After another day of tedium in the Other Place, the Senate paid host to Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, to answer questions about her portfolio. Senator Larry Smith started off, with a question about the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and grumbled that Canadian dollars were going to projects not subject to upstream and downstream tests while Canadian pipeline projects were. McKenna first praised the made-in-Canada climate plan before noting that they ensured their planned reforms to the environmental assessment project needed to ensure that trust was rebuilt. Smith worried about the government sending mixed messages in investing in projects that don’t have the same regulation or restrictions as at home, worrying that it would impact assessments here. McKenna noted that pipeline projects in Canada were approved, that Energy East was a market decision, then turned to meetings she has been having with stakeholders to get growth in Canada while respecting the environment.
In both the Commons and the Senate, the Conservatives are particularly concerned about the Asian Infrastructure Bank. #SenQP
— Dale Smith (@journo_dale) November 7, 2017
Senator Patterson worried that decisions were being made about the development in the Arctic — and moratoriums on certain development — without sufficient consultation with the Indigenous communities there. McKenna noted that she was working in partnership, but that they didn’t want drilling in Arctic wildlife refuges.
Senator Joyal asked about the various targets that Canada has accepted without having plans to reach them, per the Environment Commissioner’s report. McKenna said that they were working on a plan to meet those targets, and dissembles a bit about it.
Senator Gálvez also noted the Environment Commissioner’s concerns that federal departments were not taking their responsibilities seriously when it comes to climate risk mitigation. McKenna said that it was a concern, and listed funds that were available to help meet mitigation and adaptation demands.
Senator Griffin asked about protected biodiversity areas, and funding commitments to ensure goals were attainable. McKenna noted the take-up by Canadians of national parks, and that she has a committee to help her reach their target along with the involvement of Indigenous people to create Indigenous-protected areas.
Senator Martin worried that the tanker ban on BC’s north coast would destroy economic development in the area. McKenna noted the good economic growth, while working in partnership with provinces.
Senator Greene Raine asked about changes to the building code impacting existing homes. McKenna noted that this was an example of the economy and the environment working together, and how homes are twenty percent of emissions, while newer houses can be built for close to the same cost that are so efficient that they put energy back on the grid.
Senator Day asked about the Fundy Trail, and what initiatives were planned to help encourage better accessibility to national parks. McKenna talked first about ten work that parks biologists were doing with Indigenous communities to help revitalize Atlantic salmon, while noting that they are still learning the lessons of this year’s free national parks passes to help learn how to make them more accessible.
Senator Bovey asked about plans for a national portrait gallery in McKenna’s role as minister from the national capital region (though I’m sure that actual role is Mélanie Joly’s), and McKenna said that she was working to get these portraits displayed — much like archives belonging to Parks Canada — but had no particular commitment.
Senator Massicotte asked about a UN report stating that we won’t be able to meet our climate goals in time and the global climate will likely rise three degrees. McKenna first noted the mechanisms under the Paris Agreement to get countries to do more, while she mentioned an upcoming announcement at Bonn about an alliance to phase out coal.
Senator Batters wanted details on a national carbon tax that would be imposed on Saskatchewan. McKenna said that Hope strings eternal and she still hope that Saskatchewan would make its own plan, and that the rest of the country has stepped up. She hoped that under new leadership, they would step forward, but didn’t have any details to share at this time, noting that they would be coming “shortly.”
Senator Enverga asked about the BC tanker ban again, and McKenna gave her spiel about science, engagement, and the previous government not getting pipelines to tidewater.
Senator Greene Raine was up on a supplemental to return to how the building code would impact existing homes, while McKenna said that they were working to help people pay less for their homes, and veered off onto greener social housing. Senator Patterson was also back up to return to the costs imposed on Nunavut where there are no alternatives, and McKenna said that they are making investments to help reduce reliance on diesel and to reduce costs for the people there.
Overall, it was a bit disappointing that McKenna didn’t use the opportunity to give more reasonable answers to questions without the usual 35-second constraints in the Commons, and she hewed close to fairly bland and pabulum-like talking points without really giving actual answers to pretty reasoned questions. It led to a number of heckles (which, to be clear, are rare in the Senate) and calls for her to answer the question, leading to the two supplementals at the end to try and get actual answers, which she still didn’t quite do. I wish to all the gods on Olympus that McKenna would quit prefacing every answer with “we believe that the economy and the environment go together” and resort to more facts and fewer platitudes when she responds. Senate QP is often a place where ministers can demonstrate that they have that ability, and McKenna missed that opportunity.
Sartorially speaking, snaps go out to Senator Paul Massicotte for a navy suit with a light blue shirt and tie, and to Senator Claudette Tardif for a white printed top with a black shirt and beige jacket. Style citations go out to Senator Patricia Bovey for a white long-sleeved turtleneck with an oversized black poncho-shaped jacket with white piping, and to Senator David Tkachuk for a a black suit with a pale yellow shirt and grey and blacked striped tie.