner he can “proudly say, oh what a good boy am I.”

    1. Anne, I totally agree with you but the key statement here is …….’We so desperately wanted to get rid of Harper….”

      Trudeau is a one term wonder who will probably have a meltdown of Mulroney sized proportions sans the alcohol …..
      So…unless the Conservatives and the NDP continue to stumble around in the dark with their collective heads up their ….
      We should be rid of “Lord Fauntelroy” in …oh about 4 years.
      Just grimace and suffer through his inane photo ops.
      Every time he breathlessly babbles in front of a microphone……He’s only shooting himself in the foot.

      1. It would be one thing to see the shooting in the foot scenario, but it is far more precious to see shooting foot in mouth.

    2. Hear Here, I support every one of Your points, and I had blamed Women for electing that no mind pretty boy….I stand corrected and apologize to You.

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