A big date to celebrate for past Prime Minister Brian Mulroney today. It was on this date, in 2006, that Canada’s 18th Prime Minister was named our greenest-ever leader. From the Montreal Protocol to the Acid Rain Treaty with the United Sates and on through the Green Plan, Mr. Mulroney put the protection of our environment at the forefront of everything his government did. It indeed is a remarkable legacy he is rightfully proud of today.
Below is the speech he delivered in accepting this award. Readers will note that, aside from highlighting the challenge of climate change, towards the conclusion, Mr. Mulroney also mentions Canada’s arctic region and our sovereignty over northern waters, an issue that is still very much in need of attention today, given Russia’s ever-expanding claims.
Rt. Hon. Brian Mulroney: When I was very young, we went to the foot of Champlain Street and swam in Baie Comeau, for which my hometown was named.
Today, there is a park where we used to swim. The effluence from the paper mill created landfill, where once there had been pristine waters. Nobody swims in the bay anymore. And that’s where my awareness of the environment, and of environmental degradation, began. We’ve seen too many such sights in this country, including company towns carved out of the wilderness with little regard for the impact on their surroundings. In fairness, it should be noted that in those days few of us knew any better. Now we do.
We need to learn those lessons of careless development, and of neglecting to clean up after ourselves. We need to learn it especially in the North. The future of this country is going north, and it is time for a new Northern Vision, one of sustainable development that preserves the Arctic wilderness, protects wildlife and sustains a way of life for our indigenous peoples.
In Baie Comeau, I once said: “My father dreamed of a better life for his family. I dream of a better life for my country.” Part of that dream was about leaving a more prosperous and united country to our children, but a large part of it was also about leaving our munificent country environmentally whole.
This award by a group of environment leaders, as Canada’s Greenest Prime Minister in history, is deeply gratifying. I thank the panel and accept not only on my own behalf, but on behalf of all who served in our government between 1984 and 1993.
I was extremely fortunate in having some outstanding environment ministers — Tom McMillan, Lucien Bouchard, Robert de Cotret and Jean Charest — and dedicated public servants, such as Bob Slater, without whom we would probably not have had an acid rain accord.
Under Tom McMillan, we negotiated the Montreal Protocol in 1987, which redressed depletion of the ozone layer; in 1988 we were the first Western government to endorse the recommendations of the Brundtland Commission and the first to embrace the language of “sustainable development.”
Lucien Bouchard was the first Environment Minister to serve on the influential Planning and Priorities committee of Cabinet and under his strong direction Canada devised the Green Plan with compulsory environmental review of all government initiatives. This plan was described by Dr. Mostafa Tolba, Director of the United Nations Environment Program, as “a model for the world.”
Under Robert de Cotret, the Green Plan became the standard for environmental policy and we completed the work that began the day we took office when we signed the Acid Rain Accord with the United States in 1991.
Under Jean Charest’s inspired leadership, at the Rio Conference in 1992, we helped bring the United States on board in support of the Convention on Climate Change, and we were the first industrialized nation to sign on to the Bio-Diversity Accord. Canada’s international identity was strongly affirmed as a result of the brilliant contribution of Jean Charest at this seminal conference.
We established eight new national parks, including South Moresby in British Columbia, and under the Green Plan put Canada on a path to create five more by 1996 and another 13 by 2000, bringing the national parks system begun by Sir John A. Macdonald with the creation of Banff National Park in 1885, closer to completion.
We began the long overdue clean-up of the Great Lakes, St. Lawrence and Fraser rivers, and we launched an Arctic Strategy seeking to protect our greatest and most fragile wilderness area — the North. And we created the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, recognizing that sustainable development requires the participation and leadership of the private sector.
The most compelling environmental challenge facing the world today is global warming. In Toronto in 1988, we hosted the first international scientific conference on climate change. The scientists gathered there told us in clear, unambiguous language the nature of the challenge we were facing. In their consensus statement, they concluded: “Humanity is conducting an unintended, uncontrolled, globally pervasive experiment, whose ultimate consequences are second only to global nuclear war.”
From my own experience, I would offer two observations on addressing environmental issues.
First, it doesn’t really matter what the process is, so long as the problem is addressed by leadership. Where political will prevails, solutions will follow.
And second, there are few durable solutions on the environment, or on any other international issue, without the engagement of the United States and the leadership of its president.
