There's a perfect storm brewing across the land, and depending on how you like your weather, it signals either the country's slide into enviro hell or the start of our climb out to greener pastures.
This week the Tories start trotting out their enviro platform, and at the end of the month the special committee on Harper's joke of a Clean Air Act resumes its attempt at a repair job.
And finally the political planets seem to be aligning in a way that benefits Canada's long-suffering environmental movement.
"The movement has never been in this position before," says John Bennett, executive director of Climate Action Network Canada, a coalition of the country's main enviro groups, including Greenpeace and the Suzuki Foundation. "I managed to save a bird feeder in Mississauga once, but now climate change is the big national issue."
He's talking about the huge public opinion spike on global warming issues and the resulting political jousting between federal parties over who gets to cash in on it. But the enviros have their own angst over how to play the newly dealt cards.
"On the one hand, there is concern that we will be used to make this very right-wing government appear to be doing the right thing," says Bennett. "On the other, there is a push to strike while the iron is hot and make a backroom deal," he says, referring to NDP pressure on the Tories to amend their laughable Clean Air Act.
This dilemma reflects another: while it's difficult to find any green anywhere who believes Harper is serious about climate change, he may be the only political player in the country who can actually deliver the goods. Why? Because he doesn't have to worry about losing votes in Alberta.
No matter what he does, they're stuck with him and by introducing tough measures on big polluters, conservation and renewable energy, he'll pick up votes elsewhere.
"Harper could be the guy to make the difference," says Bennett. "Look at Schwarzenegger in California. He was diving in the polls until he realized the environment was the way to go."
But forcing the oil and gas sector to go green will be a dogfight no matter who takes it on. According to the World Wildlife Federation's Keith Stewart, between 1996 and 2002 taxpayers subsidized the oil and gas biz to the tune of $8.3 million, $1.2 million of which went to tar sands development. "Government has a huge role to play in transforming the market and bringing on clean power,' he says.
Still, the idea of doing anything that would result in a majority Conservative government in the next election makes some activists sick.
"There's incredible discomfort about working on this with the Conservatives," says Myles Kitagawa, associate director of Edmonton-based Toxics Watch Society of Alberta. "It makes me feel like I'm being set up to help them win a majority."
What the Harperites will actually accomplish on the green file, ironically, may have a lot to do with whether the PM listens to his Alberta base. Environmentalists there say the scale and pace of energy sector growth has created an alliance of lefty urban enviros and rural landowners feeling first-hand the impact of rampant development. It's hard to know how important this tie will actually be, but Kitagawa insists we take it seriously.
"Rural grassroots activism is a powerful political presence that environmental activists are using to frame the debate," says Kitagawa. "The bridging of these two interests is what Harper is responding to."
But it's not just the oil patch's ecological fallout that threatens mainstream Albertans' lifestyle. There's also the labour shortage. "Some restaurants can only offer parts of their menu because they don't have the staff to prepare the food. Hotels are closing down floors because they can't staff them," says Kitagawa. "If you don't work in the energy sector, you generally make quite a bit less."
Ricardo Acuna of University of Alberta's Parkland Institute doesn't join others in worrying that the Tories will reap the reward for any greenhouse gas initiatives. If the opposition parties can resist the inclination to bicker and present a unified front, he says, the kudos will be theirs.
"If Harper doesn't come through he'll be punished," he says. "And if some good legislation gets passed, you can be sure the opposition parties will take the credit."
Whether opposition parties and enviro groups can all stay on the same page while we ride this roller coaster is a big question. Already there's been a public disagreement between NDP leader Jack Layton and CAW president Buzz Hargrove over Layton's call for immediate emissions reductions from cars. Hargrove blasted Layton, saying such cuts would mean job losses in the auto sector. "I get up one morning and Layton's calling for stringent emissions standards effective immediately. Jack didn't talk to me about this first,' Hargrove says.
But it's a confusing dust-up since NDP officials don't know why the CAW chief was pissed. "[Layton] never called for immediate cuts; that's impossible,' says NDP enviro critic Nathan Cullen. "If that's what Hargrove read, then he'd have cause for concern."
In fact, Hargrove is a Kyoto supporter, and the CAW, the NDP and Greenpeace hashed out a green car strategy in 2003 that calls for, among other things, a 25 per cent improvement in fuel efficiency for all cars by 2010. "If there is a disconnect, it isn't on our end,' Hargrove says.
This bit of miscommunication underscores the fragility of the coalition that opposes Harper yet must work with him.
So what lines in the sand are being drawn at this moment of eco promise? According to the Climate Action Network, they include: reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from industry and cars to an average of 6 per cent below 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012 (right now we are 24 per cent above 1990 levels, due primarily to the Alberta tar sands development), 12,000 to 13,000 megawatts of renewable energy and conservation initiatives like the Energuide program, as well as an arm's-length climate crisis agency to help Canadians reduce emissions.
"We want to see hard targets for emitters in the legislation so the minister can't use the common practice of going behind closed doors and establishing weak regulations once the legislation is passed," says Bennett. "It's time for us to start thinking big instead of small."