Opinion » Eco Logic

Heating up Part 1: The political climate


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Lost amidst the miasma of recriminations around the SNC Lavalin affair were two key things Canadians shouldn't have missed.

First was the federal budget, where could be found, among other items, several forward-focused initiatives: a reduction in the student loan interest rate and six-month interest-free period after graduation; $5K credit on the purchase of an electric vehicle; 15 per cent credit on a digital news service subscription—something Canadians hesitate to enlist, making it difficult for media outlets to transition as they must.

Had we the temerity to even briefly wave off the self-immolating protestations and mock opprobrium of Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott that hovered like flies for weeks, we might also have registered this StatsCan tidbit: a buoyant economy and signature child benefit saw the Trudeau government hit its target—set in 2015—of a 20-per-cent reduction in poverty earlier than expected. Twenty. Per cent.

I mention these not as a Liberal sycophant (I remain, in fact, infuriated with this government on several fronts) but because as a scientist I'm a trained pragmatist and skeptic, undistracted by schadenfreude from seeing such real, measurable progress as decisive advances in the ecology of a democracy evolving within a current global context. Though we all share some semblance of analytical skill, today's micro-attention-span landscape seldom demands we apply this capacity. But lest you think I'm patting my own back or digressing, here's why it would help to be able to cut through the negative hand-waving around trivialities to understand positive policies.

Our much ballyhooed representative democracy is based on a carefully managed ecosystem of different parties, such that regardless of banner waved, when one is in power another forms a "loyal opposition" whose interests follow those of the country's core values and direction—albeit by different means and with different gewgaws. Not to say radical changes to governance don't take place, but in Canada's past, at least, these were debated in rational ways on rational grounds, represented necessary measures and/or benefitted all, and were, once incorporated, woven quickly into the national fabric perpetuated by all parties (e.g., Tommy Douglas' universal health care). Thus, an incoming conservative government would no more ignore scientists on the issue of acid rain than an NDP government would do so with an invasive forest pest like spruce budworm; these were shared Canadian concerns whose solutions were in the national interest.

But things have changed, and considerations of reality don't benefit the toxic discourse on which some parties thrive. With the right's dog-whistled nationalism and focus on trickle-down tax reductions (never shown to have worked), wealth creation for the wealthy (ditto), and de facto corporatocracy (propped up by a theocratic fringe), the rising waters of polarization perpetuated by mainstream media have left little centre ground on which we can all stand. No sooner has the scaffolding for a mutually positive future outcome been erected by a progressive government than it is falsely vilified and a reactionary conservative government is sworn in to begin tearing it down—at great cost to all. Driven by ideological, not practical, considerations, a spiteful, malevolent demolition is carried out in a paradoxically wasteful and ultimately destructive manner, undermining any progress it promises.

In order to justify this façade, conservatives have switched from selling stoic, centre-right leadership to attack-happy populist tactics. Starting with the radical Tea Party threat to U.S. NeoCon Republicans, accusations need not be true anymore—just true enough, even when wrapped in absurdities that contravene numerical or fact-based reality. This approach has punched a hole in the ecology of representative democracy that can be seen everywhere—on Fox News, in Donald Trump, the Brexit debacle, and the current stream of vitriol, misinformation, ad hominem attacks and controversy-mongering by Canada's conservatives under Doug Ford, Jason Kenney and Andrew Scheer, who simultaneously offer nothing for a future we all know is imminent.

Our politics are heating up, which brings us to the second thing we might have missed while chugging shots of indignation, bandwagon drunk on the false scandal of SNC Lavalin: Canada's climate report.

Canada's Changing Climate Report (CCCR) is the first major release of the Canada in a Changing Climate initiative launched in 2017. Though it props up the government's case for a carbon tax, it is in no way partisan, being based on the same published peer-reviewed literature I have used for a decade of reporting and conference presentations. And, I can assure you, it's something we shouldn't have missed—and all need to analyze.

Next time Part 2: Canada's Changing Climate Report (CCCR)—what you need to know and why.