Opinion | It’s time for conservatives to stop letting the left define them on the environmental debate

LNG Quebec is the subject of much discussion, especially in recent days. The Bureau d'audiences publiques sur l'environnement, whose mission is to evaluate the impacts of the project, submitted its report to Environment Minister Benoit Charette on March 10. The Minister still has a few days to make it public.


By André Valiquette

Remember that this is a pipeline project of more than 700 km that would transport natural gas from Western Canada to a liquefaction plant in Saguenay. Once liquefied, the natural gas would be transported by supertanker around the world[1].

Environmental groups and Québec solidaire are raging against LNG Quebec.

The Conservative Party of Quebec has filed a brief that argues the very positive points of this project and refutes the apprehensions of its opponents[2]. We are in favor of the development of our natural resources. Polls in Saguenay show that the majority of the population supports the LNG project. This is bad news for the environmental left, which likes to prohibit. There is an annoyance in front of its nagging propensity to ask us to change our way of life.

But in Quebec, the polls are not so favorable. We have here a project that is beneficial for our province and globally positive for greenhouse gas emissions, but there is a risk that once again, we will shoot ourselves in the foot and that the CAQ will back down.

How is it that the ideological shortcuts of the left still affect a good proportion of our fellow citizens on environmental issues? Is the right-wing intelligible when it talks about ecology? Do we get the impression that they are hiding something?

The public needs to know what motivates us, what our intention is when we talk about ecology.

Too often we have been defined by our opponents as defending the rich and the polluters and thinking only in the short term. This is not true.

I would like to acknowledge that this is a difficult issue for us. We don’t dominate the debate. It’s all the more important to talk about it because it’s on the public agenda and the younger generation that is moving, the more vocal one anyway, is including the future of the planet in their concerns. Just because some people talk about it with leftist software doesn’t mean we should stick our heads in the sand.

Beyond the justified criticisms of the authoritarian or disconnected solutions of the left, as well as of its theoretical matrix that generates more pessimism than results, the right must also look in its own backyard and see where it stands on this issue.

It is not a matter of the right accommodating a few perceived pro-environmental policies, but rather of joining this battle with a vision of its own.

One gets the impression from reading the programs of several Western parties that the centrist right is looking for a “balanced” position on the environment, but is in fact dominated by the guilt-tripping discourse of the left, whereas people who truly believe in a model of society based on free enterprise should be proposing a different vision.

What I think is important is for the right to stand up and be proud of its environmental values.

To be consistent, we need to be solid in our definition of what we stand for.

Consistency means not succumbing to the temptation to simply give out environmental goodies, out of weariness or to get elected. No, we need to think about who we are on this issue.

A different vision

The right, which identifies with the world of entrepreneurs, must get out of its defensive posture. It can be proud of its record over the past 150 years: the world we live in was born out of industry, a world that is more populated but less polluted despite the exaggerations we hear too often, a world where we live longer and healthier.

It is the market economy that has allowed science to find its way into applications where the human interest and the environment have found their account. It is in the oil industry, for example, that thousands of by-products have been created, from plastics to pharmacology; they have been designed because wastefulness is never the most profitable option for a private company.

Private companies systematically seek to consume as little as possible, to find the most efficient technologies and to replace expensive energy with cheap energy. This leads them to fight against the wastefulness of pollution.

In order for innovation to do its job, we don’t need to legislate for it to happen, it is the play of spontaneous market forces and competition that brings innovation.

But in order to free up initiative, remove barriers and create a context favourable to market forces, one could suggest three very general directions that a conservative government could take to orient the public debate on the environment and counter the forces of immobility.

a – Putting people first

First, the right can argue that only an anthropocentric position, centred on the pre-eminence of the human being, takes into account the strengths of our species and its ability to make a difference. Human beings do not only consume resources, they are themselves creators of resources who work, invent and produce. The existence of human genius gives man a special place in nature. Being the only intelligent being, he is also the one and only moral being, truly entitled to rights and duties. It is therefore an approach that values innovation and a sense of responsibility to maintain a way of life adapted to the diverse preferences of human societies.

