(This article originally appeared on www.globeandmail.com on June 2, 2017)
We’re a day on from President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris accord on climate change, and the reaction has been swift and unremittingly hostile.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed his disappointment, calling the decision “disheartening.” Mr. Trudeau went a step further and pledged to work with actors at the U.S. sub-federal level to continue the climate fight, Mr. Trump be damned.
But it was French President Emmanuel Macron, the new global wunderkind, whose reaction delivered the most heat. Mr. Macron chose to deliver an address in English scolding Mr. Trump, ending with the call to “make the planet great again.”
One group keeping quiet is Canada’s Conservatives. Where will they choose to go now that the U.S. President has articulated a position that a significant chunk of the Tory base would also like to see adopted in Canada?
To be sure, there is a case to be made for the United States’s withdrawal from the Paris agreement. And there are real questions about how the U.S.’s decision will impact the competitive balance across our shared border.
The question becomes whether Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives want to be associated politically with Mr. Trump’s case, and whether the Trump administration’s recidivism will impede the global direction of travel on climate.
Early returns indicate that other governments, including a significant number of those at the U.S. state and city level, intend to plow ahead with the global climate plan. Business leaders have come out strongly in favour of continuing on with Paris.
But as anyone who has followed Conservative politics can tell you, the party isn’t a fan of climate action. The Tories ran full steam against Stéphane Dion’s “Green Shift” in 2008, and all 13 of the recent Conservative leadership candidates not named Michael Chong still hate the idea of a carbon tax.
The Liberals won’t waste any time reminding Canadians of this hesitancy as they tie Mr. Trump to the Tories, even if Mr. Trudeau was the one who decided Stephen Harper’s climate targets were good enough for Canada to sign on to the Paris agreement.
That’s why Mr. Scheer needs to come up with a new climate approach. The thin gruel adopted by Conservatives at their most recent policy convention isn’t enough. Fortunately, Mr. Trump gives Mr. Scheer the needed cover.
Affirming Conservative support for the Paris agreement is the first move; it should be full-throated and unequivocal. To repeat, Canada is signed on to Paris with the last Conservative government’s targets.
Mr. Scheer should then reward Michael Chong’s principled leadership campaign with the role of environment critic.
The Liberals’ Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change has its flaws, but it will take more than grunting about the evils of a carbon tax to persuade voters that Conservative criticisms are genuine and constructive.
Moreover, the Liberals’ will be doing their own assessment of their plan in the wake of Mr. Trump’s decision. Better to have a cheery and knowledgeable critic like Mr. Chong bird-dogging them along the way.
Mr. Chong should also push to be included as an observer in the upcoming ministerial meeting between Canada, the European Union and China to discuss the Paris agreement.
Mr. Scheer should empower Mr. Chong to convene a working group to discuss conservative approaches to the climate, including market-based approaches that price carbon. People like former Harper adviser Mark Cameron would be a natural fit for this group, as would a former environment minister like John Baird.
The Conservatives can’t and won’t change the direction of their climate ship overnight. But they do need to take the wheel and have a good rethink of their policy and decide whether it is good enough to navigate the next federal election.
Thankfully, Mr. Trump has opened the door by stepping backward when the world had finally agreed to move forward together under the Paris agreement.
Now it’s Mr. Scheer who must have the courage to walk through it.