An extraordinary exchange took place in the House of Commons environment committee a few days ago. It was so extraordinary that it made the news, but only just. A little more exposure, and the 26-year-old yahoos who run the Prime Minister’s Office would have been wishing they’d ordered the whole thing done in camera, just to save themselves the embarrassment.
Harper has named as deputy minister of the environment — the country’s seniormost civil servant on climate change and other environmental problems — one Bob Hamilton. He has an advanced degree in economics and spent two decades in the finance department, which more than qualifies him for tackling a real problem like climate change. Recently Hamilton was hauled before one of our interminable Parliamentary committees to explain his credentials.
And then this happened:
Megan Leslie (NDP): My first question for you, Mr. Hamilton, and it’s a straightforward question… What causes climate change?
Bob Hamilton: Wow. They didn’t tell me I’d have to answer questions like that when I took this job.
Really? Exactly what kind of questions did you think you might need to know the answer to when you took on the post of Canada’s most senior bureaucrat on environmental policy?
This is a stupefying display. It’s almost on par with the B.C. legislature’s infamous “are bacteria fish?” debate. A realistic answer might have begun with “I don’t know all of the scientific literature…” — and indeed, that’s something Hamilton gropes for later on in the proceedings. But “wow, I didn’t think I’d need to know that kind of thing”? Seriously?
Anyways, that’s the part the media caught, but it didn’t end there. Sensing trouble, one of Harper’s tame backbenchers, Stella Ambler leaped into the fray to defend the deputy minister:
Mr. Chair, my understanding from your remarks earlier is that the questions were to be limited in scope to the competence and credentials of our guests today. It doesn’t seem to me, unless there’s something I’m missing, that this would relate at all.
No, I’m sure it doesn’t relate at all. I can’t imagine why the man who runs Environment Canada would need to be familiar with the scientific literature on climate change. That’s like expecting the head of the justice department to give a firm answer on the existence of the Criminal Code. I’m sure in Ambler’s mind Leslie is just angling for another excuse to promote the NDP’s secret carbon tax, and she’s going to head them off at the pass.
Anyways, Leslie responded feistily, so none other than Stephen Woodworth came up to bat for the government next. Yes, Stephen Woodworth, the douchebag whose latest accomplishment was an incredibly obvious attempt to “sneak” an abortion debate into Parliament in the guise of “studying” the definition of life. Oddly, you’d think the study of life would be a scientific issue, and therefore hardly worthy of an august body such as Parliament. But I’m out of order here. I’ll let Stephen tell you himself:
I don’t think his personal knowledge of climate change that one might have to go to school to learn about is relevant.
I couldn’t agree more. Parliament should not ask questions about real science. They should only ask questions about fake science. And school? Yuck! We’ll have none of that here!
Chairman Mark Warawa, antother far-right goon, issued a vague ruling that “we all believe that the environment is very important” (oh, good) but that the focus of Leslie’s questions should be “strictly on the qualifications of the person.”
As a result, Leslie had no choice but to let him off the hook by simplifying the question, saying she “just want(ed) to know if you believe in the existence of man-made climate change.”
Ah! Finally! A simple yes or no answer, one that Hamilton can answer straightforwardly, in direct keeping with the government’s existing, publicly stated policy on the subject. No dallying with silly science, just a quick one-word answer and we’re done with it. Right?
Well, not exactly. Instead, Hamilton Sir Humphreyed his way through one of the most extraordinary answers to a simple yes-or-no question I’ve ever read:
Okay, let me take a run at this.
To answer the question indirectly for the moment, my main responsibility obviously is to run the Department of the Environment and to make sure that the advice we provide is top quality, well thought through, and looks at things from all angles. In that regard, and leading into this question, I’m pleased that within the department, a number of people who have a lot more knowledge and experience about technical and scientific matters of climate change and what causes it and what doesn’t cause it are working away.
One can observe whether the climate is changing. One can construct models about where it might be going. Different predictions can have different probabilities associated with them. However, I do feel that we have the people within Environment Canada, in addition to a number of other people around the world, to enable us to provide sound advice on policies of adaptation to climate change, and how we might mitigate climate change.
I view that as my job. Whatever my personal belief might be, I will endeavour to provide advice to the minister and to the government on what I believe is our best estimate of what’s going on and what I believe is our best policy going forward. Then of course the government has the ability to take that advice with other advice and do what it will with it.
To assure the committee, if you’re looking at my appointment, I’ve had a number of instances in my career, for example, in the tax area, and I’m not sure anybody would call me a tax expert, but I was able to do some good work with a number of people who know the tax system more intimately than I do. I would relate that to Environment Canada here. Whether it’s on the issue of climate change, on the issue of weather prediction—which I’m also not an expert in—I think I know how to corral the resources we have within the department to provide the best advice I can to the government, and that’s what I intend to do.
All cleared up, now?
I’m sorry to keep banging on about this, but this is serious business. If the deputy minister of Health Canada was asked whether she believed in the existence of cancer and responded, “well, that’s a very complex question to answer a straight yes or no to, especially for a non-expert like myself, but to take it on indirectly, I think my main strength has always been to corral expertise to implement government policy,” she would (hopefully) be run out of town on a rail.
Later, Hamilton apparently thought better of his answer and issued a press release saying that he does, in fact, recognize that climate change is real and a serious problem. Thank goodness for that.Tweet