Remembering Canada's Greenest Prime Minister. Hint: He's Not a Liberal.


We remember him as "Lyin' Brian" to the extent he's remembered at all but, for all his failings, Brian Mulroney was the greenest prime minister Canada ever had.

I was reminded of the bright side of Mulroney thanks to an article in Yale360 about the 1987 Montreal Protocol to save the ozone layer. The startling news was that the protocol has not only worked but it has also spared the Earth an astonishing 2.5 degrees Celsius of global warming.

On the 30th anniversary of the protocol Mulroney took a victory lap in the Globe & Mail.

The Montreal Protocol was the result of prioritized and pro-active leadership by Canada, the United States, some Nordic countries and UN leadership of both the developed and developing world.

From the perspective of our government, the environment was a priority from the day we took office. We knew we had to lead by example at home, and engage the international community on environmental issues that knew no borders.

At home, we established eight new national parks, including South Moresby in British Columbia, and our Green Plan put Canada on a path to create five more by 1996 and another 13 by 2000. Dr. Mostafa Tolba, when he was head of the UN Environment Program, called Canada's Green Plan "a model for the world."

We began the long-overdue cleanup of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence and Fraser rivers, and we launched the Arctic strategy to protect our largest and most important wilderness area – the North.

In Toronto in 1988, Canada hosted the first international conference with politicians actively present on climate change. Norwegian prime minister Gro Brundtland delivered a powerful keynote address, and Canada was the first Western country to endorse the historic recommendations of the Brundtland Commission, and the first to embrace the language of "sustainable development."

In 1991, we signed the Acid Rain Accord with the United States, an issue we had been working on since taking office in 1984. I want to come back to acid rain as an important example of leadership and engagement.

At the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, we helped bring the U.S. on board in support of the Convention on Climate Change, and we were the first industrialized country to sign the Biological Diversity Accord Treaty.

Quite apart from eliminating ozone depletion and avoided GHG emissions, the Montreal Protocol, as our Canadian government notes, "has prevented up to two million cases of skin cancer and eye cataracts globally." The UN Environment Secretariat forecasts: "Up to two million cases of skin cancer may be prevented each year by 2030."

That also means uncounted billions of dollars of avoided health-care costs around the world.

Mulroney had flattering words for Justin Trudeau and his government's role in the 2015 Paris Climate Summit. He obviously expected the Liberal government's bold words on the floor of the Paris summit would manifest in action that, sadly, has not transpired.

Mulroney and his government were deeply flawed. Karlheinz Schreiber and the Airbus scandal, cash-stuffed envelopes changing hands in Montreal coffee shops. Stevie Cameron's book, "On the Take," regaled us with the seamy side of Mulroney politics. Despite that there was much good in that powerful Progressive Conservative administration and, for those years, Canada was as green a nation as it was before or since.

The Tories did not remain faithful to Mulroney's environmentalism. Harper denounced the notion of climate change as a hoax. But what of the Liberals? What have they done that holds a candle to Mulroney in his best days?



  1. The question we all face is simply "Why can't we do what we have done before?"

    1. The more urgent these threats become the more frustrating it is to ask that question, Owen.

      The ozone threat was easier to manage because the offending chemicals were readily replaced by more benign products. The Montreal Protocol did achieve a powerful consensus across the community of nations to act.

      Obtaining that core consensus is immeasurably more challenging when it comes to climate change. The fossil fuel lobby is incredibly well connected and resistant to change (despite their claims to the contrary). Then we have the problem of powerful petro-states in the Middle East, the United States, and Canada.

      At Paris in 2015, Schellnhuber knew that any hope of achieving the 1.5C target hinged on what he called the "induced implosion" of the fossil fuel industry. By that he meant the petro-state governments would have to act. They would have to shut down their carbon energy industries. For Canada that would mean abruptly ending fossil energy subsidies while closing the collieries and tar pits along with their transportation infrastructure (pipelines, ports, etc.)

      Here we are six years later and, instead of any induced implosion, our federal government has stepped in where the private sector refuses to invest to build a new and expanded bitumen pipeline to "tidewater." If Ottawa wanted to hold out an olive branch to the environmentalists it could have invested instead in major in situ refineries to transform bitumen into finished goods but the market is for cheap and dirty raw stock instead.

  2. This is the 'Lizzie May' version of recent Canadian history.
    Perhaps this fantasy is at the heart of the Green implosion?

  3. You think this is a "fantasy"? Explain, if you can.


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