John Baird Appointed Environment Minister??

The Toronto Star reports that John Baird is to be appointed as Environment Minister, replacing the hapless Rona Ambrose.  Surely we jest.

Mr. Baird was Energy Minister in Ontario from August 2002-Oct 2003, in the Ernie Eves government.  This was the government that introduced the 4.3 cent price cap on electricity prices, running the provincial electricity debt up by millions.  That one move destroyed the nascent green retail market in the stroke of a pen.  The government offered a $75 rebate cheque to all electricity consumers in a brazen but unsuccessful attempt to buy votes.  Conservation initiatives by consumers had become in vogue before the price cap, as consumers invested in energy conservation due to higher electricity prices.  The price cap set back conservation by years.

After the price cap was introduced in November 2002, there was not a single commercial scale wind turbine built in the  province for 3 1/2 years.  The government intervened heavily in the market, offering subsidized prices that destroyed business confidence among electricity generators, and destroyed incentives to conserve.

At one time there was a rumour flying around that the turbine at the CNE was consuming power in order to turn, as if it were a fan.  It was one of the daffier ideas about wind that I have ever heard.  But it hit the Energy Minister’s ears, and reportedly he had concerns that it was true.  How can you understand climate change if you don’t understand energy?

Mr. Baird, like most Harris Conservatives, has an overriding belief in free markets.  But his government had a dreadful track record in interfering in those so called “free markets”.  And the problem with energy markets is that they are not free.  The subsidies lavished on fossil and nuclear ensure that the playing field is tipped in their favour, and that the prices in the market do not reflect costs.  And then of course there is the issue of external effects.  Who pays for smog?  The asthmatic child and her family.  Who pays for climate change?  All of us will, but the drought stricken farmer in the Sahel region of Africa, or the Pacific Island fisherman, whose reef is bleached and washed away pays with his life.  Who pays to store nuclear waste for generations?  Who pays if there is a major nuclear accident?  “Free markets” don’t work with external effects.  And they work even worse when government subsidies are in place.

The good news about Mr. Baird is that as energy minister, decisions were almost all made by the Premier’s office.  The electricity file was so sensitive, it was considered too important to leave to the Minister.  This type of arrangement is a core competence of the New Government of Canada.  Let’s hope that Stephen Harper’s office has some people who do understand environmental issues, and climate change.  Indeed, let’s pray they do.

God bless earth.

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