Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Baird takes centre stage at Bali

This is from the Harper Index a useful source for articles critical of the Harper government. This article is valuable in that it goes into some of the Baird's background and shows his consistently reactionary stance on issues dating back to his days in the Harris common nonsense government.

Baird takes centre stage in Bali within days of slush fund testimony to committee

Environment minister "haunted" by past and present as political operator opposed to environmental initiatives.

BALI, INDONESIA, December 10, 2007: John Baird is a centre of international attention at this week's climate change talks here. The international community is adjusting to a Canada that initially promoted the Kyoto protocol and whose top ministers are now undermining it with proposed revisions that appear to favour big polluters such as Alberta's oil industry.

Observers who haven't followed recent Canadian politics may be surprised at Canada's environment minister, but John Baird's opposition to Kyoto is consistent with his record. Before, and ever since he got involved in federal politics, he has actively opposed Kyoto and promoted industrial interests over environment ones. He has managed to cultivate a better public image than his predecessor Rona Ambrose without actually changing course.

Although Ambrose was criticized for the cuts that were made to environment programs when she was minister, many were directed by Baird, who was then Treasury Board chair. Under Baird's tenure there, his officials suspended all payments on pledges for United Nations work to protect the environment. This included payments to the United Nations Environment Programme and to international treaties such as the Framework Convention on Climate Change.

While at Treasury Board, Baird also became involved in the fight against light rail transit in his hometown of Ottawa. Ultimately, he made decisive moves that helped kill the proposal at a cost to municipal taxpayers of hundreds of millions of dollars in cancellation fees.

As environment minister, he presides over a fund that critics claim is more about politics than global warming. Last week he testified to Parliament's environment and sustainable development committee about the government's $1.5 billion Canada Eco Trust Fund for Clean Air and Climate Change. The online news bulletin DeSmogBlog reports that Baird "waffled about heavily, and refused to provide a full accounting" for spending under the program, which some observers have likened to a political slush fund.

Skeptics cite the $349.9 million announced in February 2007 for Quebec - the first round of funding under the program - as an example of how that money is being used politically. At the time, an spring election was widely anticipated, with the province of Quebec a main battleground in the Conservative's fight to attain a majority government.

Three weeks ago, Auditor General, Sheila Fraser said about of the fund: "We are deeply concerned about very large transfers being made purportedly for certain purposes. But when you look at the actual agreements there are absolutely no conditions requiring the recipient to use the moneys for the purposes being announced." Provinces are free to use Eco Trust money however they like. Since before his days as a Mike Harris Cabinet minister, Baird, who worked for defence minister Perrin Beatty in the Mulroney era, has a history as a political operative. He has repeatedly been called upon to oppose key objectives of the environment movement.

In 2002, Toronto's NOW Magazine reported on a meeting in that city by what proved to be a short-lived industry front group called the Canadian Coalition for Responsible Environmental Solutions (CCRES). Baird made a passionate anti-Kyoto speech there, reported Greenpeace campaigner John Matlow in Toronto's NOW Magazine.

Last month, Ecojustice (formerly Sierra Legal Defence Fund) filed a lawsuit alleging that Baird broke the law when he directed mining companies to ignore their legal responsibility to report millions of kilograms of pollution from their operations under the National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI).

"The law is clear: Mining companies in Canada are legally required to report the amount of chemicals they are releasing into the environment," said Justin Duncan, Staff Lawyer with Ecojustice. "Instead, at the direction of the Minister of Environment, these companies continue to flout the law by not reporting massive amounts of toxic tailings they dump into our environment each year." Baird, they say, is encouraging mining companies to hide the amount of toxic material they are dumping.

Professor Nancy Doubleday, of the Carleton University Department of Geography and Environmental Studies, says Baird has ghosts to face in the context of becoming environment minister. The first, she says, is the ghost of Walkerton, the Ontario town where eight people died due to Conservative deregulation and privatization of water inspection services.

"Although not causally tied to the deaths" there, she says he "had an opportunity to influence partisan initiatives and deregulatory fervour in the dismantling of (among other things) the environmental works of a province (Ontario) that had once led the country in matters of environmental quality."

She says he is also haunted by the ghost of light rail and urban responsibility. "Here we recall partisan intervention in intergovernmental relations, derailing the new deal for cities, where the majority of Canadians (for the first time in our history) now live."

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