Examples? Desert gardens in Israel, alternative materials that are more environmentally friendly, reforestation of forests, desalination of sea water.

Sorry, greenies, but human civilization is good news for this planet!

b – We are optimists

Secondly, a conservative position can be married to the concerns of environmentalists: preservation of heritage, concern for descendants, savings, long decision horizon.

However, the goal is not preservation for preservation’s sake. The most important legacy of a generation is not a reserve of non-renewable resources. Our resources will have no value if they remain in the ground.

A left-wing agenda that rejects progress and the advancement of knowledge under the guise of preserving our natural resources does a disservice to our citizens. I am thinking here of the distressing issue of shale gas. You know many other examples.

The most important legacy of a generation to the planet is the knowledge and institutions that our society has developed to solve the problems it has faced. Technical and political know-how.

So it makes sense to factor into our predictions about the environmental health of the planet the enormous increase in the number of better-networked researchers and innovators than ever before in history. So it is certain that the pace of application of science will accelerate from the previous century and increase the capacity to respond to environmental change tenfold.

You know, it’s a well-kept secret that a conservative is also an optimist.

c – We believe in the market

Finally, the right should defend a truly liberal position, in the sense that it is the societies that create wealth that protect their environment. Countries with a market economy will produce abundance, not austerity and decline, by developing their assets, such as the exploitation of their natural resources.

It makes perfect sense to want to grow our economy as much as possible in order to better cope with the consequences of some climate change rather than harming our economy now and compromising our ability to adapt in the future.

The market economy has long proven to provide more incentives and flexibility than bureaucratic management to harness human creativity and leave our descendants a world that is both more prosperous and cleaner.

It is business people who have invested in clean technologies for our air, water and food. The shift from coal to electricity was made possible by the heroes of industry.

It works if we promote markets that meet environmental needs as well as other needs, and allow the price regulation mechanism to play its role.

For example, it is the market that will naturally drive the transition to other energy sources as innovation drives down the price of alternatives to oil.

This market system is not “free-for-all”, quite the contrary: it makes individuals responsible for pollution that might damage other people’s property, and therefore gives them an incentive to produce without harming their neighbors.

An important challenge to our approach is posed when the consequences of economic activity do not affect well-identified owners, which is sometimes the case for water or air quality. So we have some thinking to do on that.

The free market is not the magic solution to all of society’s ills. It is simply the most just solution, the one that best respects individual rights.

This liberal approach could be summed up in a simplified regulation: where necessary, regulation should be outcome-oriented, not means-oriented, to leave producers free to innovate on how to do it. For example, let’s stop the huge and misguided subsidies to municipalities for biomethanization of waste.

The battles ahead

The right would also do well not to give in to the false consensus on climate change promoted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

An analysis of the workings of this environmental watchdog, which distributes research contracts and reserves the political conclusions for itself, would show its propensity to promote global governance that would add a layer of socialism to a planet that really doesn’t need it.

The environmental battles that have been abused should be refocused on the CO2 issue alone.

A great challenge for a political party is to operationalize the general values that have just been stated into policies that will be understood and implemented.

The political family of the right is capable of leading Western governments out of the impasse by putting forward realistic proposals rather than pipe dreams based on dubious diagnoses and making the environment one of the drivers of our economic development.

[1] See Québec Nouvelles

[2] See the PCQ‘s memorandum on LNG Saguenay presented to the BAPE on October 18 2020.

By André Valiquette

With a Master’s degree in Canadian history, he worked as a journalist at CBC/Radio-Canada and then pursued his career in academia, where he was a media relations officer and speechwriter. From 2007 to 2009, he was Director of Communications at the Montreal Economic Institute. He was the 2019 People’s Party of Canada candidate in NDG-Westmount and is currently Chair of the Quebec Conservative Party’s Political Commission and a member of its National Executive. André publishes a personal column in Québec Nouvelles.

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