Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Why Canadian Environment Minister Resigned

Many theories are circulating as to why Jim Prentice, Canada's Federal environment minister, abandoned the Conservatives for a senior position with a major bank.

Prentice resigned from cabinet in early November to take the position of vice-chairman and senior executive vice-president at the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC). He officially resigned his seat as MP for the riding of Calgary Centre-North in mid November, paving the way for a by-election that could come as quickly as early January.

Prentice has said things like,"The science overall is relatively clear on all of this and as a conservationist and as a responsible environmental steward Canada wants to see carbon emissions reduced." But he was criticized for being neither preservationist nor environmentally responsible.

Prentice’s resignation from cabinet came two days after he announced that the federal government had rejected Taseko Mines’ Prosperity gold-copper project, near Williams Lake, due to the “significant adverse environmental effects.” Some have suggested that this move helps to shore up his environmental credentials and sets up a leadership bid at some point in the future.

Some of his harshest critics have suggested that Prentice's position at the CIBC is a reward for the fact that he has been very good to the oil and gas industries. Prentice will make $5M per year plus benefits at CIBC.

Publicly, he said "it is time for me to pursue new opportunities outside of public life." However, there are other reasons, Prentice has taken a beating from environmentalists, especially during the high profile, COP15 climate-change summit in Copenhagen last year. Environmental activists railed against Prentice during the conference, repeatedly bestowing Canada with the dubious 'Fossil of the Day' distinction.

One of Mr Prentice's collegues in Parliament is Bloc Quebecois MP Pierre Paquette, he described Prentice as, "a very bad minister for environmental issues."

Although better than many Conservatives who have managed this portfolio, Prentice's legacy as environment minister is mixed. He led progress on protected areas, toxic substances, and water quality for First Nations, but he also helped Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper support the environmentally destructive tar sands.

In fairness, there is not much room to work as an environment minister under this Conservative government.

Prentice may be thinking of his own leadership aspirations. Privately, he had been telling people that he didn't expect to be very busy for the next two years. This is due to the fact that Prime Minister Harper takes a continental approach to climate change, any national action on reducing greenhouse gas emissions is tied to reductions in the US. In the wake of recent Republican victories in US midterm elections, movement on climate change has been effectively stymied for at least two years.

It is with good reason that Prentice abandoned a powerless portfolio and distanced himself from the Harper government's deplorable environmental record. Prentice was at the helm of a ministry whose biggest file had effectively been shelved. With the rest of the world increasingly turning to sustainable growth and green jobs, Prentice may have seen the writing on the wall and he may have left before Canadians vote for change.

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