So whether the process proves to be Kyoto, or something else, let’s acknowledge the urgency of global warming. And then let’s get the United States to the table.
It isn’t by lecturing the Americans on their record on emissions reduction that we’ll succeed, especially when our own record is nearly twice as bad as theirs.
In 1990, our government committed Canada to keeping greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels. In spite of signing the Kyoto Accord, which commits us to reducing emissions to 6% below 1990 levels by the period 2008 to 2012, Canada’s emissions have increased by 24%, as opposed to a 13% increase by the United States, which has declined to sign Kyoto. Simply put, we are in no position to be moralizing with the U.S. or anyone else. We don’t have the high ground.
Whether in the Kyoto framework, or by some other means, Canada must begin reducing its own GHG emissions.
Furthermore, there is no solution to the issue of global warming without the participation of business and industry in Canada and around the world.
Let me offer two examples, again from my own experience.
In 1987, when we signed the Montreal Protocol, we made it very clear to DuPont, the largest manufacturer of CFCs, that there was no turning back from our resolve to eliminate these dangerous ozone-depleting substances. DuPont responded to the challenge by creating innovative technologies that have only made the company more profitable, as well as a world leader in environmental responsibility.
When we negotiated acid rain agreements with seven provinces, we agreed on a binding 50% reduction of sulphur dioxide emissions that caused acid rain. At the time, Inco’s smelter in Sudbury was the largest single emitter of SO2 in the world. The company claimed our targets would bankrupt it.
But we held firm and ultimately new technology captured the sulphur before it was pumped into the sky and carried by prevailing winds to kill forests, lakes and streams. Far from going bankrupt, the company became more profitable on the sale of captured sulphur.
There are many examples of corporate success stories today on the issue of adapting to climate change.
Abitibi in forest products and Alcan in metals have met the challenge of sustainable development. By 2004, Abitibi reduced GHG emissions to 37% below 1990 levels. Alcan, operating at 430 sites in 40 countries, has reduced emissions by 3.5 million tonnes since 2001. Both have been cited as leaders in their industries by Ceres Inc., a Boston-based coalition of environmental investors that collectively manages US$3-trillion in assets. Corporate Knights magazine, in its annual survey of the 100 most sustainable corporations in the world, named four Canadian companies to the list – Alcan, Enbridge, RBC Financial Group and Sun Life.
There are three elements to Canada playing an important role on the environment: First, leading by example, claiming the high ground. Second, engaging the Americans, and at the highest level of government. Third, involving industry in solutions.
Let me illustrate with the example of acid rain, which I raised with President Reagan on my first visit to the White House when I was still Leader of the Opposition in June 1984. In March 1985, at the Shamrock Summit, he agreed to the appointment of special envoys Drew Lewis and Bill Davis, who reported directly to us.
Frank Carlucci, President Reagan’s National Security Advisor, describes how testy Reagan became when his officials continued to stall and stymie my government on issues ranging from acid rain to Artic sovereignty to free trade:
According to a recent account published by Professor Jeffrey L. Chidester, Reagan took Carlucci aside and said: “I think we should do something for Brian.” “I” [Carlucci] said: “Mr. President, we’re doing well holding our positions on acid rain, the free trade agreement and the Northwest passage. ‘Oh, no, no, no,’ said Reagan, ‘we ought to do something.’
“After lunch, Carlucci continued to push for the American position. I said
[to the President] no, no, we’re holding to our positions. These are well established positions.
“It was the only time I saw Ronald Reagan lose his temper. He turned to me and said: ‘you do it.’ Carlucci went right from the meeting and grabbed Derek Burney, Mulroney’s Chief of Staff and asked: ‘Derek would you reiterate your positions [on acid rain, trade and the northwest passage?]’ When Burney asked why, Carlucci said: ‘Because they’re our positions now.’”
Anyone who fails to appreciate that there is an important connection between good personal relationships among leaders and success in foreign policy understands nothing about either.
In 1991, we signed the Acid Rain Accord with the first President Bush. Both President Reagan and President Bush rejected the advice of their officials on acid rain, because of the special relationship between the United States and Canada, and the personal rapport between president and prime minister.
The golden rule of Canada-U.S. relations is very simple. And Prime Minister Harper has put it very well: “We can disagree without being disagreeable.” For as the Prime Minister has also said: “The Americans are very important to us. We know they are, notwithstanding the differences, our best ally, our closest neighbour, our biggest customer.”
