Wednesday, February 14, 2007

B.C. takes green crown, thanks to you

VICTORIA - What do you know, this democracy thing works.
The Liberal government's discovery of climate change, and the resulting extraordinary measures promised in the throne speech, didn't happen just because the premier got a look at China's sprawling cities.
It was you. I can't recall another issue where the public has got so far out ahead of all the political parties and governments, which are now scrambling to catch up.
And Premier Gordon Campbell, a man of enthusiasms, has outscrambled them all. (Of course, the problem with men of enthusiasms is their necessarily short attention span; the next great passion is around the corner.)
Climate change didn't rate one word in the last six throne speeches; the government had no real climate-change plan, just a 2204 document outlining some general directions.
But this week, everything changed. B.C.'s ambitious new climate-change agenda make it a potential leader in North America. The throne speech acknowledged climate change is real, caused by human actions and threatens "life on Earth as we know it." Pretty big change for a government that thought the Kyoto accord was too costly to implement.
The climate-change measures would cut across most areas of our lives. The end target is a one-third reduction from current levels by 2020. A new Climate Action Team, headed by the premier, will set interim targets for 2012 and 2016.
The broad target is backed up by specific commitments. Some are small, like yet another in long history of promises to ban beehive burners.
But others are sweeping. Cars sold in the province will have to meet tough emission standards, with the change phased in starting in 2009. New zero-emission standards for coal plants effectively kill two projects planned for the Interior.
And the oil and gas industry, a major source, will have to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 2000 levels by 2016. That will be a challenge, even given the technological improvements of the past five or six years.
The changes reach down to the local level too. The province promises a new green building code and better transit.
But for all these big ideas, it will be the details that define success or failure, fad or commitment. A new green building code could order an extra two inches of insulation. Or it could mandate measures to cut average energy use - and emissions - by 75 per cent.
The throne speech got good marks all around, with even environmental groups usually critical of government praising the boldness of the vision.
Now we'll see if the government has the commitment to stick with the effort and deal with the inevitable objections anytime change is proposed.
Beyond the climate change measures, the throne speech was pretty thin gruel, although coming changes in education and literacy were hinted at.
The sections on health were worrying. The government continues to exaggerate - wildly - the problem posed by rising health care costs.
But the speech offered little in the way of specific measures to ease pressures on the system or deliver care more effectively.
And even though the conversation on health has barely begun, the speech suggested the government's mind might already be made up. The speech promised "fundamental health reforms that increase individual choice and maximize the supply of health services within the budgets available."
I don't know what that means. That in itself is worrying.
Sadly, it looks like we'll have to wait another year before public concern about homelessness, addictions, mental illness and street problems forces the politicians to play catch up again.
The speech called homelessness "a plague that weakens our cities, siphons our strength, and erodes our social fabric."
But it didn't reveal any serious plan to address the issues, just tinkering around the edges with small but useful measures like municipal zoning changes.
Which means things will grow worse - and probably be at the centre of next year's throne speech.
Footnote: Education got a fair amount of attention in the throne speech, although a lot of the proposals were vague. The government is going to amend the law to let school boards charge user fees for music, shop and sports academies, a backward step. And it looks like a bigger push on literacy, school readiness and greater experimentation in schools is coming.


Anonymous said...

Reading this column and your previous one back to back, the transparency problem in the previous one explains why I don't feel as enthusiastic as I ought to about what sounds on the surface like a grand and most welcome gesture on climate change.

Sorry, I just don't trust 'em and it's their own darned fault!

RossK said...

Anon above makes a good point.

However, and this may surprise Mr. Willcocks, I am willing to give credit where it is due here.

The thing is, if Mr. Willcocks is right on this one, and I think he is (at least partially - there may have been a little deflector spin at work here), it is we the people who have the power here, especially, if we are willing to really hold this government to these promises (ie. it is we who must now be vigilent).


Anonymous said...

I wish I could believe the provincial government about their new-found committment to mitigating climate change but this is a government that does not govern for the long-term, it spins out endless announcements.

And there is NO money in the provincial budget for any climate change action this year.

Other examples of spining issues:
* appointing Ted Hughes to review childcare but then not implementing Ted Hughes' recommendations
* announcing a CommunityLiving model for adults with disabilities but then underfunding and looking to cut costs instead of caring for vulnerable citizens
* cutting daycare subsidies but announcing Strong Start centres (which are not daycare).
* raising the bogeyman of healthcare costs taking over the provincial budget in order to privatize health care;
* In May 2005 announcing reforms to the provinical electoral system but taking no steps to implement for the May 2009 election.
* The Premier promising not to rip up union contracts and then gutting HEU and as a result getting dirty hospitals and poor food.
* laying off 1/3 of civil servants and now desperate to hire.

sigh. First Glen Clark's government and now this one. At least Clark's was relatively benign incompetence and the machinery of government was relatively intact with citizens getting services.

Mr. Beer N. Hockey said...

When it comes to any kind of government pronouncements you best re-read Orwell's 1984.

There is tons of other stuff that needs to be done but I will start believing any government in the world is serious about climate change when they start pumping large, large, large dollars into trains and begin letting people ride them for free.

At about the same time the regulations choking hemp farming should be scrapped. The plant sucks up more carbon dioxide than anything on Earth. Hemp ought to be growing just about everywhere you can think of IF the government is serious about global warming. No marginal farmland should converted to industrial land unless it is too often waterlogged for this very reason.