Canadian Federal Election Results

The Liberal government in Canada, the hosts of the recent Montreal COP conference, has been defeated. A Conservative minority government has been elected. It will be approximately: Conservatives 122; Liberals 103; Bloc Quebecois 50; NDP (Socialist) 32; Independent (a Quebec radio shock jock) 1.

I’ve hardly ever discussed Kyoto on this blog although it’s the elephant in the room. Kyoto was not a big issue in the election. By nature, Canadians tend to want to do the “right thing” whatever that is. I would be surprised if the Conservatives changed Canadian direction on Kyoto. In fact, as soon as I write this down, it’s obvious that they won’t. The Liberals, Bloc Quebecois and NDP are all strongly pro-Kyoto and would almost certainly vote together against any change of direction with respect to Kyoto policy. About the only thing that the Conservatives could do is initiate new studies on the topic.

I will relapse momentarily from my avoidance of policy discussions and will probably regret this relapse. Impressionistically, Kyoto has struck me as either being too much or too little. If significant climate change is caused by anthropogenic CO2 emissions and this is a bad thing, then Kyoto is almost certainly far too little. If it’s a big big problem, then the Kyoto half-measures are probably counter-productive since they give people the illusion that they are doing something about climate change without really coming to grips with what’s needed to actually change CO2 levels..

Secondarily, the Kyoto carbon trading system (which was promoted by Enron) over-rewards countries that merely negotiated easier benchmarks, rather than ones that have dealt with the problem through actual conservation. In this respect, impressionistically, it seems to me that Canada, in its typical boy scout fashion, negotiated the most onerous Kyoto treaty obligations of any country in the world. We have a growing population unlike many European countries; we have a relatively low production of electricity from coal due to large nuclear and hydro baseloads and thus little (relatively) easy power conversions. I’m puzzled as to how the transfer of money to Russia to purchase carbon credits arising from economic collapse (rather than more responsible technologies) is a sensible response to the underlying questions.

Anyway, I strongly doubt that Canadian policy on Kyoto will change under the new government.

25 Comments

  1. Willis Eschenbach
    Posted Jan 24, 2006 at 2:57 AM | Permalink

    Steve, although I hate to disagree with you, don’t you think that the costs of Kyoto, coupled with obvious inability of Canada to meet the targets, will force a change in the CanGov point of view about Kyoto?

    Don’t you think that when the excrement strikes the air circulation device, and the big bucks start flowing to Russia for … well, for whatever it is that carbon credits are paying for … that yr. average Canuck is going to say very bad words?

    But what do I know, I live in Fiji …

    w.

  2. Posted Jan 24, 2006 at 8:00 AM | Permalink

    Willis,

    The way I see it, the carbon trading system will be a very efficient way to transfer wealth from the naive taxpayers (us, since I’m Canadian too) into the pockets of a few clever businessmen. It will do next to nothing to reduce CO2 emissions, let alone solve any hypothetical global warming. But we like that here in Canada, being a naturally generous people. We get this warm feeling of doing what’s right for the environment, so who cares if it costs a lot and achieves nothing.

  3. Steve McIntyre
    Posted Jan 24, 2006 at 9:04 AM | Permalink

    #2. Francois, I agree with this.

    You should also remember that the “clever businessmen” will undoubtedly have to pay “consultants” at both ends of the trade – in Russia and in Canada. As soon as you state the obvious, it’s painful to think about: you could get Adscam and the Russian mafia working together. If you multiply the total trading by a commission rate, there would be a lot of splash floating around in commissions. Enron had a big energy trading operation and was really keen on Kyoto trading prospects (as I understand it, trading, together with the original pipelines, was one of the few successful components of their business.)

    I can understand why politicians would be interested in this system, but I don’t understand why anyone else would be. I can certainly understand why realclimate doesn’t want to discuss Kyoto trading schemes.

    In passing, some trading houses would probably appoint a few climate scientists as blue-chip consultants – get someone on the Hockey Team or their equivalent, someone who thought that they were supporting a good cause, to be a “special adviser” and pay them a lot of extra money to do it.

  4. Jeff Norman
    Posted Jan 24, 2006 at 11:18 AM | Permalink

    Steve,

    While you are probably correct in saying there cannot be a change in Canada’s Kyoto stance with a minority government, there is however a chance that the whole subject may be re-opened for discussion now. A discussion that was totally dismissed during the previous regime.

