This year's sickly sweet celebration of Earth Week profiled the lead character behind the downturn in the environmental movement since the late 1980s.
The Corporate Knights gala thrown for the disgraced and despised Brian Mulroney, who was chosen best green PM by a group of self-appointed eco-leaders, confirms that no one can Burn It Like Mulroney and still get away it all these years later.
Mulroney was the last prime minister to govern when the green movement was alive and kicking, as well as the master strategist who embedded resistance to environmental progress in the deepest and least visible structures of trade law and taxation.
If you wonder why these same self-appointed environmental leaders haven't built on the militancy and civil disobedience of two decades ago, blame the Tory PM's powers of stealth in leaving the dirty work to the market.
Exposing Mulroney's enviro role has nothing to do with the way he's been demonized in Canadian political culture. Unlike Jean Chretien, who followed him, Mulroney lacked Teflon. Indeed, he occupied the "sour spot" of Canadian politics, directly opposite the sweet spot.
On the left, his fawning style engendered revulsion among the untutored masses who've resented brown-nosers since they were schoolkids. But on the right, his alienation of the West led to the annihilation of the historic Progressive Conservative party and its replacement by Yahoo Conservatives.
He was reviled for his Quebec style, but this is the key to the way he handled the environment file. Quebec politics are often likened to Europe's. Both were formed by decades of militant labour strife; think of Quebec's violent Iron Ore strike of the mid-1950s, René Lévesque's leadership of the 1959 CBC strike or the general strike of 1972, hottest in iron ore country, whence came corporate labour lawyer Mulroney.
This kind of unrest taught the Quebec political elite the importance of consensus and stakeholder politics. A commitment was made to come up with workable plans that didn't exclude any major group. No one was run over roughshod, no matter what party won an election.
One of a government's big jobs was to set up bodies to explore possibilities for consensus and compromise, not to lead the charge against outsiders, as North American neo-conservatives love to do.
As PM, Mulroney simply applied this Euro-Quebec formula to the challenge of dealing with the rambunctious and militant environmentalists of his day. Thus his Green Plan, his National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, and the North American acid rain treaty, which placated a mass movement in Ontario supported by Ontario's feisty environment ministry.
Rather than put the boots to environmentalists, Mulroney incorporated them into the process of managing society-wide issues, just as is done in Quebec.
Other accomplishments of the Mulroney era, such as Canada's signing of United Nations greenhouse gas and biodiversity agreements, were gestures of accommodation that generated no substantive change in Canada or elsewhere.
In a sophisticated political culture, unlike that in which Yahoo Conservatives are raised, gestures are cheap accommodation, and alternatives to rubbing salt in the wounds of critics are welcomed. Better to be banqueted by greens than denounced by them, especially if all it costs is a few talkshops.
Keeping his eye on the prize, Mulroney basked in the broad daylight of meaningless UN statements that Canada has ever since violated, while trusting to North American free trade to do the dirty work of managing the tough issues of the environment file.
Mulroney's success in winning passage of North American free trade was arguably the most important historic setback suffered by Canadian social change movements since Confederation. It's a setback from which we have not begun to recover, partially because free trade is now accepted as inevitable and thereby invisible to all, including those who anointed Mulroney as Canada's greenest prime minister.
Free trade subjected corporations and governments at all levels to the discipline of competition with socially and environmentally unregulated companies from the rising powerhouse of the American Deep South. Later, as free trade logistics took hold, the competition also came from Mexico, and then Asia.
Any corporation that bucked the trend to lower wages or dirtier production methods went belly up. Any government that protected corporations with higher standards was subject to major penalties for interfering with the free market. If Newfoundland's current premier ever tries to move against U.S. corporate giant Exxon, which simply walked away from Newfoundland requests for higher royalties and job creation, we will be reminded of how watertight Mulroney's trade deal was and is.
Mulroney is probably most despised for the GST, though few appreciate that the GST was simply the other boot dropping after North American free trade. Like all sales taxes, the GST is regressive, since it taxes the rich and poor equally, a major move away from progressive taxation - crucial for moving down toward free trade standards.
Even more significant, the GST forces Canadian consumers to subsidize exports. Canadian consumers pay the entire tax bill on goods produced here , a wrenching reversal of previous tax practices, which built taxes in at the point of production so they were passed on to all consumers, including those in foreign lands.
The GST shifted those "hidden" taxes entirely onto the backs of Canadian consumers. This massive tax subsidy to exporters is a major barrier to more local and self-reliant trade, the keystone of an economy that can reduce global warming by limiting road-building and bulk transportation.
As a bonus, the GST ended up reducing the tax on cars, adding a tax to books, but leaving farm pesticides untaxed - quite a hat trick for a green PM.
So if you wonder why Mulroney hasn't been bested as a green prime minister, think of the brilliance that earned him those kudos: the ability to entrench anti-environmentalism in unseen structures while making empty gestures to environmentalists.