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Meet Senator

George Baker

The Hon. George  Baker, P.C. Senator George Baker is the former MP for the riding of Gander - Grand Falls (Newfoundland and Labrador). He was first elected to the House of Commons in 1974, and was re-elected at every subsequent federal election. Since March 26, 2002, he has served in the Senate of Canada, representing the province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Statements & Hansard

Second reading of Bill S-205, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (carbon offset tax credit)

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Statement made on 23 November 2011 by Senator Grant Mitchell

Hon. Grant Mitchell:

Honourable senators, my bill concerns climate change. It is a specific initiative that would give Canadians at all levels, in all walks of life, the chance to do something concrete and personal about climate change.

It is important for that reason and for many reasons. It is important because it gives a tangible initiative that is easily doable by many Canadians that can speak to their uncertainty about what can be done, their concern about whether enough is being done, and their desire to have a government that would collaborate with them to get big and important things done as a society in working together.

This bill is symbolic in many ways in addressing those kinds of elements in this debate, but it also has concrete and real possibilities and would have concrete and real effects.

The bill is in the context of a climate change crisis. It is becoming ever more apparent that it is a crisis and that the consequences of not acting can be catastrophic, if some of the consequences already are not catastrophic.

As recently as two weeks ago, we heard from the International Energy Agency. This is not the IPCC, or the United Nations even, although I have huge respect for their work. This is not some specifically focused environmental group that seems not to accept any argument that would support an economy. This is the International Energy Agency, structured under the OECD in 1973 to respond to the tremendous pressures and issues that were arising in the energy industry at that time because of shortages. That organization has sustained and distinguished itself since 1973 — almost of 40 years — because it has profound credibility.

That group said:

On planned policies —

— that is to say, the policies that exist in the world today to deal with climate change —

— rising fossil fuel energy use will lead to irreversible and potentially catastrophic climate change.

Those are not easily chosen words. Those are very carefully chosen words.

Senator Banks: Read them again.

Senator Mitchell: I will read them again:

On planned policies, rising fossil fuel energy use will lead to irreversible and potentially catastrophic climate changes.

A group of this nature and stature, with its credibility and with its presence, influence and power in the world, will know that to use language like that has to be considered very carefully, because the consequences of that kind of language can be significant and severe.

They go on to say that last year, despite all the talk, greenhouse gas emissions in the world increased by 5.3 per cent. That is a monumentally large increase, particularly in a world where some effort is being made and lots of talk — particularly by this government in this country — is being presented about doing things when, in fact, clearly, very little is being done and certainly not enough by countries like Canada.

The Prime Minister himself has said twice in international fora that he is committed to the science that dictates that we must keep greenhouse gas emissions to a level that will ensure that the average temperature in the world does not exceed the 2 per cent threshold that we have all heard about.

The IEA goes on to say that if we continue what we are doing, within several decades it will not just be a 2 degree increase but will actually be a 3.5 degree increase. That is a profoundly significant increase in a profoundly short period of time that will have, as they point out, catastrophic effects on every feature of life — economies, societies, health, the ability of nations and societies to get along with one another, war. This will be profound in its implication and in its application within the world.

It is not just the IEA who is drawing attention to the significant challenges of climate change. The Minister of the Environment, in what was a very enlightened moment in the debate in this Parliament about climate change, several weeks ago appeared before the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources. He was provoked by several of his Conservative senators to, in some way, say that climate change science was questionable and that climate change, if it was occurring, was not occurring because of our human activity. You know what? He did not bite on that hook. He did not take that bait. He said clearly, "I have looked at the science, and I have seen the figures." He is convinced that had it not been for the Industrial Revolution, the climate would not have warmed like it has warmed over the last 150 years. He said we have to do something about it.

He then handed the subject over to his deputy minister, and the deputy minister went on to say, "You know, it is happening. Our scientists are telling us that. We have some of the best scientists in the world. We do more environmental science in this country, second only to one other country in the world. We have scientists in our department and elsewhere in this country who are peer reviewed in the most prestigious and professional journals in the world." Thankfully the minister and the deputy minister are listening to these people. The deputy minister said, "When you go up North and see those buildings beginning to sink and lean, that is climate change, because the permafrost is melting. Do you know how many hundreds of millions of dollars we have lost in forestry because of climate change, which has allowed the pine beetle and other pests to begin to kill the forests? That is climate change."

It is not as though just the IEA is saying it; it is also in the heart of this government that is saying it. It is striking that in spite of that kind of force of recognition of the problem, nothing of consequence is being done by this government.

I am looking at Senator Marshall, who is a former Auditor General, so she would respect what the Auditor General said several weeks ago, which was that, ironically, this government has no way of really measuring what is happening in output and in reduction. We know that if you cannot measure it, you cannot manage it. If you really cared about doing something about climate change, the first thing you would do is figure out a way to measure it so you could begin to manage it. That is just clue number one that you do not really want to do very much about it.