    Jeff

  5. John G. Bell
    Posted Jan 24, 2006 at 2:32 PM | Permalink

    Pehaps China will get carbon credits for helping to clearcut Brazilian rain forest under Kyoto II. That is if those German scientists are right about rain forests being a significant source of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.

    It might not help their lumber exports, but Canadians would get another chance to “do the right thing” by putting this in Kyoto II.

    Ok, before people mail me pipe bombs, the above was a joke. What I hope is not a joke is Canada’s reexamination of the science behind Kyoto, if we are so lucky as to see that occur.

  6. Steve Latham
    Posted Jan 24, 2006 at 4:59 PM | Permalink

    When Canada negotiated her Kyoto targets, she did so with the expectation that the US would ratify. Then Canada would get credits for sending cleaner (more efficiently burning) fuel than coal to the US. Because the US didn’t ratify, Canada gets no credits for those exports. I was at a public meeting where David Anderson (Canada’s environment minister in the relevant years) expressed dismay/bewilderment regarding that outcome of the US decision to change course. For reasons like that I’ve never been a big fan of Kyoto.

    I am, however, a bigger fan of Kyoto than I am of ignoring the problem. Yes, governments waste money, and big programs like this are vulnerable to abuse by rich/connected people, but Kyoto seems relatively minor in that regard if I understand it properly. AFAIK failure to make our targets needn’t cost us very much (I have never read anywhere about Kyoto having sharp teeth) and it’s only for a few years. I should probably check up on that, but those are my impressions.

  7. Greg F
    Posted Jan 24, 2006 at 6:20 PM | Permalink

    When Canada negotiated her Kyoto targets, she did so with the expectation that the US would ratify.

    I find this hard to believe. Considering the US Senate voted 95-0 (1997) stating it would not ratify any treaty that did not include binding limits on developing nations (think China and India).

    I was at a public meeting where David Anderson (Canada’s environment minister in the relevant years) expressed dismay/bewilderment regarding that outcome of the US decision to change course.

    Sounds to me like he was either clueless or playing politics.

  8. Armand MacMurray
    Posted Jan 24, 2006 at 6:47 PM | Permalink

    I just wish Canada would pay as much attention to ocean pollution, by finally building a sewage treatment plant for BC’s capital of Victoria. Seems a bit silly to be worrying only about CO2 while Victoria remains “the only city in Canada that still discharges all of its sewage raw…” (into the Straight of Juan de Fuca).

  9. Steve Latham
    Posted Jan 24, 2006 at 7:05 PM | Permalink

    Re: #7
    Yep, this could be revisionist history, provided by one of the negotiators at Kyoto. Still, with concessions that the US seemed to gain at the meetings, and the fact that the Vice President was representing the US, Anderson’s story is plausible.

    Re: #8
    Interestingly, I believe Victoria was Anderson’s riding.

  10. John G. Bell
    Posted Jan 24, 2006 at 8:30 PM | Permalink

    Unless the one of the concessions was including binding limits on developing nations, Koyoto could not be ratified in the US. Gore was not such an idiot as to tell Anderson otherwise. So how is Anderson’s story plausible? This guy is smart enough to find out Kyoto’s prospects in the US. What is he going to say? It never came up and I didn’t think to ask? Now I know why they lost the election.

  11. Dave Dardinger
    Posted Jan 24, 2006 at 8:32 PM | Permalink

    I don’t remember exactly when Canada ratified Kyoto, but it had to be 2002 or later since I just did some googling and there were various articles from that year about why Canada should or shouldn’t ratify. And by that time the Bush administration had made it quite clear it wouldn’t ratify. So I can’t see Canada being under any illusions that the US had promised to do so.

  12. Steve Latham
    Posted Jan 24, 2006 at 9:45 PM | Permalink

    Re #10: Well, John, I wasn’t there, but by applying the same sort of logic I could say something like, “Why was Gore’s team fighting for concessions other than binding agreements for developing nations (and then agreeing the way they did to the final Kyoto structure) if they didn’t think they could push it through US law?” I don’t know. Perhaps they figured that after Gore was President and other US elections occurred they could get a more favorable vote. Any government that sent a team to Kyoto probably didn’t think that global warming would become a smaller story in the future.

