Environment debate

With green issues on many Canadians’ minds, it’s not surprising that all four candidates in the upcoming federal election are eager to paint themselves as environmentally progressive.

Voters from Queen’s and the greater Kingston community heard what candidates have to say about sustainability at the Debate on Energy and the Environment on Oct. 3. Prof. Warren Mabee of the departments of Policy Studies and Geography moderated the debate, which was organized by Queen’s graduate students. The debate presented candidates with the chance to form a dialogue with voters and to explain their views on policy relating to the environment.

Liberal candidate and incumbent Member of Parliament Peter Milliken focused his comments on his party’s proposed GreenShift plan, which would tax industries that emit high levels of carbon.

“It’s intended to be comprehensive and it’s intended to clean the environment by reducing emissions, at least of carbon.”

Milliken said the Liberals still plan to follow the terms of the Kyoto Accord, which calls for nations to reduce their emissions to 1990 levels.

The other candidates criticized Milliken for refusing to comment on issues under provincial jurisdiction, such as nuclear energy.

“I have always taken the view in my work that I not dictate to my provincial colleagues or my municipal colleagues.”

New Democrat candidate Rick Downes said the University should install more water fountains to discourage students from buying bottled water. “The water we drink here in Kingston is among the best in North America.”

The NDP’s environmental platform proposes using a “cap and trade” system, which would cap the amount of permitted emissions and force companies that emit more than is allowed to buy emission credits.

Downes was critical of the current government’s relationship with the business sector, especially the oil industry.

“Under the Conservative government, we’ve seen $50 billion in tax cuts to major corporations.”

All parties supported the subsidization of installing renewable energy efficient systems in homes across the country.

Downes said the NDP would fund the training of individuals to perform environmental home retrofits.

“There’s an entirely different skillset needed to install these new systems. The New Democrats have a four-year 3 billion dollar plan where every year we’ll put $750 million into it in order to train and retrain. ... We want to ensure that there’s proper training for Canadian workers so that we can participate in the new energy economy and we’re calling this ‘green collar jobs.’”

Conservative Brain Abrams said changes need to be made in order for Canada to become more sustainable.

“There’s no question that we have to move away from a petroleum-based economy.”

Abrams said the Conservative Party is planning a ‘hydrogen highway’ in B.C.

“We have been a leader in hydrogen. We created the hydrogen highway that will be up in time for the 2010 Olympics.”

Abrams said the Conservatives don’t support implementing a carbon tax.

“We think that the carbon tax is the wrong way for Canada to go at this time. ... It’s significant that the premiers of every province and every territorial leader including first nation’s people in this country have said that this is wrong for Canada at this point in time.”

Abrams said the Conservatives propose a plan to charge $6 million fines for ‘corporate polluters,’ including the forced disclosure of corporate environmental fines to shareholders. This is in addition to individual fines of up to 1 million.

Abrams, whose party has abandoned the Kyoto Accord, defended his party’s actions.

“The Liberals signed Kyoto with no plans to implement it. ....We did more in a year and a bit than the Liberals did in 13 years. ...We’re the first government to set hard realistic targets of 20 per cent by 2020, we think they’re real and attainable and we have a plan to carry them out.”

Green Eric Walton said Canada’s failure to adhere to its Kyoto commitments shows a lack of environmental concern on the part of previous federal governments.

“The Kyoto process actually did succeed in the end because one of its goals was to show the citizens of these countries whether their governments had the political will to do the right thing.”

Walton said wind power is an option that needs to be taken into consideration, but that it needs to be implemented more carefully than has been done in the past.

“It was not done well in Wolfe Island but I can tell you there are a lot worse stories. … That said, we do think wind power is a good technology.”

Walton was also critical of ethanol as a possible alternate fuel source.

“I think this whole ethanol craze has been shown to be very problematic. … We would not support ethanol production.”

Walton said his party has the most effective carbon tax plan.

“We’re proposing a true green tax shift, which would be $50 a ton moving up to $100 a ton in 20 years. That would be a shift. There would be no new tax; it would shift to lower income tax to lower corporate tax, payroll taxes as well as direct transfers to people who don’t pay income tax. In fact, we’re using the market to elegantly guide our economy towards environmental sustainability.”

The federal All-Candidates debate will be held tonight at 7 p.m. in Wallace Hall

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