Jim Prentice

Jim Prentice, a senior member of the federal Conservative Party, today announced his resignation from his post as environment minister, and that furthermore he would vacate his riding of Calgary Centre-North by the end of 2010. He will be starting a new position as vice-chairman of CIBC, the largest bank in Canada, in January of 2011.

Jim Prentice served in cabinet in a variety of roles for most of his political career, and has been Minister of the Environment since 2008, moving there from the Industry portfolio.

Being the Environment Minister in the current Canadian conservative government must have been challenging, at the very least.  There have been some triumphs, like the expansion of the National Parks system, the introduction of nation-wide legislation for waste-water treatment standards, and work on reducing the number of out-dated coal-fired plants.

However, these accomplishments have to be balanced out by his other actions while in office. His ministry consistently towed the party line on greenhouse gas emissions, and failed to push through, or even advocate, the reforms required by the terms of the Kyoto Accord. Indeed, Canadian emissions are actually increasing. New coal plants are still being built, and the tar sands continue their role as the largest carbon emitter in Canada. Under his leadership, the ministry of the Environment failed to renew funding for the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences (CFCAS). Not only did this leave Canada without the ability to properly monitor its own air quality, it also resulted in many highly-qualified climate scientists forced to leave the country to find employment. This short-sighted approach to environmental stewardship has all-too-often been the case with the federal Conservative Party.

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Nor is this likely to change. The policies of the federal government are very much directed from the top– the Prime Minister’s Office. A mere change in ministers is unlikely to provoke any real change in the Conservative’s approach to the environment, and thus they will continue their current poor record.

Given the crisis of climate change, the post of environment minister should be a vital one. Instead, under the Harper Conservative’s, it’s just another yes-man job. Who the Prime Minister appoints to this role will send a message on whether the government intends to take its environmental obligations seriously.

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