A legacy is a legacy

Much is said in the press these days about Prime Minister Jean Chrétien’s wish to leave a lasting legacy. Now that he has announced his decision not to run for the leadership of Canada for a third time, he appears to be considering a variety of environmental actions.

Many radio, print and television journalists are crying foul. Many letters to editors of a variety of magazines, newspapers and journals are pointing fingers, saying too little, too late and that Chrétien’s making decisions for all the wrong reasons.

I think that the ever-canny Chrétien is making a brilliant move.

After all, it would easier to do nothing.

Let’s look at Alberta’s premier Ralph Klein, who opposes ratification of the Kyoto Accord. This is the Accord that the 15-member countries of the European Union signed, that commits signatory countries to reduce greenhouse-gas. Many (not all) scientists believe that these contribute to climate change (which is, in itself, a contentious issue).

Premier Klein represents the Alberta oil patch. Let’s be serious: of course this industry doesn’t wish to see the Kyoto Accord signed. That would mean they would need to infuse more capital into research and development (R&D) to discover cleaner fuels and/or alternative energy sources.

That’s the rub, isn’t it? Putting serious R&D funds and good-paying jobs into the search for alternative energy solutions is just not going to happen when we Canadians defend the status quo.

And let’s take a look at federal opposition parties.

Take a peek at the Alliance. Their natural resources critic, Dave Chatters, is right to question Chrétien. He is correct, when he asks for more information about the Accord.

Let’s not have the wool pulled over our eyes. Yes, absolutely we need to know more about Kyoto. But tell me, isn’t it better to move forward on controlling greenhouse gases? Isn’t it more reasonable to pursue a path towards funding and considering alternative, greener energies?

Let’s not forget Atlantic Canada. What might politicians there be thinking? Well, let’s take a look. This have-not region of Canada is keen on offshore drilling for their economic (read, tax) base.

Tories, Alliance, Liberals: all parties have members hailing from regions that depend upon fossil burning fuels. Even though Joe Clark is leaving politics, he represents Calgary East, aka oil patch interests. Take a look at Liberal hopeful Paul Martin, who wants to continue squandering money and his and others’ personal energy on a leadership race, to hell with the country and important issues of governance. He, too, questions signing the Kyoto Accord. But Martin represents Toronto’s Bay Street, and established interests aka oil patch interests.

Golly, talk about fossil fuels and fossilized Canadian leadership. And this is not to mention President Bush and his Texan oil interests. Nor to mention his international promotion of war with Iraq, that vast oil patch possessing “limitless” supplies of the energy that “the Allied forces” all depend upon in order to fight the War on Terrorism.

Face it: from our prime minister down to backbenchers, our elected members of parliament are pressured to do absolutely nothing about greenhouse gases and alternative energies. Similarly, our provincial and municipal leaders don’t wish to rock the cradle.

But here’s the thing: we must examine alternatives. We need to shake the cradle of complacency.

Yes, there will be economic ramifications when Chrétien signs the Kyoto Accord. Those of us who live in the Pontiac are justifiably concerned about our pocket books in the short term. Take a look around our county, and see how we are all dependent upon fossil burning fuels in this vast, northern country of ours. Over there, the farmer is using gasoline to fuel her machinery. Over here, a logger is doing the same thing.

And, here at my house I heat my home with an oil-burning furnace. Plus, like many of you, I’m dependent upon my car for my job.

Yes, we’re all in this together. We’re all making significant contributions to the problem of greenhouse gases. (Not to mention the related problem of smog and particulate emissions from our chemical and other industries.)

Therefore, for economic self-protection in the short term, we could all strongly argue against signing the Kyoto Accord. Ever.

But you tell me something: how do we get off this treadmill, whereby we are locked into the status quo? How do we, as a country, come to grips with our national contributions to climate change? How does our elected government start to seriously fund research into alternative energies such that Canadians can take some personal leadership, and purchase safer energy alternatives in our consumer marketplace?

Prime Minister Chrétien is doing the right thing. Susan Riley’s column in The Ottawa Citizen, dated Sept. 4, quotes Chrétien as saying, “There are certain people who say we have to discuss this until we are dead. No. At a certain moment we have to decide.”

Should the Kyoto Accord be signed? Should Canada join Russia and sign the same agreement that those 15 EU countries signed?

Yes, for sure we need more information and that’s always, always the case. We need government and private sector initiatives to foster a climate for R&D such that real money, real jobs are created within these potential new industries. We need a financial bridge so that people can afford to purchase new technologies.

We need tax incentives so that industries dependent upon fossil burning fuels like the truckers who haul Canadian goods throughout North America can still have jobs while their technologies fundamentally change or even disappear. After all, if railroads were revitalized across North America, we could shift workers back to stocking rail cars, minimize gasoline consumption, and get truckers off the highways. Radical? Perhaps but this has been thought of for years. Just imagine: here in Pontiac, the Push Pull & Jerk (Pontiac and Pacific Junction Railway) might return.

Personally, I think this ought to be an exciting period in Canadian history. Will Canada be a signatory to the Kyoto Accord? I hope so.

Is our prime minister a prideful man, promoting this so he looks good for posterity? Oh, sure he’s got an ego. Do I care? No. We all do, to some extent and for heaven’s sake, just look at Mulroney if you want to talk ego and arrogance. Flip concerns over his arrogance around and we discover that Prime Minister Chrétien’s legacy fixation might just kick-start Canada into a greener future.

And that would be a good thing.

What I passionately care about is that Canada become part of the international momentum seeking a worldwide solution to the global energy crisis. What do you think?



I cannot close this week’s column without noting that it will appear on Sept. 11, the anniversary of the horrific terrorist attack on America. Much has been said by the media, but I must agree with the wife of a man who died in one of the World Trade Center towers. These were not heroes: they were ordinary people like you and like me who became tragic victims of terrorism.

Then, and only then, can victim’s families truly heal. Then, and only then, can the USA stop beating the heroics drum, and start to look seriously at the reasons behind the attack.


Katharine Fletcher is a freelance writer who telecommutes from her home office north of Quyon.