Meeting with MP Bob Rae

The day before the nation wide anti prorogation rally on January 23rd, four of my fellow constituents in Toronto Centre and I met with Bob Rae, our federal member of parliament. Accompanying me were Frans Schreyer, newly arrived Professor Emeritus from the University of Guelph, now living in the Distillery District, Anne Venton, a long time resident, my neighbour and a member of the Toronto Centre Liberal Riding Association Executive, Penelope Tyndale and Ronny Yaron, both members of Just Earth. Our purpose was to urge him, Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff and other members of the official opposition to exert greater pressure on the Harper Government to address the crisis of climate change. We also emphasized our collective concerns about the Conservative government’s dismal record on all environmental issues.

In my own remarks I made reference to the Science for Peace press release on climate change, dated December 17, 2009. It is based on a letter signed by over 550 university faculty members from universities throughout the country. Addressed to the Canadian Government it called for immediate and drastic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Widely distributed, this press release points out that the time frame for reductions is critical, and will be dictated by the earth’s physical environment, not by political or short-term economic considerations.

Although the danger has been recognized for decades, with the growth of emissions now exceeding the worst-case predictions of a few years ago, the reaction of governments remains inadequate. Expert opinion cites that to avoid catastrophe, atmospheric CO2 must be held to 350 parts per million – a level that has already been surpassed. The weight of this academic opinion captured Rae’s attention and he asked for a copy of the letter, which, along with the press release, was left with him.

Despite the obvious need to wind down the tar sands project, Rae argued that shutting it down entirely would not be possible, stressing that research is underway in both Alberta and Saskatchewan to create cleaner carbon capture technology for oil extraction. Similarly, although he strongly supports non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, he firmly believes that nuclear energy is a requirement in the switch to cleaner energy sources. I left with him material in which the opposite is argued with links between nuclear weapons and nuclear energy emphasized. When Anne Venton and I saw him the next day at the anti-prorogation rally, I provided him with additional material on the subject written by Helmut Burkhardt and Phyllis Creighton.

In subsequent email exchanges among those of us who met with Rae on January 22nd it became apparent that there is some difference of opinion about the advisability of making a strong link between nuclear energy production and nuclear weapons in any further, follow-up meetings. In response, additional information emphasizing both the dangers and prohibitive expenses involved in opting for the nuclear route to alternative energy has been circulated.

On the subject of a green shift in carbon taxes, which would mean heavier taxes for polluting industries and tax breaks for greener ones, first proposed under the federal Liberal leadership of Stephane Dion, Rae said that such a shift “must be realistic and practical”. Subsequent analysis of a speech given by Michael Ignatieff on the Liberal Plan to address environmental challenges and clean energy jobs delivered on November 26, 2009, indicates several things. First, there was no mention of nuclear energy as an alternative source in reducing carbon emissions. Second, while biomass is identified as one of the alternative clean energy sources required, along with wind, solar and geothermal, there is no explanation of how this will affect food-producing capability. Most scientific opinion on the subject advocates limited emphasis on the use of biofuels and biomass and only for waste matter that does not interfere with food production.

There were, of course, many encouraging ideas and repeated promises to “act” as a Party in power in Ottawa but nothing in Ignatieff’s speech points specifically to a carbon tax or the green shift which was previously advocated as part of the “new” Green Energy Act now being proposed. Greater details on how it would be implemented are required.

In his follow-up letter of thanks to Bob Rae for meeting with us, Frans said we appreciated his willingness to engage in frank discussion about specific policies required to reduce carbon emissions. We said we were interested in continuing the dialogue with him on alternative strategies urgently needed to save the planet and ourselves from extinction. Frans also made a point of emphasizing how pleased we were to learn that Rae supports the idea of taxing the use of highways as a way of mitigating carbon emissions from automobiles.

We did not, however, leave his office without numerous references to low poll popularity for the Liberals which, in our opinion, would improve if a more decisive plan for action on climate change was articulated and held up as a viable alternative to the lethargy on the part of the current administration in Ottawa.