Kyoto Accord Opposition Growing

In Alberta political circles, Lorne Taylor is sometimes referred to as the "egghead redneck." It is a mark of the man that Taylor, who is Alberta's environment minister and who holds a Ph.D. in educational psychology, takes more umbrage at the first half of that moniker than the latter.

Kyoto Accord Opposition Growing

In Alberta political circles, Lorne Taylor is sometimes referred to as the "egghead redneck." It is a mark of the man that Taylor, who is Alberta's environment minister and who holds a Ph.D. in educational psychology, takes more umbrage at the first half of that moniker than the latter. "My constituents think it's great when the liberal press calls me a redneck," chuckles Taylor, who represents the riding of Cypress-Medicine Hat, part of southern Alberta's famed Bible belt. Taylor, 57, is a born-again Christian, an outspoken pro-lifer, and a long-time federal supporter of the Reform party and Canadian Alliance. Apart from Premier Ralph KLEIN, Taylor is also the Alberta government's point man in its increasingly pitched battle against Ottawa's plans to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. That it should fall to the environment minister to fight an accord aimed at reducing GLOBAL WARMING might strike outsiders as a tad curious. But this, remember, is Alberta, Canada's other distinct society.

Certainly Taylor makes no apologies for his vociferous opposition to Kyoto, an international agreement reached in 1997 under which Canada pledged to reduce domestic greenhouse gas emissions to six per cent below 1990 levels by the year 2012. "Kyoto will do nothing to improve the environment," asserts the blunt-spoken former university teacher and cattleman. In fact, he argues it will actually hinder efforts to rein in global warming by wreaking havoc on Canada's economy, draining away financial resources that could otherwise be invested in developing alternative fuel sources and improving energy efficiency. Alberta has embraced industry projections - hotly disputed by Ottawa and environmental groups - which claim Kyoto will cost Canada up to $40 billion in economic growth and at least 450,000 jobs by 2010. "You can never differentiate between the economy and the environment," says Taylor. "The countries that have the healthiest economies also have the healthiest environments."

Economic scare stories aside, Taylor's most telling argument - one he and his boss have hammered away at for months - is that Ottawa simply doesn't have a clue how it intends to honour its Kyoto commitments, which would actually require Canada to cut projected greenhouse gas emission levels by more than 20 per cent. How could this possibly be achieved? Would industry or consumers bear the primary burden? And would Alberta, which generates more greenhouse gases than any other province (Ontario is a close second), inevitably take the biggest hit? For a long time, federal ministers sidestepped the questions, insisting that the number crunching was still in progress and all would be revealed in good time. But then came the Big Shrug. In late September, after reiterating his intention to ratify Kyoto before the end of the year, Jean CHRÉTIEN told reporters that a detailed plan for implementing the accord was at least a decade away. "The development of the plan will take 12 years, 10 years," said Chrétien. "It will not be in operation tomorrow."

The Prime Minister's comments energized the anti-Kyoto forces. On Sept. 26, a coalition of 25 business groups, including the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, launched an ambitious cross-country campaign for what they call a "made-in-Canada" solution to global warming that would set emissions targets independent of Kyoto. Last week, Ontario Premier Ernie EVES and British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell weighed in. "I'm not signing on to anything that I don't know the effect of at the end of the day," declared Eves. In response, Ottawa appeared to backtrack, saying there would be some kind of blueprint for achieving Kyoto after all. Federal Environment Minister David Anderson went so far as to say that he was "well on the way to having everything the provinces and territories need" before the nation's environment and energy ministers meet in Halifax on Oct. 21. Judging from past attempts, that is highly unlikely.

For Alberta, the intervention of business and political leaders from across Canada is significant - Taylor frankly admits they will have far more credibility with the public outside Alberta than he or Klein could hope to muster. It also demonstrates that the debate over Kyoto, long an obsession of the Klein administration, has now engaged the entire country. Still, it is in Alberta where passions run highest, recalling memories of old battles against the National Energy Program, legislation the Trudeau government introduced in 1980 that forced Alberta to sell its oil and gas at artificially low prices and contributed to investment fleeing the oil patch.

Two developments last week underscored this sense of cultural déjà vu. In an interview with a Toronto newspaper, Klein warned Ottawa not to "push us too hard" lest it whip up separatist sentiment in the province that has been dormant since the bad old days of the NEP. On the same day the front page headline screamed, "Klein Warns of Alberta Separatism," the premier's office in Edmonton rushed out a news release titled, "Alberta government unwavering in its support of Confederation, Klein confirms" - a strange thing for a Canadian political leader to need to assert.

More significant, perhaps, was the appearance of former Alberta premier Peter LOUGHEED, 74, who is a bit of a local legend for his determined (if ultimately unsuccessful) fight against the NEP. Lougheed, whom Klein has tapped as a senior adviser on the Kyoto file, emerged from a meeting with industry heavyweights to pronounce that the accord could be every bit as bad for Alberta as the NEP. He also warned that while Ottawa has the right to ratify, putting Kyoto into effect without the co-operation of the provinces could prove impossible. "Treaty, maybe yes," said Lougheed in his trademark clipped manner. "Implementation of treaty - maybe not."

Lougheed also framed the debate as a contest for public opinion. Even within Alberta the outcome is far from certain. A poll the province commissioned last spring indicated 72 per cent of Albertans favoured ratifying Kyoto. Mind you, it also found nearly half (47 per cent) had no idea what Kyoto committed Canada to doing - and that is where the battle is now truly being joined. Environmental groups like the widely respected Alberta-based Pembina Institute For Appropriate Development have recently issued studies which argue that Kyoto will actually benefit the economy by forcing industry to be more energy-efficient and innovative. Pembina policy director Robert Hornung deplores what he calls "the economic Armageddon arguments" from Kyoto critics and predicts Canadians will not be swayed.

In the end, all the rhetoric may amount to a lot of sound and fury, signifying very little. Chrétien remains determined to ratify Kyoto and his Ontario-heavy Liberal caucus seems eager to grant his wish (if anything, many Liberal MPs argue the Prime Minister has already watered down Canada's climate change commitments too much). Perhaps, as Kyoto's supporters suggest, the accord's overall economic impact will prove tolerable and Canadians will learn to live with it, if not love it. But that's in the rest of the country. In Alberta, where the 22-year-old NEP is still talked about like the province's own Battle of the Alamo, ratification of Kyoto is more likely to go down as another day of infamy, to be stored in the collective memory and called up at will. That's the way it is; that's the way it's always been.

Maclean's October 14, 2002