There is also a rule of global politics — Canada’s influence in the world is measured to a significant degree by the extent to which we are perceived as having real influence in Washington. For the past decade and more, as many experts have observed, Canada allowed that clout to erode.
Which brings me to the main point I want to leave with you — the Arctic. Canada is one of only three nations on earth that fronts on three oceans — the Atlantic, the Pacific and the Arctic. From sea, to sea, to sea, we have the longest coastline of any country in the world.
There are three issues looming large before us — the melting of Arctic sea-ice and the opening of Arctic waters to navigation; the sustainable development of northern resources, particularly those beneath the melting sea-ice; and the enforcement of our Arctic sovereignty with the cooperation of the other circumpolar states, notably the United States and Russia.
In 1979, the year NASA space images started measuring minimum concentrations of Arctic sea ice, you could have travelled by dogsled in summer, following the midnight sun from Siberia, across the Canadian Arctic to Greenland. But polar ice has been shrinking at a rate of nearly 75,000 square kilometres annually over the last 30 years. As the Ottawa Citizen reported: “That means enough ice to cover Lake Superior vanishes every year.”
Ironically, these environmental challenges are also creating immense economic opportunity. As the ice melts, the Northwest Passage may be open for navigation as early as 2020, realizing the centuries-old dream of a commercial passage from Europe to Asia, one much shorter than the route through the Panama Canal and able to accommodate much larger ships. But with the prospect of navigation comes the possibility of oil spills and introduction of exotic species in Arctic waters.
And then there is all that Arctic oil and gas, much of it still locked beneath the ice. The proven reserves of Arctic petroleum are measured in the billions of barrels of oil and trillions of cubic feet of natural gas. The Mackenzie Valley alone holds 1.5 billion barrels of proven oil reserves and 9 trillion cubic feet of proven gas reserves. The Mackenzie Shelf and the Beaufort Seas are thought to hold much greater reserves — nearly 6 billion barrels of oil and 65 trillion cubic feet of gas.
But the Mackenzie River is also, as the WWF reports, “a critical homeland for indigenous peoples and for wildlife. The valley contains one of the world’s last great free running river systems.” It is the second largest wetland area in the country, carries over half the freshwater flowing through the North and the most sediment through the entire circumpolar system to the Arctic Ocean. Drilling for it in a sustainable manner is one environmental challenge; building pipelines or ports to transport it is another.
No nation, acting alone, can protect the Arctic. But the circumpolar nations, acting together, can and must. Territorial disputes do nothing to resolve the larger issue of the Arctic as the greatest wilderness region on earth, one shared by all northern nations.
Other Arctic nations have challenged our Arctic sovereignty in the past, and such challenges will only increase with the opening of the Northwest Passage, and the exploitation of our northern petroleum reserves.
Canada regards the Northwest Passage as internal waters. The United States regards it as the high seas. In 1986, the U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker, the Polar Sea, sailed through it without seeking our permission. When President Reagan visited Ottawa in 1987, I showed him the Northwest Passage on an antique globe in my office and told him bluntly “Ron, that’s ours.”
Later, after a working lunch at 24 Sussex, he raised it with his own officials and, as I noted earlier, instructed them to make reference to our position in his speech to Parliament. This was followed by an agreement between the two governments. It is in such a succession of small victories that Canada can assert its territorial and political sovereignty in the North.
I congratulate Prime Minister Harper for the bold and imaginative plan he outlined in the recent election campaign to assert and enhance our sovereignty in the Arctic regions. His plan for ice breakers, increased air surveillance and basing Forces in the Arctic will give substance and credibility to our claim to what is ours.
Years from now I believe this priority will be viewed as visionary and wise by all Canadians, confirming as it does the comment from the prophet Joel that “Young men have visions and old men dream dreams.”
Then it is up to all of us as Canadians to cherish this northern heritage, and to realize a new Northern Vision for a new century.
Arthur Milnes is an accomplished public historian and award-winning journalist. He was research assistant on The Rt. Hon. Brian Mulroney’s best-selling Memoirs and also served as a speechwriter to then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper and as a Fellow of the Queen’s Centre for the Study of Democracy under the leadership of Tom Axworthy. A resident of Kingston, Ontario, Milnes serves as the in-house historian at the 175 year-old Frontenac Club Hotel.