    Re #11: Dave, you are right. Nevertheless, Steve McIntyre’s argument was about the position Canada negotiated at Kyoto — not the ratification. Ratification occurred when it looked like Russia wouldn’t ratify (again, this line of reasoning is screwy because Russia really didn’t have anything to lose, but publicly Russia was leaning away from ratification at that time), so it was a way for the Liberal government to say “We did our part” with little perceived risk. As mentioned in Steve’s post, every party except the Conservatives favors Kyoto, and you can imagine the motivation that would give the Liberals. Also, at the meeting I attended, Anderson wasn’t clear but it seemed to me that Canada might do their accounting assuming that their clean fuel exports to the US count toward its Kyoto targets. Like I said earlier, it doesn’t seem like terrible punishments will be meted out to countries who fail to reach targets, and I imagine the same can be said regarding those countries who do the accounting differently. I still haven’t researched that, sorry.

  13. Armand MacMurray
    Posted Jan 24, 2006 at 10:51 PM | Permalink

    Re #12:
    Steve, I think your comment on #11 also explains what most likely happened in re:#10. Clinton/Gore knew Kyoto wouldn’t get approved by the Senate, but were able to score domestic and international political points by signing, without any political risks from having to implement it.

  14. Terry
    Posted Jan 24, 2006 at 11:07 PM | Permalink

    Recently I have been puzzling over RealClimate’s refusal to discuss Kyoto or its effects on climate. At first, I thought it was just part of their policy to stay out of politics which is obviously a good policy.

    But, their policy also extends to not talking about purely scientific issues such as “what climate effects would the Kyoto limits have if implemented.” On this question, there seems to be an overwhelming consensus that the answer is “approximately zero.” Given their focus on concensus, it is inexplicable why this isn’t among their collection of consensus points that they dispense regularly. It is tempting to conclude that they ignore this particular consensus because it would be uncomfortable for political reasons. I am open to other explanations, though.

  15. Greg F
    Posted Jan 24, 2006 at 11:56 PM | Permalink

    “Why was Gore’s team fighting for concessions other than binding agreements for developing nations (and then agreeing the way they did to the final Kyoto structure) if they didn’t think they could push it through US law?”

    It made for good political theater and shored up the support from the environmental lobby. IOW, it was pure vote buying politics by Gore. The fact is, Clinton never even submitted it to the Senate for ratification knowing full well it had zero chance of passing.

    Perhaps they figured that after Gore was President and other US elections occurred they could get a more favorable vote.

    A Senate term is 6 years which means only 1/3 of the Senate would even be up for re-election. It takes a 2/3’s majority in the Senate to ratify a treaty. A more favorable vote, sure, but a more favorable vote still doesn’t ratify the treaty. The chances of going from 95-0 against to 67-33 for, after one (or even two or three) election is close to nil. Take your pick, Anderson was either clueless (a fool) or playing politics, neither option is particularly flattering.

    P.S. I live 20 miles from the border and am quite familiar with Canadian politics. My impression of Anderson is more the former then the later.

  16. JimR
    Posted Jan 25, 2006 at 12:23 AM | Permalink

    The day after Kyoto was signed Al Gore said:
    “As we said from the very beginning, we will not submit this agreement for ratification until key developing nations participate in this effort,” Gore declared. “This is a global problem that will require a global solution.”

    http://www.cnn.com/ALLPOLITICS/1997/12/11/kyoto/

    Of course the key developing nations have never agreed to participate.

    Clinton sent Gore to give concessions and agree to a treaty that they wouldn’t even try to have ratified until they renegotiated the very items that they had conceded… participation of all nations.

    Kyoto never stood much chance of ratification, but it wasn’t Bush that killed Kyoto, it was Clinton/Gore who ensured Kyoto had zero chance of ratification by the US.

  17. mark
    Posted Jan 25, 2006 at 2:56 AM | Permalink

    i still don’t see why, even if true, warming is bad…?

    it seems to me, above anything else, that canada stands to benefit greatly from a much warmer climate. maybe ya’ll like the ice? :)

    mark

    PS: by “true”, i mean at the magnitudes predicted. i don’t have any problem with the measured few tenths of a degree this century, though i do have a problem with the supposed causes.

