Opposing lessons in crisis management

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If single-minded attention to a gathering emergency is the measure of leadership in government, then Stephen Harper’s Torytown manages to both pass and fail in spectacularly simultaneous fashion.

This week, a deeply ambivalent House of Commons issued its imprimatur for Canadian combat operations to commence in the treacherous reaches of northern Iraq, where the Islamic State (IS) currently wreaks havoc. The mission is modest (it includes nine airplanes and about 600 military personnel), but the purpose is definitive.

“We are undertaking a range of actions, and we are very fortunate to have men and women who are prepared to put their lives on the line to undertake those actions on our behalf,” the Prime Minister said on Tuesday. “What the world understands very clearly is that in the absence of any response, (the Islamic State) was growing like a cancer over the summer, over an entire region. This constitutes a threat and not just to the region, to the global community entirely and also to Canada.”

It’s the brand of tough talk and focussed reaction for which Mr. Harper has become justly famous. Posit a gun-toting enemy with sharp teeth and dastardly intentions, and you can count on Captain Canada to swoop into the fray, his six-shooters a-blazing.

Indeed, whether the evil-doers in our midst (or just over the horizon) are stalkers, cyber-bullies, pedophiles, or murderous jihadis, this prime minister has never let down his rhetorical guard whilst demonstrating his country’s determination to wipe out vicious hellions wherever he may find them.

Unfortunately, without an obvious, two-legged enemy at which he can shake his big stick, Mr. Harper – and, in fact, every one of his political lieutenants – appear, all too often, hopelessly distracted or, worse, mindfully disengaged from even greater threats than those IS now poses to the world’s well being.

“At the 2009 Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, the Government of Canada committed to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 17 per cent from 2005 levels by 2020,” writes Julie Gelfand, Canada’s Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development in her Fall 2014 report, her first since accepting the job last March.

Realistically, though, “Environment Canada’s latest projections show that Canada will not likely meet its commitment.” That’s because “the federal government has chosen to reduce GHG emissions by establishing regulations on a sector-by-sector basis.” In this fashion, “it has introduced several such regulations to date, notably in the transportation and the electricity generation sectors.” At the same time, “in 2006, the government first announced its intent to regulate GHG emissions from the oil and gas industry but has not yet done so even though emissions are growing fastest in this sector.”

The bottom line is straightforward and chilling:

“If Canada does not honour its climate-change commitments, it cannot expect other countries to honour theirs. If countries fail to reduce their emissions, the large environmental and economic liabilities we will leave our children and our grandchildren – such as more frequent extreme weather, reduced air quality, rising oceans, and the spread of insect-borne diseases – will likely outweigh any potentially positive effects, such as a longer growing season.”

None of which should come as any great surprise to those who have kept a watchful eye trained on this federal government’s policies concerning the environment. Agents provocateurs of the blue zone on Parliament Hill routinely pillory critics of big oil and gas, drubbing them for their allegedly anti-business, anti-prosperity, anti-technology agitations. Meanwhile, the bigger picture goes deliberately unappreciated, with nauseatingly predictable results.

“While the Government of Canada has recognized the need to urgently combat climate change, its planning has been ineffective and the action it has taken has been slow and not well coordinated,” Ms. Gelfand concludes.

“The sector-by-sector regulatory approach led by Environment Canada has made some gains, but the measures currently in place are expected to close the gap in greenhouse gas emissions by only 7 per cent by 2020, and the actual effects of these measures have not yet been assessed.”

And likely never will. Unless we somehow manage to transform global warming into a sword-brandishing terrorist on which Mr. Harper can draw a bead, this is one crisis that will continue to loom.

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