IN THE NEWS ~ Former Tory rips Harper for neglecting environment

Published | Publié: 2012-06-07
Received | Reçu: 2012-06-07 3:35 PM
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CALGARY HERALD (FINAL), A5, 2012/06/08 

Former Tory rips Harper for neglecting environment

Mike De Souza

   OTTAWA-Canadians will "pay a price" for Prime Minister Stephen Harper's imbalanced and mistaken approach on environmental and economic issues, says a former veteran Reform and Conservative party MP Bob Mills.

   "I always thought that 'conserve' was part of the Conservative mantra, but I might be wrong," Mills said at a news conference organized by Green party leader Elizabeth May.

   "Stephen Harper puts other priorities, I think, ahead of the environment, and I think that's a mistake."

   Mills, who served as environment critic for the Conservatives in opposition and later chaired the House of Commons environment committee for the governing party from 2006 to 2008, travelled from Alberta to deliver his stinging criticism on Parliament Hill about a decision to eliminate the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy.

   About 30 employees and members of the advisory panel, established by the government of former prime minister Brian Mulroney in 1988, learned it would be eliminated, along with its $5 million annual funding, in Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's 2012 budget. Mills was joined by other former and current members of the panel who sent a letter to Harper asking the government to reverse its decision.

   Environment Minister Peter Kent previously said he decided to eliminate the panel, suggesting that its advice could be obtained from the Internet and other sources.

   But Mills said he was disappointed by the decision, warning that it would further damage Canada's international reputation as an environmental "laggard."

   "I've always said that if you're smart, you surround yourself with really smart people and if you're dumb, you surround yourself with a bunch of cheerleaders," said Mills, who represented the Alberta riding of Red Deer from 1993 to 2008.

   A spokesman for Kent said Thursday that the government is successfully creating jobs while protecting the environment through efforts to introduce new regulations cracking down on pollution and increase conservation and protected areas in national parks. Kent's office also noted that new figures on Canada's greenhouse gas emissions show that the pollution levels are remaining steady while the economy is growing.

   In the House of Commons, Kent said the panel "has served its purpose," noting that there were few sources of policy advice about the link between environmental and economic issues when it was created.

   "This... is $5 million that can be better spent elsewhere to protect the environment and the economy," said Kent, in response to questions from NDP natural resources critic Peter Julian.

   "Our government has been able to successfully create jobs, grow the economy, and protect the environment simultaneously."

   But another Conservative politician, former Nova Scotia environment minister Mark Parent also said at the news conference that the federal and provincial governments were neglecting environmental concerns and making short-sighted decisions that would damage the Canadian economy in the long-term.

   "Anyone who says they're an economic genius when they take attitudes such as we've been seeing - with not just unfortunately the federal government, but I see it with provincial governments - are wrong," said Parent, also a member of the round table.

   "It's for political short-term reasons, it's not for long-term economic reasons. It's not economically sensible."

   Mills added that the issues examined by the panel were done from a balanced perspective by Canadians from all walks of life who were researching options for sustainable development and economic prosperity. He said the round table never suggested that people should be living in caves without electricity or cars and questioned how the government could get reliable and relevant advice from either the Internet or separate groups.

   Mills said he supports some efforts of the government to improve the environmental assessment process and reduce red tape, but felt obliged to speak out against a policies that he believes are wrong.

   "I don't agree with Elizabeth (May) a lot of times, but the point is I know she's genuine and caring about the environment," said Mills.

   "I think the people here know the importance of the environment and the economy - tying them together and moving forward. I really mean that down the road, we're going to pay a price for not putting those two together."

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