Grass flag Canada

Grass flag Canada photo via Shutterstock

After 10 years of neglecting environmental policy, the Canadian government needs to do a lot more than just show up to COP21 in order to begin repairing Canadian’s reputation on the world stage, according to Green Party leader Elizabeth May.

“We’re hated,” May said about Canada’s status with COP delegates in previous years. “I was personally hated because I was Canadian.”

Under Stephen Harper, who attended just one climate conference during his tenure (COP15 in Copenhagen), Canada has had a minimal presence at United Nations climate negotiations, sending a small team of conservatives and the environment minister. May has worked around that in the past by attending as a delegate of other countries, most recently Afghanistan, which granted her access to negotiations.

“There’s never been a prime minister before, and I hope never again, that will change Canada’s international role from a delegation representing Canada to a delegation representing the political party in power,” May said. “The Canadian public needs to know that this was an unprecedented distortion of what a delegation should be at an international meeting.” May is the only leader of an opposition party to attend the negotiations as a delegate for another country or observing representative of an NGO.

“So Harper achieved his end, [Canadian] media paid less attention to the climate negotiations because the bigger parties didn’t bother to go. It really was an abomination,” May said. The Canadian delegation at COPs under the Harper government included Conservative Party members and the environment minister.

Prime Minister-designate, Justin Trudeau has invited opposition leaders as well as premiers to attend COP21 in Paris. May said attendance alone cannot repair the damage done to Canada’s reputation concerning climate negotiations.

“I don’t think the Canadian public has any real understanding of how much damage Stephen Harper has done to our reputation around the world,” May said. “We didn’t just participate in a half-hearted way … under Stephen Harper the government of Canada sabotaged negotiations. So we have a lot to make up for to the world.”

COP is not just about giving speeches; it’s about negotiating a treaty. That means Trudeau has a lot of work to do in the weeks before COP21. The Canadian government needs to develop a target for emissions reductions; we pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol and are projected to come nowhere near to the 17 percent emissions reductions the Harper government signed onto at COP15.

“There’s no question that Canada will be outperforming what we did under Stephen Harper, but to actually emerge as the kind of country that could take negotiations further — which by the way at the moment aren’t going very well — we need to actually apply all of our diplomatic muscle … we need to actually be serious about our commit,” May said about Canada’s presence at COP21.

Trudeau, after being sworn in November 4th, will have just over three weeks to work with his cabinet, Premiers, and opposition leaders to prepare Canada’s negotiating strategy for COP21 Paris, which begins November 30.

Read Elizabeth May’s to-do list for the incoming government on fixing what Stephen Harper broke.  

Megan is A\J's editorial manager, a lover of journalism, and graduate of the University of Waterloo's Faculty of Environment. 


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