Did Jim Prentice Have A Change Of Heart?

/ Friday, November 5, 2010 /
It's hard to know what the catalyst was for Canada's Minister for the Environment Jim Prentice, resigning on Thursday but speculating about it is irresistible. He's a man who was considered a likely heir to Stephen Harper and hence someone with a real shot at being Prime Minister of Canada. So why would he suddenly step down for a job in the private sector that would in all likelihood always be there for him? Is it possible that his recent decisions as Minister made him less likely to succeed Harper?

 Previous to decisions made in the very recent past (the last seven weeks or so), this was a man whose record on the environment and global warming could only charitably be called "mixed." There was his his hands-off approach and lax standards on oil sands development that had Roger Gibbins, head of Calgary’s Canada West Foundation, calling him the “best energy minister that western Canada has ever had. And looking back at 2009 when the National Post was unabashedly praising him for his standing in the way of taking action on global warming and his promise that Canada would do nothing and sign on to nothing at the Copenhagen conference; he certainly didn't sound like a man who cared very much about the environment. Then, apparently, something changed.

 Without his telling us one can only speculate but recently his decisions have actually been laudable. -- if a bit out of character. Rick Smith, executive director of Environmental Defence, told Toronto's Globe and Mail, “Prentice's decisions in the past couple weeks ... are very good decisions. We'd actually started to hope the tide was turning.”

Then there was the ruling this week that vetoed BC's plans to turn a pristine lake into a tailings dump. Last month it was his successful lobbying of Canadian Pacific Railway that moved them to invest $1-million in ways to reduce the number of grizzly bears, a threatened species in Alberta, being killed on railway tracks in Banff National Park.

More interestingly and importantly about seven weeks ago he he set up a sweeping panel that will review industry-led water monitoring in the oil sands and report back by the end of this month. It's been criticized by environmental groups as too industry friendly but that doesn't fit with the Alberta government's response to the panel that Prentice has created which will make suggestions on how to strengthen monitoring of oil sands pollution. There's word he and the Alberta Minister for the environment are not on friendly terms and he's been called "unpredictable" by Alberta government officials. Interesting choice of words, sounds like he surprised them.

My speculation about Mr. Prentice's possible epiphany begins with the story of cancerous and deformed fish found in the Athabasca river six weeks ago with evidence that watershed destruction was directly caused by the tar sands that has contaminated the river with heavy metals and petroleum compounds called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). You can go listen to Alberta's Environment Minister Rob Renner nauseatingly try and pretend that heavy metals in the Athabasca are as natural an occurrence as three-eyed fish over here. But the evidence is pretty clear:
...the oil sands industry directly adds a rich brew of heavy metals including arsenic, thallium and mercury into the Athabasca river and at levels up to 30 times greater than permitted by pollution guidelines. Many heavy metals can increase the toxicity of PAHs.
From all reports in the media Jim Prentice, who it turns out is an avid fly fisherman, was “disgusted” by images of fish pulled from an oil sands river with sores and deformities. I'm guessing he didn't swallow the line that this was somehow naturally occurring. There does seem to be a change of tone in regards to his portfolio. Perhaps while people were busy trying to paper over the tragic state of the Athabasca River he simply remembered that he is a moderate and doesn't need to be forwarding Harper's agenda. If anything it's that which would severely hamper his having a shot at being Prime Minister.

Given the kind of man he is, it's not likely we'll know anytime soon why he recently started behaving like a Minister for the environment should or why he left but he will leave behind one clue: At the end of the month we'll find out how effective that panel he set up is and was meant to be and maybe whether or not he decided the environment trumped politics.



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