  18. Posted Jan 25, 2006 at 9:18 AM | Permalink
  19. Posted Jan 25, 2006 at 9:34 AM | Permalink

    In 2004, Harper promised that a conservative government would scrap Kyoto:

    http://www.cbc.ca/story/election/national/2004/06/09/elxnharpkyoto040609.html

    In other words, he promised to “kill it”, see the last paragraph:

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/background/kyoto/kyoto2005.html

    Not surprisingly, the activist ads called him a dinosaur afterwards:

    http://www.cbc.ca/story/election/national/2004/06/21/environment_harper040621.html

    The Quebec bloc does not like Kyoto either:

    http://www.cbc.ca/story/canada/national/2005/04/27/party-leaders050427.html

    Harper attacked liberals’ support for Kyoto in December 2005, too, and promised tax breaks for those who use public transportation instead:

    http://www.cbc.ca/story/canadavotes2006/national/2005/12/29/elxn_tory_transit051229.html

    I may also doubt whether the attitude of Canada will change, but any rate, I would say that the content of this article is less accurate and complete than your standard. But that’s not really a criticism! ;-)

  20. Marlowe Johnson
    Posted Jan 25, 2006 at 10:54 AM | Permalink

    Lubos-

    While you are no doubt very knowledgeable about all things related to high energy physics, your showing a fair bit of ignorance re Canadian politics and Kyoto (not suprising given your location!). The Bloc Quebecois are among the strongest supporters of Kyoto and environmental regulations more generally. Politically, it is a win-win situation that has less to do with virtue than historical development; Quebec has the lowest burden among the provinces because all its electricity comes from hydro AND it gets to poke Alberta (tar sands, coal-fired electricity generation) in the eye! For the same reason, it’s easy to see why Harper (from Alberta) rejects Kyoto and advocates a made-in-Canada approach — which IMO really means voluntary targets and voluntary timelines since Kyoto in no way prescribes how countries achieve their committments…..

    cheers,

  21. Reid
    Posted Jan 25, 2006 at 11:26 AM | Permalink

    Fortunately, the Kyoto Treaty has an expiration date of 2012. I doubt there will be any nation who officially withdraws from the treaty. More likely the nations that signed Kyoto will continue on the present course of having a yearly talkfest, bashing the US and not meeting targets.

    Italy has said they will adhere to Kyoto but not sign on to Kyoto II. I predict that position will become more popular in the years to come. Especially considering it appears an enegy crisis is brewing in Europe.

  22. Steve McIntyre
    Posted Jan 25, 2006 at 2:45 PM | Permalink

    Luboà…⟬ we’re just talking politics here, so I’m not sure what standard for article quality is appropriate. I’m just speculating, along with others, based on the view from here. Harper’s working with a minority government and will need to get along with the other 3 parties. In my opinion, no one from any party will begrudge Harper any compromises to enable a functioning government (including compromise on any prior positions on Kyoto). On the other hand, Harper’s interested in policy and not just process – so he might take an interest in the matter. But I’d be surprised if it’s an issue that he’s going to take a stand on.

    We have our version of red state-blue state in Canada – (complicated by Quebec). The Conservatives have 0 seats in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, although they have seats in the surrounding suburbs. This could bias my perception.

    Luboà…⟬ have you ever run across Michael Ignatieff, who’s been teaching at Harvard? He was elected in Toronto and is whisperd to be planning to run for leadership of the Liberal Party. We are exact contemporaries. I was acquainted with him slightly at high school – he went to Upper Canada College, where I knew many students; he was at my college (Trinity College) at the University of Toronto. He was a brilliant speaker as a youth.

  23. Steve McIntyre
    Posted Jan 25, 2006 at 3:26 PM | Permalink

    I can’t imagine how politicians running for office have time to blog. Here are links to blogs run by Monte Solberg
    http://www.montesolberg.com/blog.htm and Chuck Strahl http://www.conservative-cfc.ca/blog/.

    Ross had mentioned the Solberg blog since he got mentioned here (Scroll to May 2): http://www.montesolberg.com/blogarchive/2005_05_01_archive.htm

  24. Posted Jan 25, 2006 at 5:05 PM | Permalink

    #20

    Marlowe, I’m not sure it’s such a win-win to be pro-Kyoto in Quebec. It’s gonna be really hard to cut on emissions since we have so little to start with, because as you said, all our electricity is hydro. We’d have to cut on cars, and that’s next to impossible. So as a matter of fact, if the federal govt. were to subsidize the cuts (like the Liberals wanted to do), we would lose on all counts. The Bloc is pro-Kyoto more as a standard center-left position, which is always popular here in Quebec, but I think if the general public were a little more educated on the real implications, this could change. Wishful thinking, I know…

  25. Posted Jan 25, 2006 at 7:44 PM | Permalink

    Dear Marlowe Johnson,

    I apologize – you’re probably right and I’ve misinterpreted a single vote that made the Quebec Bloc look like an anti-Kyoto group, and it seems that it is not one.

    Best
    Lubos

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