Canada must be a leader on climate change

Canada must be a leader on climate change
Posted on December 2, 2015 | James Mihaychuk | Written on December 1, 2015
Letter type:


Ottawa Citizen

Author's Note:

Author's Note:

This letter was a direct response to a defeatist column by Andrew Coyne that claimed that Canada's actions to fight climate change are irrelevant. My rebuttal was submitted as a Letter to the editor of the National Post and was posted as a comment to the Ottawa Citizen's version of the same editorial by Andrew Coyne.

Andrew Coyne has hauled out Canada's most tired defeatist myths to argue for continuing the past decade of inaction and subterfuge on the international stage regarding climate change.

Using the same twisted logic to which Andrew Coyne now resorts, Canada could have confronted apartheid in South Africa with indifference in the 1980's. Even worse, we could have mimicked the backward policies of the Thatcher government in the U.K. Instead Canada chose to follow it's own, proactive, multilateral approach to apartheid. Of course, the same principled yet multilateral approach is the hallmark of Canadian diplomacy as exemplified by Pearson's calming of the Suez crisis in the years following the Second World War.

Indeed, the record of this type of conscientious Canadian international effort is much longer and includes the independent deployment the Canadian Army in the First World War. Our record carried forward throughout the last century, and evolved through Canadian participation in the League of Nations. It was manifested in our essential contributions to the Allied effort in the Second World War and again in our the signing of the UN Charter when peace was won.

Our commitment to international security was shown again in the post-war years. It was demonstrated through our key role in the Korean conflict. It was present through peacekeeping and observer missions from Suez to Cyprus. And, yes, that commitment brought with it major challenges including dirty tactics in Bosnia, our own abuse of a prisoner in Somalia, and the horrors of the gencode in Rwanda.

Then as now, leadership begins in undertaking the challenge to do what is right despite our fears and doubts. True leadership follows in the years after the undertaking when we persevere in the hard work of building solutions that are fair and just even when circumstances seem unfair. Principled leadership also calls on us to act in accordance with the facts of our changing world and reasonable expectations for the future course of events.

Climate change most certainly fits the bill -- it demands pricipled leadership. The science is clear and is well established, despite frantic arguments to the contrary from vested interests and their shills. The need is urgent. The problems and their solutions are global and multilateral by their very nature. In other words, this is a challenge tailor-made for a Canadian political leader with a desire to influence global affairs for the common good.

History shows that when the chips are down, Canada is there. For over a decade, Stephen Harper's version of "Official Canada" ran interference on climate change negotiations at the behest of the "Big Oil" fossil fuel lobby. In doing so, Harper and his team earned well-deserved scorn from our partners in the international community. They brought dishonor to a nation with a proud tradition of principled international cooperation.

Canada just voted in a Liberal government under Justin Trudeau with a convincing new mandate for change in direction. The mandate from that campaign includes strong action on climate change. Canada must stand once more with its partners in the international community. We are neither small nor are we insignificant - measured by land area we are the second largest country in the world after Russia.

In fact, Canada is especially important on the international stage because of our unique relationship with our American cousins. We share a common language and the world's longest conflict-free border. Despite differences in our systems of political representation we embrace the same core democratic principles and commitment to human rights. We share the same continent and are each other's greatest and most favoured trading partner. Our cross-border trade with the USA includes massive clean energy exports of hydroelectric power from Quebec and Manitoba.

We need to be in the fight for our shared climate shoulder to shoulder with our American friends. To lead on climate and for the Paris negotiations to succeed, our two nations must stand together. Canadians and Americans also need to challenge each other so that our two nations take well reasoned and worthwhile political risks to advance farther and faster.

In our own right, Canadians produce the largest per capita carbon emissions into our atmosphere. We mistakenly consider the atmosphere as a vast, limitless expanse. We easily forget that it is only a fragile and thin blanket of air, akin to a thin coat of paint on a bowing ball. We take for granted its essential role in sustaining all life on earth. We use our air as an open sewer, virtually free for all to use and abuse.

However, Canadians have a clear precedent for joint action to protect the atmosphere in the international commitment to regulate CFC's (chlorofluorocarbons). CFC's are a class of chemicals once used as domestic and commercial refrigerants. CFC's were also used as propellants in spray cans. CFC's were banned to limit the damage to the ozone layer, a part of our outer atmosphere crucial to protection of people and food crops from harmful UV rays. Even so, many of us still suffer painful sunburns on sunny days that are the direct result of the ozone hole over much of Canada. Thankfully, we hope to see the ozone layer recover over time.

Canada now has a key role to play at the COP21 negotiations and in the efforts that will follow afterwards. Responding to the climate crisis will challenge each one of us. It will also bring in a new era of long overdue investments in durable infrastructure.

As Canadians, we can do this, we must do this, and so we shall. We will respond to the challenge of climate change as individuals and in our communities, schools, and workplaces. Together with our partners from around the world, Canadians shall once again be leaders in the important work of protecting our planet and promoting global economic and political security.

About The Author

mihaychuk's picture

 I am interested in sustainability, civic engagement and democratic renewal. You might meet me at the soccer pitch, at the Farmers Market, or walking or biking on local trails.
I'm a high-tech veteran and have... More