Do Conservatives really conserve?

With the election of a Conservative federal government some environmentalists are feeling more than a bit nervous.

With the election of a Conservative federal government some environmentalists are feeling more than a bit nervous.

After all, the Conservative Party’s election platform was not exactly heavy on environmental issues.

Developing a ‘made-in-Canada’ plan to deal with Greenhouse Gas emissions essentially means pulling Canada out of the Kyoto Protocol.

While Canada’s past approach to meeting its Kyoto commitments was woefully inadequate, at least it was attempting to do something about human-induced climate change.

These past attempts, while pitiful, at least recognized that human-induced climate change posed a serious problem, especially to the North.

The Conservative government seems even lighter on ideas than the past Liberal government on how to deal with climate change. 

Another Conservative election platform was encouraging the private sector to clean up brownfield sites.

These sites are usually in built-up areas, but have been abandoned due to environmental contamination.

Examples would be old gasoline stations or buildings that might have lots of lead paint or asbestos in them.

This is, hopefully, not going to mean federal subsidies in one form or another to the private sector to clean up their own messes.

On the other hand, cleaning up and then utilizing brownfield sites can increase urban density, thus preventing sprawl into greenbelts.

Despite environmentalists’ gut reaction to a right-wing government, one must always look for a silver lining.

One tends to forget that the word conserve is an integral part of the word Conservative.

During the campaign there was the promise to give public transit riders a tax credit to cover the cost of monthly transit passes.

This might not encourage many existing vehicle commuters to transfer to mass transit, but it will encourage current bus riders to keep on riding.

The unfortunate thing is that the money to cover this tax credit is probably going to come from existing environmental programs.

Conservatives tend to be fiscally conservative, as their name would suggest.

This could be bad news for the hydro-carbon industry.

A truly fiscally conservative government might end certain subsidies.

The Green Party said that the oil and gas and pipeline companies get subsidies to the tune of $1.4 billion a year.

More information on this is available at the Pembina Institute website, www.pembina.org.

Should the new Conservative government make the fossil fuel industry pay the full true cost of its operations and clean ups it could lead to a healthier environment.

Not only would the messes get cleaned up, the operations would have to stand on their own fiscal legs, without government support.

The same approach to subsidies might also apply to the mining industry.

There wasn’t much discussion during the election, by any of the parties, on waste issues. Reduce, reuse, recycle and compost were not in the limelight at all.

While waste is a territorial or municipal responsibility, the federal government can take the lead on some issues.

One critical area where the federal government should take further action is in extended producer responsibility.

Extended producer responsibility is when a producer’s responsibility for a product is extended to the post-consumer stage of a product’s life cycle.

For example, if a producer makes household alkaline batteries they are responsible for the battery once it has completed being used.

This responsibility can take many forms, from the manufacturer providing fiscal support to groups or businesses that would recycle the battery to providing physical infrastructure such as processing plants that could deal with alkaline batteries.

There is a further aspect to extended producer responsibility.

It could be up to federal regulatory authorities to encourage producers to ensure environmental considerations are incorporated into the initial product design.

Thus all household batteries could be of the rechargeable type, and not the single use alkaline type.

This would negate the need for alkaline battery recycling facilities, and ensure the maximum use of existing rechargeable battery recycling plants.

The new government could be bad news or good news for the environment, depending on how they implement their campaign promises and what they decide to do for the environment beyond those promises.

As for the response from the environmental community, most of it will no doubt be doom and gloom.

No matter what happens, the sun will still come up tomorrow.

Of course, it might shine even brighter if the new government relaxes pollution controls and allows factories to emit chemicals that burn away what’s left of the ozone layer.

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