Steven Harper’s Maginot Line

                                                                                          First Published TJ March 12, 2007 

It is too bad that Steven Harper is an economist and not a historian. A quote that comes to mind: “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” The Maginot line was the expensive fortifications that the French government built after the First World War to prevent a second invasion by Germany. When the second war came, the German offensive passed through the “impenetrable” Ardennes forest and bypassed the strong defenses of the Maginot line. What a politician with an historical sense might know is that the battles of yesterday may not be fought again in the same way and the challenges of tomorrow may be entirely different that those of the past.

Give Steven some credit for being a moderately smart politician, benching Rona Ambrose and sending in the loyal replacement John Baird oozing all the right phrases to reassure the electorate that action is imminent. However, when baited by the opposition bill to come up with a real plan, their real agenda surfaced. No, the Government wouldn’t produce a plan. Several days later there is a change of heart. Yes, the government will produce a plan to implement Kyoto, but there is no money allocated by the bill to actually do anything. Does this mean that his government can’t find money for something legislated by the majority of M.P.’s but he can find $1.5 billion for a national climate change program that the provinces know nothing about?

It could be that the Prime Minister is spending too much time in his Maginot defenses, let’s call it “Fortress Alberta” for fun. When his polling numbers look bad on environment, he reacts superficially and with a minimum of enthusiasm. Is it a case of too little, too late?

Some of the qualities that Stephen Harper has demonstrated are his consistency in philosophical approach, loyalty to friends and considerable interest in exporting oil and gas. This is not surprising considering his time living in Alberta. His approach of short-term strategic thinking is underestimating the ability of Canadians to read between the lines of his policies.

One can only imagine the real positive impact towards a federal government that provided leadership and for example tells Manitoba “We want your 5000 MW of hydro projects to come on line sooner and we are prepared to supply the funds or guarantee the loan. It will reduce the use of oil, coal and natural gas for power generation and tarsands.” Manitoba repays the $20 or $30 billion dollars over the years through electricity sales to Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario. What does it cost Ottawa to reduce by 8% its 270-megaton CO2 emissions targets? Perhaps several billion dollars if it decides to contribute a 10% incentive. What if Ottawa said the same thing to Newfoundland for Churchill Falls? The project reduces coal and oil emissions by 4% in the Atlantic Provinces. Cost to the federal treasury? At 10% participation level, it is $1 billion dollars.

And what if Canada was to follow Australia’s lead and ban the incandescent bulb by 2010. This would reduce our emissions by 4% of the required amount for virtually no money.

So three simple items result in a total of 16% reduction of emissions when the projects are complete. Side benefits are mega projects spread across the country. The cost to Ottawa is $4 billion at the most.

This is only the beginning of the ideas that are possible. But the message that has been spun is that we can’t succeed because we don’t have enough time before 2012 so we can’t do anything. Is this coming from the same Stephen Harper who accused the Atlantic Provinces of having a “culture of defeat?”

Stephen Harper could succeed at preparing Canada for declining world oil production and global warming. He just doesn’t understand the necessity. For an economist, supply and demand is the mantra. He is still building his Maginot line for the last war to be fought again.

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