Sometimes there's a fine line between hopefulness and gullibility.
It sure looked like a huge victory for enviros just before Christmas when the Tories gave an all-party committee a clean slate to rewrite the feds' much-jeered-at Clean Air Act.
But now that the process is heading for its D-Day on Friday (March 30), things look a lot different.
First the good news: amendments to the act will probably make it Kyoto-compliant. It looks like the Libs, NDP and the Bloc have come to an agreement on targets that would see heavy industry forced to dramatically cut emissions to Kyoto levels.
But don't get too excited. The better the act gets in committee, the less likely it is that it will ever see the light of day as legislation.
Indeed, Tory reaction to the revisions will be the litmus test of whether the government really gives a damn about climate change or is simply pulling the collective Canadian chain, waiting for the perfect storm of opportunity to call an election.
Harper allowed the legislation to go before committee, an unusual move after first reading, under pressure from Jack Layton. But the PM may have no intention of fixing the legislative dud and may simply be calculating that opposition members on the committee will be unable to agree, hence bogging the process down so the bill never returns to the House.
So in a tidy little manoeuvre, Harper could then go to the electorate claiming he'd tried for a comprehensive climate change bill, but the opposition failed to get it together.
Well, that scenario looks fried. The Climate Action Network recently issued a statement congratulating opposition committee members on reaching an intelligent consensus.
"I don't think the government fully grasped what it was doing by allowing the act to go to committee after first reading," says Mark Winfield of enviro think tank the Pembina Institute. "What comes back can be a completely different bill."
Liberal committee member John Godfrey says that is exactly what will happen. "The paradox in all this is that if we take the Conservatives at their word and radically rewrite the bill to meet the criticism we all had in the first place, then I don't know how the Tories can introduce it as their bill," he says from Ottawa between committee meetings.
But since the government controls the agenda of the House, Harper can simply bury Bill C-30 if it isn't to his liking. "The government wants to be defeated so it can call an election," says U of T poli-sci prof Nelson Wiseman.
"But the last thing they will run on is something they aren't strong on, like the environment."
So were we all played for dupes? "Anyone who thought the Conservatives would just do emission targets is dreaming," says Nathan Cullen, NDP environment critic and committee member.
"There needs to be all sorts of political pressure to force these guys to the table," Pembina's Winfield agrees. He points to a Grit private member's bill that passed recently without Tory support, forcing the government to come forward with a comprehensive plan to reach Kyoto targets within 60 days. "Some of this is symbolic, but it is also awkward for the government."
If the Clean Air Act crashes and burns, says Cullen, many incremental shifts in government policy are still possible, perhaps including the emissions credit system recently mentioned by Enviro Minister John Baird.
Harper can try to do an end run around the committee's work, Cullen says, but at the end of the day "this issue needs to enter the rarefied air of non-partisanship" to really deal with the climate change emergency."