We are then reduced to this tiresome and odd triumvirate of arguments. The first one is, "Well, it may be happening, but we are not causing it." I know there are members over there, and I will not mention their names, who actually believe that. You know what? Of course no one will say that it is not actually happening, because you just have to open your eyes. There are those who will still say, "But we are not causing it." I say to them that you better hope we are causing it because, if we are not causing it, we cannot fix it. The fact of the matter is that if it is actually happening, then let us hope and pray to God that we can fix it. In fact, we can. We just need some leadership from a government that would assist this country and could provide leadership in the world to fix the problem.

The first argument they often use is that the science is questionable. It has been said, and I think it is true, that there has never been as much or more consensus on another scientific issue. The consensus on this particular issue is overwhelming. In fact, there is more consensus on this scientific issue than there is on probably half of the things that we stake our life on every day in this country, day to day in our daily lives. How many pharmaceutical drugs are defended by science that cannot explain why they work in one person and not in another person, but there is not one person in this Senate that will not step up to the doctor's prescription and use that drug in spite of that? They accept that science, but somehow they find a way to disregard this science.

I could go on about the strength of this science and why people doubt this science, because there are some cagey communicators, many of them the same people who convinced the world for 20 years that tobacco did not cause cancer. They are hired by the same groups and the same companies to communicate the same kind of doubt about this science, except, as desperate as the consequences of tobacco and cancer are on people, that will pale by comparison with the consequences of disregarding the science of climate change, doing nothing and seeing what happens to the people of this world and this country when climate change gets to 3.5 degrees, because it will be profound and exceptionally distasteful. You do not even need to believe the science. Just go outside and look. Just watch the news and see what is happening across the world. It does not take science; it takes observation.

The second argument is that somehow this will destroy economies and jobs. I say, "Go to the economists." The C.D. Howe Institute practically lives in the soul of the Conservative Party and has a conservative view of the world. Mark Jaccard and Jack Mintz will tell you that there is very little evidence that investing just to get the kinds of objectives that the government itself has accepted will reduce the GDP over the next 40 or 50 years at all. I would argue that, once we get started, we will find that doing it right will actually stimulate the economy in a way that we cannot even imagine, just like winning the Second World War stimulated the economy in ways we could not imagine. It created one of the strongest Western industrialized economies, which has kept us sustained in the kind of lifestyle that people around the world envy. It did not wreck our economy to win the Second World War; it fundamentally sustained and created one of the strongest economies that you could imagine in the history of the world. That is exactly what will happen if we begin to do something about climate change.

That is not to say that we will do away with the oil industry. It is saying that we will actually sustain the oil industry. The Keystone XL decision and the stuff that is happening in Europe about our oil sands is not a passing fancy. That is a fundamental restructuring about the way the world will view our product. It will start to slough off, not just to hurt Alberta's oil industry, and I am partial to that, but it will also begin to hurt Canada's reputation in the world generally. That will have a profound impact when we want to win a seat on the United Nations Security Council, for example. We will not have much support for that. When we want to go and defend Israel with some credibility, we will not have much credibility. When we want to take a role in creating a free trade agreement that is good for Canada or Canadian farmers, we will not have much credibility because the kind of virus that is created with the destruction of our reputation in the world due to the way that we are not handling climate change adequately will begin to create a problem for our reputation in all facets of what we do in the world. It absolutely will. We have to deal with that, and we have to deal with that strongly.

Not only that, but sure we create lots of jobs with pipelines and oil sands plants, and we need to continue to create them, but how many jobs is climate change killing? You want to see today how many jobs have been killed in the last 10 years versus how many jobs have been created by those oil and energy projects. Lots of good jobs were created by the energy projects, thankfully, but how many jobs have been killed? Go talk to the fisheries on the east and west coasts. Go talk to the farmers who are being hit by drought and floods. Go talk to the forestry industry that is seeing its resources devastated by the pine beetle and other pests and so on.

Yes, let us talk about defending jobs. Let us talk about defending oil sands jobs and pipeline jobs, but let us figure out that we can do two things. We can think about a modern and future economy in a different world that is changing profoundly. Let us talk about the jobs that do exist and that can be saved by dealing with climate change or jobs that can be created by dealing with climate change. Why just limit ourselves to this chunk of jobs? Why not look at all of these possibilities, all of these other jobs, the leadership in the world and the really good jobs that could be created by dealing with climate change and by taking the opportunities that come out of that? They are not mutually exclusive. We can do both. In fact, great government would figure out a way to do both. They would think about that, instead of running from it, trying to find some excuse and wallowing in these kinds of different arguments.

