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Federal Politics
Election 2015

Let Me Be Clear: Fact Checking Leaders on Economy and Environment

Follow along as we attempt to verify their statements, despite the interruptions.

Katie Hyslop 18 Sep

Katie Hyslop reports on the 2015 federal election for The Tyee. Follow her on Twitter @kehyslop.

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Much has been made of last night's leaders' -- minus one leader -- debate on the economy, particularly the style. It seemed there was a lot more yelling and interrupting this time around. Gentlemen, please, one at a time!

With all the hootin' and hollerin', you're forgiven if you found it difficult to pull out clear points or pledges from any of the leaders. At least, it wasn't so simple for this fact checker.

And, as it turns out, it wasn't much easier to find facts that back up their assertions, either -- especially when it comes to the environment and the economy, which is what The Tyee has chosen to focus on in this round of debate fact-checking.

Follow along as we attempt to verify four leader statements on the topic.

Thomas Mulcair: "The Liberals signed Kyoto with no plan -- they admitted that they had no plan to respect it. That's why they went on to have one of the worst records in the world for greenhouse gas production."

Hard to say, as it largely depends on your definition of "the worst." Environment Canada's emissions data shows that emissions increased from 738 megatonnes of greenhouse gases in 2002 when the Liberals ratified the Kyoto Protocol, to a high of 758 megatonnes in 2004 -- the highest level since data starts in 1990 -- before dropping back to 749 megatonnes in 2005, the party's last year in power.

Globally speaking, the European Union's Emission Database for Global Atmospheric Research (EDGAR) ranked Canada as having the ninth highest per capita emissions in 2000.

But in 2005, the next year EDGAR provides data and three years after signing the Kyoto Protocol, Canada fell to tenth highest.

To provide some perspective, Canada ranked ninth in 1990, eighth in 1995, and eleventh in 2010, with the largest increase in per capita emissions between 1995 and 2000. Plus, per capita rankings can be impacted by population growth, making emissions look lower when in reality there were just more people to divide it amongst.

While we did decrease our per capita carbon dioxide emissions by 0.168 tons between 2000 and 2005, mostly our rank fluctuated because other countries like Trinidad and Tobago, Montserrat, and Brunei Darussalam saw such massive increases in C02 emissions.

Stephen Harper: "This is the first government in Canadian history that has actually been able to see a reduction in greenhouse gases, while at the same time seeing the economy grow."

Again, tricky one. First, we have no reliable emissions data before 1990, limiting the scope of Harper's statement to 25 years.

If we look at Environment Canada's annual emissions data, under the Conservative government total emissions fell in 2006, 2008, and 2009. Annual GDP growth also fell steadily during those years from 2.6 per cent in 2006 to -2.7 per cent in 2009. Growth bounced back in 2010, but so did greenhouse gas emissions, which continued to climb into 2013.

Emissions also fell under the Liberal government from 758 megatonnes in 2004 to 749 megatonnes in 2005, while the annual GDP growth rate increased by 0.1 per cent to 3.2 per cent in 2005. If we look only at Canada's megatonne emissions, it does look like the Liberals were the first to succeed in growing the economy and decreasing greenhouse gases at the same time.

But, as Marc Lee of the Canadian Centre of Policy Alternatives highlighted, it's a tricky thing for any federal government to take credit for either the economy or greenhouse gas emissions when the provinces are typically the driver of both.

"The [greenhouse gas] action we have seen has come from B.C., Quebec, and Ontario who have developed their own plans," Lee said, pointing to the absence of a federal greenhouse gas reduction plan.

British Columbia's carbon tax and Ontario's phase out of coal-fired electric plants both had a significant impact on greenhouse gas reductions in the country, he said. So did the 2008/09 recession.

As for the economy, Lee said the Conservative policy has been to undermine growth in the economy: "We were in a recession for the first half of 2015, and the overarching objective of our government has been to balance the budget," he said. "So they have engaged in cuts to spending that have undermined the overall state of the economy.

"If the economy goes well, governments of whichever stripe and whatever province they're in try to take credit for it. And if things go badly, it's always like, 'Oh, [it's] external forces.'"

Justin Trudeau: "Mr. Mulcair talks about having been minister of the environment in Quebec, but I was living in Quebec at that time and I remember he was proposing bulk water exports for the United States from Quebec."

True, with some caveats. Back in 2004, Quebec's then-Liberal environment minister Thomas Mulcair said he didn't understand why exporting water was a "mortal sin" and went on to propose his party could do it safely as a way of keeping jobs in resource-dependent rural Quebec.

"We'll make sure that we know the resource is being renewed," Mulcair is quoted as saying in the June 16, 2004 edition of the Montreal Gazette. "The big advantage of water over copper and zinc or iron is that once the metal comes out of the ground, it doesn't come back.

"With water, once you've taken it out, if you are doing it properly with appropriate permits and with appropriate supervision and scientific analysis, you can make sure that the resource is being renewed."

While Mulcair isn't cited in the article explicitly stating the water would be exported to the United States, the article also features trade lawyer Steven Shrybman who argued that if Quebec started exporting bottled water, under the North American Free Trade Agreement Canada could be compelled to export water to the U.S., too.

Mulcair dismissed this argument: "NAFTA does not mean that when you start an activity, you have to continue it," he's quoted as saying.

This isn't the first time Mulcair has been called out for floating this idea. In 2008, the federal Liberals attacked him in a press release for his water-exporting views. Four years later during the NDP leaders' debate, candidate Paul Dewar asked Mulcair to clarify his position.

"Come on, Paul," the Huffington Post quoted Mulcair as responding at the time. "I've always fought for the protection of our freshwater resources. The means of achieving that result can vary and that was the object of a discussion, a debate."

Elizabeth May: "Of all the different ways to put a price on carbon, cap-and-trade is least reliable and most open to fraud."

True, at least when compared to carbon tax, which is what the Green party is advocating for.

There has definitely been cap-and-trade fraud, with the European Union and the U.S. falling prey to charlatans setting up fake but convincing carbon trade firms and taking the money of unwitting businesses that thought they were purchasing legit carbon credits.

But the David Suzuki Foundation notes that cap-and-trade has a distinct environmental advantage over the carbon tax: "It provides more certainty about the amount of emissions reductions that will result and little certainty about the price of emissions (which is set by the emissions trading market). A carbon tax provides certainty about the price but little certainty about the amount of emissions reductions."

When asked to pick the best model of the two, the David Suzuki Foundation said either model can be successful, on its own or used in tandem with another, but it depends on the design: "Ultimately, the critical factor in reducing heat-trapping emissions is the strength of the economic signal. A stronger carbon price will kick-start more growth in clean, renewable energy and will encourage adoption of greener practices."  [Tyee]

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