Response Letter to the Leader of the Government in the Senate

June 10, 2010, 8:04 am

Dear Ms. LeBreton,

Thank you for your letter dated May 25, 2010 regarding my recent email concerning Bill C-311 (The Climate Change Accountability Act). I appreciate your prompt response. I must say, however, that I was disappointed and puzzled by it.

You write that “there is no doubt that the issue of anthropogenic climate change is an important matter for all Canadians.” Canadians, in fact, are already bearing witness to the effects of a warming climate. By 2013, it is estimated that the pine beetle will decimate 80 percent of the pine forests in BC and make its way eastward because it hasn’t been cold enough over the past few decades to keep their population under control. The prairies are experiencing water shortages and will continue to do so, and the arctic ice is shrinking faster than previously thought. This is only the beginning. Is it any wonder that in a recent Nanos poll, Canadians have identified global warming as the most important issue for the upcoming G8 and G20 summits?

The situation, as you acknowledge, is terribly serious. The Minister of the Environment himself joined the chorus of global leaders acknowledging that warming must not exceed two degrees Celsius if, as the scientists warn, we are to avoid dangerous runaway global warming.

The IPCC, which has gathered data from thousands of climatologists from approximately 130 countries, has recently advised that in order to avoid this dangerous tipping point, global emission targets must be 20-40 percent below 1992 levels by 2020 and 80-90 percent below 1992 levels by 2050.

The IPCC did not pick these targets out of a hat. They are not based on targets acceptable to current business-as-usual practices. They are based on the findings of thousands of climatologists from around the world. If these are the targets to avoid a greater than two degree Celsius increase in global temperature, why does the Canadian government set its targets well below the mark? Does the Canadian government believe that it can negotiate with Mother Nature?

You point out that Prime Minister Mulroney acknowledged the critical importance of US engagement in tackling climate change and any other global issue. There is no question that this is true. However, you miss an important difference between Mulroney’s diplomatic approach and that of our current government. Mulroney didn’t wait for the US to lead on issues concerning the environment. He stepped in and actually affected change in the United States. He was instrumental during the ratification of the biodiversity convention and the climate change conventions in the early 1990s. He states: “Under Jean Charest's inspired leadership, at the Rio Conference in 1992, we helped bring the United States on board in support of the Convention on Climate Change, and we were the first industrialized nation to sign on to the Bio-Diversity Accord. “  

Mulroney instructs, base on his own experiences: “So there are three elements to Canada playing an important role on the environment: First, leading by example, claiming the high ground.  Second, engaging the Americans, and at the highest level of government.  Third, involving industry in solutions.”

There is a word for this. It’s ‘statesmanship’. Once upon a time, Canada was very good at it. It’s not too late for Canada to once again regain its place on the world stage.

The majority of Canada’s elected parliamentarians have voted in favour of Bill C-311. I am happy to report that my MP, the Honourable Maria Minna, was one of them. Our elected representatives are prepared to lead on this issue and set the bar for the United States to follow. Given that President Obama once embraced these targets, Canada will help Obama send a strong message to Congress and the Senate to take meaningful action to address greenhouse gas emissions. Canada, however, must be the first to act, as Mulroney wisely advises. I extend that to each and every one of us. I myself make it a point to reduce my own greenhouse gas emissions and track my progress through a carbon calculator. Many of my friends are doing the same.

Unfortunately, our federal government hasn’t been doing a very effective job at managing its greenhouse gas emissions, despite your assertions that it “has already created effective and efficient measures to deal with Climate Change.”  In a recent article in the Globe & Mail, we have learned that Environment Canada overestimated by 10 times emissions reductions from government measures. When is this government going address emissions reductions seriously?  

You point out that the government has “recognized that each province and territory has a different energy and environmental profile.” In other words, don’t mess with Alberta’s tar sands. Let’s not kid ourselves. Nothing, not even the threat of environmental devastation, will get in the way of full-steam-ahead tar sand development. Is that correct?

You state that you recognize the different regional approaches to energy and the environment, and at the same time explain that we cannot move forward until the US leads us in a harmonized approach to the problem. Which one is it? Regional approach or harmonized? They are connected, though, aren’t they? Let the US lead in watered down emissions targets, which will not undermine tar sand development.  

Unfortunately, Mother Nature is not going to give Alberta a break for its full-steam ahead approach to the tar sands. And that’s what you are bargaining with here.

I don’t know when it will start to finally sink in – ecological fallout leads to economic fallout as Sir Nicolas Stern outlined in his Economics of Climate Change, and as the BP oil leak has tragically demonstrated.  

When will it sink in that embracing science based emissions targets will not stunt economic growth? Rather than stunt growth, it will inspire an exciting Canadian wave in clean tech development, now the fastest growing sector worldwide. Canada, nationally, trails woefully behind Europe, the US and Asia in this area.

As you know, companies require strong and consistent government regulation and investment in order to embrace burgeoning industries. The payoff is a diversified manufacturing sector, quality jobs and, in the case of clean technology, cleaner air and less emissions. Sounds good to me. 

I have a niece and nephew, ages six and four. They and those of their generation will live with the consequences of government policy on climate change, and the course it sets at this time. We still have time.  I implore you and your fellow Senators to seriously consider the fall out of weak emissions targets and the missed opportunity to lead on transitioning to a low carbon economy. This is a moral issue. It’s also a strategic one. We don’t want to miss out on the clean tech revolution. And we don’t want to miss Mother Nature’s deadline. We have a short window to get this right. Emissions must peak and then fall by 2015. Difficult? Yes. Impossible? No. We just need leadership.

The House of Commons has offered that leadership. Please do not deny it. In the spirit of democracy and in the spirit of our greenest Prime Minister, please pass Bill C-311. 


Cheryl McNamara



McNamara, C. (2010). Response Letter to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. Retrieved from


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Christine Penner Polle wrote: 06-09-2010 11:48:29

Great letter, Cheryl!

Christine Penner Polle wrote: 06-09-2010 11:48:03

Yes, Ms. McCoy has been very good about responding to emails on Bill C311. The last one she sent to my husband on this commented that there are no champions of this bill in the Conservative caucus, so it was important to contact them at let them know Canadians are watching.

Cheryl McNamara (Author) wrote: 06-09-2010 07:10:53

Lilith Wyatt received the following response from Senator Elaine McCoy concerning her email to Senators on Bill C-311: "Hi there.....thanks for your email. I was happy to second this bill when it came to the Senate and look forward to the debate in the chamber and public input such as yours . Cheers, Elaine" Thanks Lillith for sharing!