Tories kill off voices, one at a time

Sometimes a politician can stumble and tell the truth.

Sometimes a politician can stumble and tell the truth.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird did precisely that this week when he took a garden variety question from Liberal interim leader Bob Rae and turned his guns on a small advisory group known as the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy.

The Conservatives killed it in this year’s budget.

In the litany of Conservative cuts and the much more contentious overhaul of environmental assessments in this country, the roundtable’s death was destined to be a footnote.

Until Baird, a former environment minister, rose in the House of Commons to kick more dirt on the corpse.

“Why should taxpayers have to pay for more than 10 reports promoting a carbon tax, something which the people of Canada have repeatedly rejected?’’ Baird thundered. “That is a message the Liberal party just will not accept. It should agree with Canadians. It should agree with the government to no discussion of a carbon tax that would kill and hurt Canadian families.’’

When Environment Minister Peter Kent defended the decision to kill the agency the day after the budget, he merely said it had outlived its usefulness and was providing analysis done elsewhere, at universities and other agencies.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper was back on that message.

But Baird’s intervention invited scrutiny of the motivation behind the Harper government move, a motivation that appears to be political ideology, not the pocket-change savings of barely $5 million.

To hear Baird, the NRTEE was out carousing with those “radical” environmentalists, taking its wisdom on the environment from those other enemies of the state, Stéphane Dion and Tom Mulcair.

But if anything, the agency was a creature of the radical centre.

Its outgoing president, David McLaughlin was so radical he had once been chief of staff to prime minister Brian Mulroney, more recently chief of staff to Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, a member of the tribe and appointed because he was a trusted member of that tribe.

It was the only organization in the country that by its very mandate had to study both the economic side and the environmental side of climate change, but never one at the exclusion of another.

But in recent years, the Harper government stopped listening to the NRTEE, just as it tunes out other arm’s-length agencies that offer advice.

The roundtable had freedom to go anywhere it wanted, but consistently stayed within the parameters of the stated government climate policy of the day, operating on consensus, submitting its plans to the environment minister, sending draft reports to his office, providing economic facts and figures, never pushing the government on its greenhouse gas emissions targets, providing data, not criticism.

But the government largely ignored them. Others did not.

Twin reports entitled Achieving 2050 were downloaded 51,605 times. A report on water sustainability was downloaded 33,565 times, another one entitled Climate Prosperity was downloaded 25,592 times and was linked to from national and international media websites.

The NRTEE website gets more than 500,000 hits each year.

In recent years, it was publishing more reports and organizing more events than it had since the Mulroney era, but was still returning a surplus at the end of the year.

In this case, motives abound — shutting down discordant voices on the environment, dismantling another part of the Mulroney legacy, wrapping up something you never listened to anyway.

One official with knowledge of the roundtable’s workings said by quieting such voices the government is narrowcasting its message.

Tim Harper is a syndicated national affairs writer for the Toronto Star. He can be reached at tharper@thestar.ca.

Just Posted

Ella Stoner, five, is ready to cut off her hair and donate it to A Child’s Voice Foundation. (Photo by Lauren Stoner Photography)
Central Alberta girl to donate her ‘princess hair’ to A Child’s Voice Foundation

A five-year-old girl from Rimbey has never had a haircut before. Now,… Continue reading

Asymptomatic testing will now be available for "priority groups" who are most likely to spread the COVID-19 virus to vulnerable or at-risk populations. File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS
Alberta adds 1,195 new COVID-19 cases Saturday

Red Deer has dropped to 760 active cases

Lacombe-Ponoka MLA Ron Orr
Central Alberta MLAs comment on UCP members kicked out of caucus

A pair of central Alberta MLAs have commented on the two United… Continue reading

Contributed photo
Johanna Hannaford: Central Alberta designer offers inclusive clothing

By Stephanie Rhodes Local designer Johanna Hannaford’s inclusive clothing creations are smashing… Continue reading

Red life-ring with splash
Started from the bottom: How a family business started and grew in central Alberta

By Carina Moran We started our business in the basement of our… Continue reading

Vancouver Canucks' Zack MacEwen (71), Travis Boyd (72) and Jimmy Vesey (24) celebrate a goal against the Edmonton Oilers during third period NHL action in Edmonton on Saturday, May 15, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Big third period lifts Vancouver Canucks to 4-1 victory over Edmonton Oilers

Canucks 4 Oilers 1 EDMONTON — Matthew Highmore scored twice in the… Continue reading

A vial of the Medicago vaccine sits on a surface. CARe Clinic, located in Red Deer, has been selected to participate in the third phase of vaccine study. (Photo courtesy www.medicago.com)
Canada’s vaccine rollout operation won’t miss a beat with new military leader: expert

DARTMOUTH — The sudden departure of the senior military officer in charge… Continue reading

Quebec Premier Francois Legault speaks during a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic, Tuesday, September 29, 2020 at the legislature in Quebec City. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot
Quebec premier argues province has power to amend constitution in letter to Trudeau

MONTREAL — Quebec Premier François Legault has written a letter to Prime… Continue reading

A demonstrator stands in front of riot police officers during a banned protest in support of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, in Paris, Saturday, May, 15, 2021. Marches in support of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip were being held Saturday in a dozen French cities, but the focus was on Paris where riot police countered organizers who said they would defy a ban on the protest, ordered on the grounds that it risked turning violent. (AP Photo/Rafael Yaghobzadeh)
Police fire tear gas on banned Palestinian march in Paris

PARIS (AP) — French riot police fired tear gas and used water… Continue reading

Photo by The Associated Press
NYC Pride parade bans police; Gay officers ‘disheartened’

NEW YORK (AP) — Organizers of New York City’s Pride events said… Continue reading

Welcoming cowboy boots at the historic and colourful Last Chance Saloon in the ghost town of Wayne near Drumheller, Alta., on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019. The bar and hotel are up for sale. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘It was a going concern’: Remaining bar and hotel in Alberta coal ghost town for sale

WAYNE, Alta. — Built during the First World War, it survived the… Continue reading

A letter from a bottle that washed up in New Brunswick in 2017 is shown in an undated handout photo. A team of researchers from Université du Québec à Rimouski are trying to solve the mystery of whether a letter in a bottle that washed up in New Brunswick in 2017 was indeed from a young victim of Titanic shipwreck or simply a hoax. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, N. Beaudry, UQAR *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Real or hoax? Quebec scholars probe mystery letter allegedly from Titanic passenger

MONTREAL — Researchers from Université du Québec à Rimouski are trying to… Continue reading

Minister of Transport Marc Garneau takes part in a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2019. Advocates, experts and opposition MPs say correspondence showing close communication between the federal Transport Department and the Canadian Transportation Agency regarding passenger refunds throws into question the independence of the CTA, an arm’s-length body. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Emails reveal close communication between government, transport regulator on refunds

OTTAWA — Advocates, experts and opposition MPs say correspondence showing close communication… Continue reading

Most Read