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Monday, January 08, 2007

Stephen "Kermit" Harper Goes Green

Stephen “Kermit” Harper is now saying it isn’t going to be easy being green but be green he must, according to the headline in the Globe and Mail today.

It wasn’t long ago he was saying it wasn’t all that important to be green because a 1% GST cut and $4 bucks a day for families to provide child care was more critical. The introduction of the underwhelming Clean Air Act had such a long fuse before anything real happens that it was not seen as anything like the greening of the Cons.

Then the opinion polls putting the environment as the #1 political and public policy issue started to pile up. Harper all of a sudden started paying attention. He is now saying everything has changed. All of a sudden the Cons are abandoning their anti-Liberal political rhetoric. The mantra “…that the Liberals did nothing on the environment for 13 years” or “GHG emissions went up 30% during the Liberal government watch” is about to disappear. It wasn't working anyway.

Now Prime Minister Harper appears to be running hard to catch up to the environment issues bandwagon. He now knows he has to if he hopes to win a majority government in any pending election.

He is admitting in the G&M that “Emissions of greenhouse gases are on track to rise dramatically over the next five years. He pledges to “do a lot more” about the environment with his new Minister at the helm but also seems to accept that Canada will be 50% over Kyoto targets by 2012. So much for blaming the Liberals for past sins. Harper's government is finally accepting the reality of climate change and admitting it can’t be fixed overnight but that it must be fixed.

Don’t you love it when political rhetoric has to bow to the facts and a more honest positioning of policy issues ensue? It is not like Harper has not been active on the environment front. Look at all the environment programs Harper’s government has cancelled in the past year, from home retrofits to funding Ontario’s coal plant shutdowns. One suspects a major motivation was simply because they were Liberal ideas and therefore, by definition, without merit.

The Decima poll of January 4 has some very bad news for the Cons. Decima’s numbers show that most of those who voted Con in the last election don’t yet think the environment is the big issue. Only 12% of Con voters cite it as #1. To 13% of them health care is still #1. The voters for all other parties are in a very different world from the Cons. All of them identified the environment and the #1 issue.

The Greens were not surprisingly the most vociferous group at 35% picking it as #1. That a lower number than I would have expected of the Greens but perhaps it shows they are no longer just a one issue party. 30% of the Bloc voters, 27% of NDP supporters and 22% of Liberals see the environment as the #1 issue facing the country. The Con voters are clearly not main stream on this issue.

I want to accept Harper’s green conversion as real and authentic. I will be giving the Harper Cons the benefit of the doubt and be waiting to see what they actually do. They sure have a long way to go to be worthy of our trust and to prove that they actually “get it.”

Harper will be running against his own party's inclinations if he really goes green. But can’t win a majority unless he convinces Canadians he gets it and means it. He has to also be convincing to Canadians as to his sincerity and most importantly, that he is capable and trustworthy on the issues.

To his reform/alliance oriented conservative base all this dramatic change in focus may be too much to ask. I wonder how many of them will continue supporting his leadership if they feel brtrayed by himne again. Think Income Trust!

To the majority of Canadians being green is now expected of their government. Harper will need time to make his turnaround credible to Canadians and to reassure his reform/alliance base that he has not abandoned them in their quest to bury the old Liberals in the next election. Unfortunately for Harper and the Cons main stream Canadians do not identify Dion's leadership with the old Liberal arrogance and corruption. They have moved on!

You can bet voters will be staying “attuned" and it is going to be very interesting.