The third point that they always come down to is that alternative energies are too expensive and not commercial. The IEA made the point that last year the oil industry received $400 billion in subsidies. I guess the oil industry needs subsidies at $100 a barrel.

I remember a trip I took with Eric Newell, in the early nineties, to the oil sands. It was great. He is a wonderful man who cares so deeply about so many things, and he is so good at the contributions he has made to Alberta, to Canada and to the world. I asked him, "What does it cost to make a barrel of oil?" He said $15. I asked if that included capital. He said that was another $10. It was $25 to make a barrel of oil back in the early nineties at Syncrude. I asked, "What are you selling it for?" He said it was $10 a barrel. I said, "You are losing $15 a barrel." I guess it was not economical to make oil sands oil in the early nineties, because they were losing 60 per cent. However, people back then, like Eric Newell and Peter Lougheed, had the vision to say, "We will get economies of scale and technology improvements, and we will have market changes and price increases. By golly, by 2000 or 2005, this will be economical and the stimulus of the economy of Canada." Thankfully, they had the vision.

Now, I am wondering why wind does not get that. Why do fuel cell cars not get that? Why do hybrid cars not get that? Why do solar and geothermal energy not get that? If we had a government that could spell "vision," somebody would see that we are going to a different and a better future. We will be on a parallel track. We will have all of those oil sands jobs, but we will capture that carbon. We will make this country and this world better. We will take that kind of technology, sell it around the world and make even better jobs. We will not have reputational risks that could destroy the future, in many respects, of our economy and for our kids. We will have some intelligence, creativity and leadership. God only knows, we have not seen any leadership in this country for about five years.

Senator Banks: Six.

Senator Mitchell: Is it six years? Yes, sorry.

That brings me to my point about my little bill.

It does not solve all of those problems, but it is a step in the right direction. It is actually a compliment to the government's initiative because I got this idea from that. If I buy my kids some hockey equipment, I will get to write off $500 of that and get 15 per cent back on my taxes. I will save $75. If you do that for the kids' future, because playing hockey is good, why not do that for climate change for the kids' future?

I have a family of five. On average, each Canadian produces about six tonnes a year, so that is 30 tonnes a year of carbon. If I could get that at $20 or $30 a tonne, which is what I can buy on markets — I can buy them for $6 a tonne in Alberta — for, say, $2,600, then I could make my family carbon neutral. I could be encouraged to do that by that same tax credit. Let us say it was the full $600 and I could get the 15 per cent or first level back. I could get $90. We would encourage people and families. We would encourage the initiative of individuals, not even the government, to reduce their carbon footprint and focus on that output.

There are those who will say that we cannot do that. Government cannot be involved. We do not trust credit. The government over there does not trust carbon credits. They think they are hot air from Russia, which is interesting because the government is spending $250,000 to buy carbon credits to offset the federal government's impact through the Olympics. If they do not believe in credits, why are they spending $250,000 of Canadians' money to offset the federal government's impact through its involvement in the Olympics in Vancouver?

Clearly, there is a commitment on the part of this government to carbon credits. It is not isolated. In British Columbia, they have the Pacific Carbon Trust, for which they put up $25 million. They are working with businesses. We just had the mining group, who are a part of that, in to visit us. They are working with businesses to create carbon credits and reduce carbon emissions that they then sell to the Government of British Columbia because the Government of British Columbia is working to create a zero carbon footprint.

There is tremendous credibility. In fact, the Government of Canada getting involved in that way, supporting Canadians in the way that my bill would suggest, would create, engender and give credibility to a voluntary carbon market that would be at the basis of this initiative and allow Canadians to take some control of this important issue in their lives.

There are a number of cases that are made against it. To go back to the nature of credits, they would be like stock. We buy stocks in banks and industrial companies. We have been doing that for 150 or 200 years in some sort of sophisticated way. It is very sophisticated now. If you buy a stock in a bank, it is air. They do not really have money anymore; it is all electronic. It is in a computer. We have some faith that it is real because we have generally accepted accounting principles and securities commissions that review that. We put people in jail if they mess around with it. It would be much less complicated to create a carbon market that you could trust because you are dealing with a much more limited and specific kind of entity and a kind of security for which there is great precedent in the world today.

Thank you for listening to my presentation in this regard. I simply want to say that it is time we got past what some have called wilful ignorance. If our Minister of the Environment clearly accepts it, and if agencies that are neither the UN nor the environmental groups that some Conservatives seem to disregard so vehemently are saying that this is very serious, then we need to see action that reflects that. We are not seeing it. We are not seeing the leadership that we need. This bill is a very small, but important and significant, step that could stimulate interest, activity and understanding among individual Canadians, families and children to do something about this very serious issue. Thank you.

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