David Staples: Trudeau's botched job serves up brilliant opportunity for cowardly Conservatives. Will they take advantage?

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A botched job by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has served up a brilliant opportunity for the Conservatives. Will they take advantage? Or will they keep on dithering and dallying, impressing no one, certainly not any moderate swing voters?

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Whether federal Conservatives like it or not, and whether this perception is fair or not, they’ve become the party of yesterday, the party of bald heads and expanding waistlines, of crackpot notions, cowardly politics and electoral defeat. They are written off by many as anti-vaxxers, climate change deniers and Trump adjacent xenophobes.

But Trudeau’s major mistake — his appointment of Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault, a man so stunningly misguided he’s spent his adult life fighting ferociously against nuclear power, the single best solution to climate change — has created a pile of free money as big as the CN Tower.

It’s sitting there in the middle of the table for the taking, all that political capital ready to go to any federal party that comes up with a credible climate change plan that won’t pulverize the economy, as the Liberal plan surely will, but will also reduce emissions, as plans built around nuclear power have always done.

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With the anti-nuclear Guilbeault leading the charge, the Liberals are pushing the same botched energy policies that have led to spectacular failures in California and Germany, where emissions failed to drop much but power prices shot ever higher. This weak outcome has been largely due to the rejection of nuclear power by old school Guilbeault-esque climate dinosaurs in those jurisdictions, the type of fossil thinkers still mesmerized by now debunked anti-nuclear dogma that was in vogue when David Suzuki was still in his prime.

If a huge part of the reason for being a politician is to fight climate change — and that’s certainly Trudeau’s brand — it’s hard to imagine a more fundamental mistake than appointing a climate change minister who would have shut down all of Canada’s nuclear reactors years ago if he’d had his way.

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It speaks to a blind spot in the Liberals. They evidently can’t see or process various realities about functional and low-carbon modern power grids, including analysis by Dr. Chris Keefer, president of Canadians for Nuclear Energy, that Canadian nuclear provided 90 per cent of the energy required for the Ontario coal phase-out, widely recognized as North America’s greatest greenhouse gas reduction.

But even with Trudeau’s blunder, that doesn’t mean the Conservatives have the guts and the smarts to grab that free money, which is why I was keen to ask Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner, the party’s new natural resources critic, about Guilbeault’s appointment.

“We need to address climate action living in reality, not in a fantasy world…,” she said. “If you want to have climate action, you have to have somebody who understands the operating parameters. And he doesn’t. It’s a huge problem.”

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Other countries around the world see nuclear as a “no-brainer,” Rempel Garner said, but nuclear wasn’t mentioned in Guilbeault’s mandate letter . “That’s very concerning to me.”

I’d call it more than concerning.

The Liberals are taking an alarming, anti-science approach. It’s a recipe for out-of-control energy costs and certain failure on slashing emissions.

But the Conservatives are going to have to sharpen their attack, starting with a demand for Guilbeault to resign over his long-time anti-nuclear rhetoric.

Too aggressive, you say?

Having a staunch anti-nuclear advocate file leading our climate change initiative would be like having Maxime Bernier in charge of Canada’s vaccine initiative, I say.

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Calling for Guilbeault’s resignation would be dramatic, but it’s the kind of wake-up call needed to announce to Canadians that the Conservatives take climate change seriously, have a credible plan to address it and won’t accept failed Liberal policy on this matter.

The Conservatives have had the most pro-nuclear policy in the last two elections. They’ve also finally recognized the power of Indigenous groups when it comes to the development of mines and pipelines, as well as the tremendous potential for economic reconciliation that those same projects offer to First Nations.

But the party has been utterly unfocused, undisciplined and, it seems to me, cowardly when it comes to pushing nuclear expansion and Indigenous partnership in natural resources as their key message on energy issues and economic reconciliation with First Nations.

Instead of being their main talking points in the last two elections, they were rarely mentioned.

Instead of being a trump card to throw down on Trudeau’s weak hand at every turn, the Conservatives folded.

If the Conservatives want to keep losing, they’re on the right path.

dstaples@postmedia.com

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