No 94 Posted by fw and Helga Wintal, December 10, 2010
“Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience.” Howard Zinn from Failure to Quit
Today, reading about the Toronto woman who received a threatening email from former Stephen Harper adviser, Tom Flanagan, brought back unsettling memories of a day in November 2009 when Harper MP Jeff Watson stood up, leaned across the desk in his constituency office, glared at me — a senior citizen — and in a loud, angry tone, threatened: “I’ll throw you out of my office on your ear!” (For an account of the Flanagan story, see Tom Flanagan threatened me over WikiLeaks comment Toronto woman says.
My partner, Helga Wintal, and I were two of a delegation of five people who had been granted an appointment to meet with MP Jeff Watson to share our concerns about the Harper government’s climate change policies. Since Mr. Watson did most of the talking, Part 1 of this two-part post focuses primarily on his recitation of the Harper government’s position on climate change. Part 2 presents an opposing viewpoint prepared primarily by Helga with some input from me. In fact, the bulk of the content in both parts was prepared by Helga, who had taken extensive detailed notes during our meeting with the MP.
It’s important to note that when our delegation showed up at the MP’s constituency office, his assistant remarked that we would probably have, at most, about half an hour with him. This time factor influenced the manner in which I presented my questions to the MP. As it turned out, however, we were in his office for over two hours.
Our delegation’s opening remarks
Our group, three representing Kairos, and two, Helga and I, attending as concerned citizens, made three opening points:
MP Watson’s response
Declining to sign the Politician’s Pledge, Mr. Watson indicated that he was very familiar with the Kyoto and Kyoto Plus objectives through his involvement with the Environment Committee. He emphasized that the Harper government had been studying these matters for three years. He went on to make these points:
Playing dice with the future of the planet
At this point in his recitation of the Harper approach to climate change Jeff Watson made, what I thought, was this astounding admission:
“If we get this wrong and if doomsday kicks in — in the future — then it kicks in. We couldn’t do anything to change it at that point.“
Continuing his review, the government’s plan included:
By the time the discussion got around to my questions, time was running short. Mindful of the “half-hour” advisory we had been given, I said that I had ten questions that could be answered with a simple “yes/no” response. Here are my questions along with the Watson’s responses to them:
1. Do you believe that human activities are contributing to climate change?
MP Watson: “Yes.”
2. Do you believe that climate change is a serious threat to the health and wellbeing of Canadians?
MP Watson: “Yes, it can be. So is pollution.”
3. Do you believe that the reports of the International Panel on Climate Change are scientifically reliable?
MP Watson: “I don’t know. I don’t know if their targets are reliable. I don’t know how to assess the scientists’ recommendations when they talk about social policy issues.”
4. Do you believe that climate change is a serious threat to the health and well-being of people living in the developing world?
MP Watson : “Yes. It affects people globally.”
5. Do you believe that CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions originating in Canada have any harmful effect on the health and wellbeing of people living in the developing world?
MP Watson: “Yes. The developing world also produces emissions.”
6. Do you and your government accept moral responsibility for contributing to human suffering caused by climate change?
MP Watson: “Yes, to some extent. The issue is one of degree and how much. This gets into the area of climate reparations. China is a major emitter and has the money for green technology.”
7. Do you believe that your government’s environmental policies and programs effectively protect the health and wellbeing of Canadians from the worst effects of CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions?
MP Watson: “Yes. I am satisfied with what the government has done this far.”
8. Does it concern you at all that if your government’s environmental policies turn out to be wrong, and scientists’ worst nightmare predictions come true, then you/your government will have contributed to global catastrophic consequences?
MP Watson: He hesitated and seemed uncertain how to respond.
In an attempt to clarify the question, I may have said something like this: “Do you think your government is infallible?” or “Do you think you are infallible?”
MP Watson: It was at this point, that Mr. Watson said that he understood where “this line of questioning was leading”. He stood up, accused me of trying to put words into his mouth, leaned across his desk and, in an angry tone, said that if I persisted, “I’ll throw you out of my office on your ear.”
His intimidating threat effectively ended my Q&A session. From this point on, the “discussion” was somewhat one-sided as Mr. Watson completed his review of the Harper government’s position on climate change:
When a member of our group noted that a majority of Canadians listed the environment as their main concern and might support strong government leadership, the MP conceded that while a minority might accept major changes, most people he talked to were more concerned about the economy and lived paycheque to paycheque. The main concerns he was hearing related to the Harmonized Sales Tax.
In conclusion, it was apparent that MP Watson and the group representing Kairos and concerned citizens had a fundamental disagreement about adopting the Kyoto plus targets and about how far and how fast to proceed in reducing Canada’s CO2 emissions.
Immediately following this meeting, I sent an apologetic email to the other members of our delegation, accepting that it was my questions that provoked Jeff Watson’s outburst. I received this reply from one member of our group:
“No need to apologize. You weren’t abusive in any way. There was no reason for Jeff Watson to threaten to throw you out on your ear, although that did make it interesting. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I still can’t get over the doomsday scenario comments. He scared the hell out of me, and I still feel a little disorientated about it.”