Demands for Climate Action Put Pressure on Conservatives in Canada, Australia
From Canada to Australia, the resistance to climate action generally associated with conservative governments may be showing early signs of burning to the ground—though CBC isn’t minimizing the challenges the next Conservative Party of Canada leader will face reconciling the urgency of the climate crisis with a largely westernized political base.
Parliamentary reporter Evan Dyer opens his report in Australia, where the latest attack on coal-friendly Prime Minister Scott Morrison came from his immediate predecessor and Liberal coalition colleague, Malcolm Turnbull. Using a tone Dyer describes as “measured” but words “as blistering as an Australian bushfire”, Turnbull said he “could not explain” why Prime Minister Scott Morrison refused to meet with bushfire scientists or take the threat looming over his country seriously.
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“It’s just not consistent with the way in which a prime minister would or should act in a national crisis like this,” Turnbull said. “How many more coral reefs have to be bleached? How many more million hectares of forest have to be burned? How many more lives and homes have to be lost before the climate change deniers acknowledge they are wrong?”
Turnbull added that “rather than doing what a leader should do,” Morrison “downplayed it and at times discounted the influence of climate change, which is just nonsense from a scientific point of view. So that’s misleading people.”
The sequencing of Dyer’s story contrasts Morrison’s epic fail with the position of the only scientist currently seeking the Conservative Party of Canada leadership, chemical engineer and Sarnia-Lambton MP Marilyn Gladu.
“When your house is burning around you, that’ll change your point of view in a hurry,” Gladu said, adding that her party’s leadership race is an opportunity to rethink its position on climate.
“I think it needs to be a topic because it’s clear that the policy that we brought on climate change didn’t resonate with Canadians in the election,” she said. “And so, if we’re going to win the next election, we’ve got to come to Canadians with a credible offering.”
But party organizer Jamie Ellerton said a course correction on climate change might be more difficult than the party’s recent shift on LGBTQ rights. “The party at its core continues to be opposed to any new tax, and I think the carbon tax is going to continue to be very unpopular,” he told CBC. “What you saw in Ontario was that this was an issue that Patrick Brown wanted to run on, and the party quickly one-eightied in the leadership race that replaced him.”
Conservative MP Michael Chong, who brought a revenue-neutral carbon tax into the last Conservative leadership race as a defining policy position, said a climate strategy that includes the word “tax” won’t fly within his party. “Carbon taxes themselves are probably dead in the water, but electability is going to be a huge part of the conversation as to who the next party leader will be,” he said. “And it’s clear that Canadians are looking for some kind of action and policy from their government” on climate change.
Ellerton acknowledged that climate “is an issue that came up a lot for Conservatives at the door, that didn’t pass muster to earn the confidence and a mandate from Canadians.” Gladu added that it’s getting harder to deny the reality of climate change, though some card-carrying PCs might still try.
“There are still those who may not appreciate the climate change situation that we have in the world,” she said. “But we should be seeing a change in opinion because we’re seeing an increase of floods, of wildfires, a lot of extreme weather events. We know the permafrost is melting, we know the ocean’s pH [acidity] is rising. Certainly, as we see these undeniable facts come forward, people’s views will evolve.”
Against that certainty, Dyer points to a political challenge for Canadian Conservatives. “One dilemma the party faces is that the last two elections have seen a marked westernization of its caucus and its base,” he writes. “It now draws a disproportionate number of votes from Alberta and Saskatchewan, a region of the country that is an outlier in terms of attitudes to climate change—and where more livelihoods depend on the oil and gas industry than in other parts of Canada.”
Even in the 2019 campaign, Dyer says some reporters noticed differences in Conservative leader Andrew Scheer’s regional talking points—sometimes referring to climate change as a problem to be managed in Ontario and Quebec, but denouncing the carbon tax and climate activists on a swing through Edmonton and Regina.
While “no current CPC leadership candidate is proposing the party flip on carbon taxes,” Dyer adds, “like all politicians—like their counterparts in Australia—they remain at the mercy of events.” And “the Conservative Party leadership vote on June 27 comes at the height of wildfire season.”