If you're a teacher, student, journalist or just a plain concerned
citizen interested in finding well-researched documentation about climate change,
you can no longer depend on the Canadian government to supply that information.
According to Canada's Liberal Party, since early July, the country's
government -- under conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper -- has been systematically
scrubbing its websites of information regarding global warming and the Kyoto
Protocol treaty to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
(As of Wednesday, Aug. 16, when you visit the government of Canada's
Climate Change website, you find the following message: "The Government
of Canada Climate Change site is currently unavailable.")
Despite its relatively short time in office, the Harper government has been repeatedly
accused of following the lead of the George W. Bush administration in the United
Now, it appears it has taken up the Bush administration's habit of mixing science
and politics by purposefully expunging information from federal websites dealing
with climate change and its ramifications. In addition, in designing its new "Made
in Canada" plan to deal with the environment and global warming -- a plan
due to be unveiled in October -- government officials are working in secrecy and
without significant participation from environmental organizations.
Harper's skepticism about global warming seems in line with the position of Pres.
Bush, who has repeatedly claimed that the "jury is still out" on the
issue. The prime minister has himself questioned the science of climate change,
calling it a "controversial hypothesis."
His former environment critic, Bob Mills, has described the Kyoto Protocol, the
international agreement to address climate change, which had been ratified by
Canada's parliament during the previous government, "a great socialist plot."
According to a statement issued in late July by the Liberal Party, the Harper
team "is engaging in revisionist science by systematically removing references
to climate change from government websites."
"This is a government in denial about climate change," said Liberal
Environment Critic Hon. John Godfrey. "They don't like the science, and now
they want to censor it. This is Orwellian."
MP Mark Holland pointed out that the Harper "government is tied closely to
leading climate change skeptics in the United States and the petroleum industry.
This government has a track record of listening to people with dubious views on
the environment and climate change. They pretend to be interested in a 'Made in
Canada' approach, but this is code for doing nothing."
"The feds' own climate change site once offered a verbose, but realistic
analysis of the problem [of global warming] and a high-minded, but unconvincing
account of what the government was doing about it," wrote Richard Littlemore
in a commentary posted in mid-July at DeSmogBlog.com.
"Never mind removing a reference to Kyoto; the words 'climate change' have
been expunged from everything except the website title," maintained Littlemore,
a journalist, speechwriter and senior counselor at James Hoggan & Associates,
a Canadian public relations firm.
"The government's strategy of pretending to be concerned about the environment
while both dismantling programs to address climate change and scrubbing government
websites clean of any information proving that global warming exists has Frank
Luntz written all over it," added Liberal Party MP Mark Holland.
Luntz, who met with Harper and his conservative colleagues earlier this year,
is a high-profile political pollster and strategist, who has helped shape the
U.S. Republican Party's political agenda and messaging for more than a decade.
The New Yorker magazine's Hendrik Hertzberg recently described Luntz as the "Johnny
Appleseed of such linguistic innovations as 'death tax' for estate tax and 'personal
accounts' for Social Security privatization."
One section of an infamous 2002 Luntz-authored memorandum, instructing Republican
congressional candidates, was titled "Winning the Global Warming Debate:
An Overview." Luntz advised candidates to "continue to make the lack
of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate."
He maintained that "The most important principle in any discussion of global
warming is your commitment to sound science... The scientific debate is closing
[against us] but not yet closed. There is still a window of opportunity to challenge
Ironically, while the Bush administration, and the Harper government, may still
be sticking with this script, Luntz appears to have changed his mind on global
warming. In a recent documentary first aired on the BBC, Luntz said that he "think[s]
most people would conclude that there is global warming taking place, and that
the behaviour of humans is affecting the climate."
When asked about the advice about climate change that he had been giving for years,
Luntz said it was fair when he gave it. He added that if the Bush administration
is still questioning the science, "That's up to the [them]. I'm not the administration.
What they want to do is their business. And it's nothing to do with what I write.
And it's nothing to do with what I believe."
The Liberal Party's press release also pointed to Harper's "close friendship"
with former EnCana President and CEO Gwyn Morgan, "a leading climate change
skeptic in Alberta, who Harper tried unsuccessfully to appoint to a position overseeing
government patronage appointments."
"This is all about controlling information and not about controlling greenhouse
gases," said Godfrey. "The government would be thrilled if the Canadian
public simply forgot about global warming, and we're simply not going to allow
that to happen."
Meanwhile, the Harper government has pledged to produce a comprehensive environmental
initiative in October that will supposedly include programs dealing with curbing
greenhouse emissions blamed for global warming. Still in its formative stages,
government officials maintain that they have been seeking a broad range of views
on the issue, but according to a recent report by the Chronicle Herald, "many
environmental groups say they've been shut out."
"The reality is that the public has not been consulted at all," said
Ann Coxworth of the Saskatchewan Environmental Society, one of the groups in the
Climate Action Network, a coalition of environmental groups that has organized
public forums and workshops in a number of Canadian cities.
Shortly after taking office, Harper put the kybosh on the Liberals' Project Green.
The creation of the new environmental initiative appears to follow in the footsteps
established by U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney when he set about developing the
Bush administration's energy plan. The Cheney Energy Task Force worked in secret
and saw the Bush administration lean heavily on advice from utility companies,
and the oil, gas, coal and nuclear energy industries, according to a report by
the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The Harper project has thus far pretty much excluded environmental groups, and
has been working "under tight secrecy," The Chronicle Herald reported.
"They're not giving us enough of what they intend to do for us to give them
any significant advice on how to proceed," said John Bennett, executive director
of the Climate Action Network. "We need to have a plan that all Canadians
can work together on and you don't get a plan like that by going into a back room
and then making an announcement six months later."