Who says coincidences like this only happen in novels? At the very moment when enviro orgs are putting the heat on the McGuinty Libs to pass a private member's bill modelled after one in California that'll let us know if the Shreddies we're buying contain carcinogens, in pops the governor of said state.
Arnold Schwarzenegger reminds us that it may be easier for a Republican bodybuilder to be green than a Liberal premier. Despite the fact that Bill 164, the Community Right To Know Act, has passed second reading and an all-party committee, don't assume it's passage is a slam dunk.
Spearheaded by NDP enviro critic Peter Tabuns, the bill would force companies to list cancer-causing agents on product labels. It would also create a comprehensive and user-friendly online pollution inventory so Ontarians can find out which toxins are emitted in their communities and what risks are associated with them.
You're forgiven if your first thought is, "Wow, shouldn't this stuff be in place already?" You'd think. Which is why Schwarzenegger's photo-op visit is so timely. California has had this type of legislation for 20 years.
While enviros have been busy trying to read Liberal intentions, question period on Tuesday, May 29, created a round of dismay. When Tabuns asked when the bill would get third reading, the only response he received from Government Services Minister Gerry Phillips and Environment Minister Laurel Broten was that the government was sending a letter to Tory federal ministers John Baird and Tony Clement asking them what their plans were for community right-to-know rules.
Then there's the time crunch. The government breaks for the summer on June 28, and it likely won't reconvene until after the next election - October 10.
That means a bottleneck of unfinished government business will push private members' bills to the margins.
"In general, it's hard to get a private member's bill through," says Lisa Clements, spokesperson for government House leader Jim Bradley when I ask about Bill 164. "It is not just the end game [of passing the bill] that's worthwhile," she continues. "The legislature gets to talk about issues they wouldn't otherwise. Often, ideas from private members' bills end up later as part of government policy or legislation."
Is she hinting that the bill is a no-go this time around?
Meanwhile, Tabuns has partnered with the Toronto Environmental Alliance to encourage TEA constituents in its huge database to put the Libs on notice. He's taken to subway stations with a leafletting campaign.
"We know people are concerned about toxic chemicals and cancer. There is a lot of broad support for this," he says.
As for the time crunch, Tabuns is dismissive. "When the premier pushed through his 40-grand pay increase, he did it in eight days from first reading to third," he says. "This is a great opportunity for the Liberals to look green in an election year."
And a great opportunity to look bad if they bury it. At least that's the opinion of more than the usual eco crowd. Doris Grinspun, executive director of the Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario (RNAO), says Bill 164 is the "minimum step to walk the talk of transparency. If people don't know the junk getting into the food chain, into household products, and what toxins are emitted from local dry cleaners, they can't protect themselves."
Grinspun says nurses are on the front line of a cancer epidemic and are beginning to reclaim an environmental vision of nursing that can be traced back to Florence Nightingale. "If the Liberals bury this, we should seriously question their commitment to the environment."
McGuinty is no doubt having fun this week hanging out with a Hollywood action figure who's found political salvation in going green.
It just may be the preem's path, too, which is why he'd be smart to keep folks like Grinspun in his camp. But will he?