In the newly-minted absence of a Conservative or Liberal candidate here in Halifax, we now look at what's happening on Day 4 of the 2008 campaign.
I read an article in the Metro today that basically summed up what I've felt about "the environment" as an issue for many years now. It's become the new "Medicare", a rhetorical tool used by the Liberals to whack the Conservatives. Now, I'll grant it that even with such spiffy props as a Sharpie and a 5x7 index card, the Reform/Alliance never could overcome that beating. But eventually that weapon loses its potency. Enter "the environment." Liberals, ever since it became readily evident that they were going to be relegated to opposition status, have employed "the environment" as the centrepiece of their policy platform against the Conservatives. Stephane Dion has said that every day Stephen Harper is Prime Minister of Canada we edge closer to the abyss of environmental degradation beyond all redemption. People get riled up over the subject, newly conditioned to the idea that we're living in a "planet in peril" and it's all our fault and the only way to redeem ourselves is to give our money to the Russians and call it "buying carbon credits." It matters not to some that giving money to the Russians does not lower our GHG emissions one megatonne at all, it must be done in order to clear our conscience so we don't feel bad about driving our SUVs to work, to the grocery store, down the block to meet our friends. We want change! And the Liberals, despite never moving to implement the provisions of the Kyoto Protocol after signing it and adding a Canada-only addendum of even greater reductions in order to shame the Americans for not signing the Protocol at all, speak the language of change. It's working pretty well for Barack Obama (who, like many aspirants in national political capitals, is going to run headlong into a very hard and thick brick wall of institutional stasis), so they may as well give it a shot. Poll after poll in this country has demonstrated that Canadians want to help fix "the environment," but very few of them want to pay for it. When reality comes into contact with the rhetoric, suddenly the status quo seems preferable.
What does all of this mean? It means that "the environment" will be an issue in this election, but it won't decide the election. There may be many people who will vote against Harper because they feel his record and plan for the environment is insufficient, but there won't be enough of them. There may also turn out to be an equal number of voters who are non-plussed by the Green Shift and its promise to raise your taxes significantly in some areas while cutting them in others and thus vote against Dion. No, "the environment" will not be the key theme in this election, despite its rhetorical value for the centre-left parties to use against the Conservatives.