Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Toronto Star and the "Mainstream" (read: Liberal) Position on the Environment

The Toronto Star has a bit of a reputation for going on journalistic crusades every now and then, forcing issues into headlines which otherwise might not make the cut. More often than not, the Star’s investigative style of journalism has led to some real changes in government. Take the Greenbelt for example, brought about by the Dalton McGuinty Provincial Liberal government after repeated reports in the Star about the need to preserve agricultural areas in Toronto’s hinterland and the need to curb urban sprawl. What’s printed in the Toronto Star can end up being referred to in Question Period. Decision-makers are very aware that of the Star’s influence.

As a frequent reader of the Toronto Star, I’ve been noticing lately that they’ve been devoting a bit more coverage than usual to the issue of climate change. Could this be the Star’s latest cause?
Let’s hope so...and let’s hope not. The Toronto Star, while in my opinion one of the better mainstream media outlets in Canada, is not going to be taking up the torch to move its readers (and governments) far enough along the spectrum of thinking to get us to the point that we need to be at. In other words, the Toronto Star, often criticized as being a "Liberal mouthpiece", really is just that, and frankly should not be considered a friend of the Green Party on environmental issues (although James Travers at the Star has been pretty good about bringing issues regarding the democratic deficit to the attention of readers).

The editorial position of the Star is quite in-line with the Liberal Party. On first blush, it might sound pretty good to Green Party supporters too, but then the hair-splitting kicks in. Readers of this blog likely would be able to spot these nuanced differences between Liberal and Green policy issues without batting an eyelash. But how many of those Canadians who cast ballots for our Party in the last election understand that these little differences are actually extremely significant, and will lead to quite different outcomes if implemented?

One of the challenges our Party will face as we campaign in the next election will be to communicate our policy positions to Canadians. By and large, Canadians continue to rely on major media for their information, and clearly the way in which Canadians cast their ballots are influenced by the media. Some may suggest that a national election campaign is the very worst time to have a discussion about policy, given the media’s preoccupation with sweater-vests, pooping puffins and that sort of thing.

I certainly wouldn’t want to have to rely on the media to communicate Green Party policy to Canadians, much less how that policy differs from that of the other Parties. The whole issue of communicating with potential voters, though, is not one I’m prepared to tackle in this blog. What I’d prefer to focus on is why recent and expected messaging about climate change coming out of one of Canada’s major media outlets is going to be problematic for our Party, and the need to start thinking about how we are going to counter these perceptions.

Here’s a quick summation of the Toronto Star’s editorial position on climate change and energy. Keep in mind that this is only my own opinion of the Star’s position, and that since I don’t endorse this position, my own bias will have likely crept into the mix. Also keep in mind that a paper such as the Toronto Star will never be able to present to the public a completely unified "position" in the same way that a government or a political party is able to, so the use of the term "position" in this circumstance requires a little flexibility.


Nuclear energy is a necessary, if expensive part of Ontario’s energy mix. More investment in alternative energy, such as wind, solar, biomass, is necessary, but let’s not lose sight of the fact that the lights need to stay on and nuclear is the only form of greenhouse-gas free energy we have.

Climate Change

More action needs to be taken to address climate change issues. The Conservatives have been dithering, but the good news is Barack Obama is leading the way in the U.S. and Canada will be forced to follow. Obama’s climate change combatting initiatives will be good for North America.

Carbon Pricing

While Stephane Dion’s call for a "carbon tax" was a courageous and bold initiative of the Liberal Party, he failed to sell it to Canadians because no one wants to be taxed, and because Stephen Harper and the Conservatives were successful in portraying the former Liberal Leader as inept. The good news is that a North American cap and trade system will be a fine substitute.

The Tar Sands

The environmental destruction caused by the Alberta Oil sands is something no one likes to think about, so don’t. As much as we’d rather not have to worry about these dirty oil sands, the fact is that they are driving the Canadian economy. Pity the jobs are all in Alberta, but good thing the environmental degradation is out there too. Something is going to have to be done about cleaning things up in the near future. Let’s hope someone comes along with a big idea soon, and maybe carbon capture and storage is that idea.


Municipalities need better tools to build their own, greener futures, including new reliable sources of revenues. Urban sprawl is bad news, but we need to recognize that not everyone is going to want to live in a condo in downtown Toronto (even though they would love the experience if they ever tried it!). Choosing investments in public transit over new roads for cars is what our municipal governments should be doing, but we can’t lose sight that cars will remain king, so let’s keep those gas prices down.


In yesterday’s Toronto Star, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair waxed eloquently about the United States bold new initiative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 17% by 2020. To do this, Blair told us that we’ll need to increase our reliance on renewable energy sources, and that clean, nuclear energy will be the energy choice of the future. This was accompanied by an editorial telling all that there are finally some welcome changes in the wind on the climate change file as a result of the U.S. moving toward a cap and trade system.

Today, Star columnist Gillian Steward, former editor of the Calgary Herald, had nothing but praise for Ignatieff’s bold recognition of the prominent place in the hearts and minds and wallets of Canadians that the Alberta oil sands plays. She concludes that Iggy will benefit from capturing a decent chunk of Alberta’s votes as a result.

The Toronto Star would likely suggest that its position on environmental issues represents both mainstream and mainstreet thinking. It might even contrast its position with that of the Conservative Party and Government of Canada, as the Star can also clearly see the inaction taken on environmental issues. Certainly since the Toronto Star and the Liberal Party seem to be on the same page on environmental issues, one could stand to conclude that the Liberal’s environmental (I’m at a loss for a word here, since "policy" seems way too strong...direction? desire? motivation?) mojo is also reflective of a mainstream Canadian view.

(as an aside, I get a kick out of reading the climate-change deniers comments beneath any and every Toronto Star article which assumes that climate change is real...looks like the workings of Conservative Party hacks to me. I can’t help but wonder, however, if these comment sections in the e-news media are having much in the way of influence, or whether they’re just time wasters?)

I, for one, would suggest that the Liberals are representative of "mainstream" Canada on this issue. The Liberals, under Michael Ignatieff, as reported by the Star, are doing a fine job on environmental issues, although maybe a little more depth to his position would help flesh things out a bit, but no worry about that, that’ll come along after the summer bbq circuit is over.

Iggy is doing a great job. Full stop. Why? Because he’s not Stephen Harper (who hasn’t done a thing, except to obscure the whole issue). And because he’s not Stephane Dion, who failed to sell "his" bold vision of taxing carbon to Canadians. I mean, in this context, how can Iggy go wrong?

And for the Toronto Star, on issues related to the environment, Ignatieff’s "pragmatic" approach will certainly be the one the Star’s editors play up as it goes on its latest journalistic crusade. And we Greens, as a result, should be worrying. And figuring out ways to get our own message out. Because you and I both know that when it comes to taking action on the environment, there is no bloody difference between Michael Ignatieff and Stephen Harper.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Easily I agree but I dream the collection should prepare more info then it has.