Media Coverage of Environmental Issues in Canada. Arguments, discussion, historical background

Submitted Assignment 2016 16 Pages

Politics - International Politics - Environmental Policy



1. Introduction

2. The three domestic variables

3. Climate policy integration: Canadian federal and provincial levels

4. Canadian federal and provincial revenue sharing

5. North American Policy regime: US - Canada climate policies

6. Historical and Academic context of newspaper articles

7. Portrayal of academic arguments in newspaper articles

8. Conclusion

9. Bibliography

1. Introduction

When referring to environmental issues in terms of politics, it is important to note that such issues not only affect politics, but also have an effect on the social, and economic aspects of a country, especially its people. The main goal of this research paper is to assess the media coverage of environmental issues in Canadian politics. This refers to how the Canadian media tends to frame such issues and how informed the coverage of such issues are. In order to do this, this paper is going to use four different academic readings as well as two newspapers, namely: the National Post and the Globe and Mail to evaluate the quality of such coverage. The paper in question will focus on environmental policies in the political field, especially those concerned with climate change.

Environmental policies have remained a very delicate and important part of Canadian policy for a long period of time. This is because they tend to affect the domestic and international wellbeing of the country and as such must be handled with extreme caution. This is reflected in the themes associated with the academic sources used for this paper, which will be in the first section. The body of the paper is divided into seven sections. The first four sections have to do with the main themes discussed in the academic sources, and how these themes are stated in the newspaper articles. That is, if they are covered in the articles or not. The third section examines if the newspaper articles include academic or historical facts. Next, the paper shows the extent to which academic arguments are portrayed in the articles –that is, overstating or understating academic arguments. The last section gives a summary of the paper, evaluating media coverage on environmental issues.

2. The three domestic variables

In terms of Canada’s relationship with the United States in regard to the Kyoto protocol, Kathryn Harrison (2007), recognizes “three domestic variables” that determines a country’s position on climate change policies, both internally and internationally. These variables include “the electoral incentives of politicians, their ideas –both causal and normative, and the institutional context”.[1] These variables refer to public opinion, including their actions and insight in regards to environmental policies, the politicians’ knowledge about climate change and their individual values, as well as the kind of political institutions –Canada’s Westminster parliamentary system, the United States’ separation of power, and party discipline –present in the country, and the institutional capacity of their leaders.[2] This theme is partly covered in the Globe and Mail article written by Campbell Clark, taking note of the institutional capacity of Justin Trudeau during the Canadian internal climate change talks. The article mentions how the premiers of the largest provinces – including Ontario, Quebec, and Alberta, are in support of Trudeau’s climate change policies. When reviewing the article, the concept of party discipline is also talked about, stating how the premiere of Nova Scotia, Stephen McNeil, took the “half-loaf of principles” mentioned by Trudeau even though he was concerned about carbon pricing.[3]

According to Harrison, (2007) Prime Minster Chrétien was able to convince his cabinet minsters that were skeptical about ratifying the Kyoto protocol by taking advantage of the parliamentary system’s strong party discipline (p.112). There is also evidence of the knowledge and norm variable in the article. This has to do with the fact that, although the premiers all agreed to the fact that emissions have to be cut by 30%, and that there is a need for carbon pricing as well as emissions targets, not all of them are ready to commit to such changes or policies. A review of the National Post article written by Kelly McParland on March 3 also expands on this part of the theme. It mentions how the premiers of Saskatchewan and Newfoundland were against the carbon pricing policies even before the meeting took place.[4] As such, although they agree with the fact that there is a need for carbon emission policies, they are however not ready to comply with the federal government. This explains Smith’s observation that “norm-building is cheap and implementation is not (as cited in Harrison, 2007, p.114).”[5] This is because they want to be able to reduce carbon emissions as they see fit –instead of a federal carbon pricing policy for the remaining states without it, they want to put their own policies in place.

A review of the National Post article, by Jason Fekete takes note of one of the three important variables that influence a country’s position of climate policies –that is the way public opinion, including voters, interest groups, environmentalists, trade unions, and businesses, influences politicians’ decisions concerning climate policies. The article notes how the risk of job losses and damages to energy- intensive sectors are making the public upset about carbon price policies, especially in Saskatchewan.[6] This variable, although not enough, helps to explain why certain policies are either implemented or rejected. Strong opposition to climate change policies by some of public will be instrumental in whether policy-makers fight for a policy or not. Public opinion also helps the government to know where the public stands on a particular issue. Another important point to note is the way the media can help in shaping such public opinions. It is possible for the media to cover stories that are in favour of opposition to climate change policies. While it is true that the media can be honest in certain cases, the survival of the media, depends on them earning profit. That said there is a high probability for them to cover stories or print ads that will benefit them financial. According to Herman and Chomsky (1988), “the media’s purpose is to serve the needs and interests of the elites who largely benefit from the kinds of policies that comprise neo-liberal economics –that is, the economic, social, and political interests of the elites” (as cited in Good, 2008, p.234).[7]

In instances where the resources of those opposed to certain policies outweigh that of supporters; it becomes difficult to initiate such policies. For example, Harrison (2007) mentions that in 2002, “a business community placed a series of newspaper ads across Canada, arguing that the ratification of the Kyoto protocol would put Canadian business at a severe disadvantage relative to the United States…”(p.107). This may either help some politicians in avoiding the passing of some policies, or may on the other hand make it difficult for those who want certain policies to be passed, thus affecting the other two variables. It should however be noted that such actions are not always effective. As long as a leader has the institutional capacity to implement certain policies, there is a chance that it will happen. Harrison (2007) states that Prime Minister Chrétien “was able to support the ratification of the Kyoto protocol despite significant opposition from businesses and the provinces…” (p.112). She also talks about the fact that the variables influence one another by noting that Chrétien’s “… conversion to environmentalism came at the end of his political career, where there was an easier tradeoff between personal values and electoral interests” (p.112).

3. Climate policy integration: Canadian federal and provincial levels

The question of who should be involved in climate change policies –federal and provincial involvement –is another important theme that is discussed in the academic readings. This is because such involvement may have both positive and negative consequences when it comes to the impact of climate change policies. When policies that are carried out by all government levels are not properly integrated or coordinated, there is the risk of higher costs (Snoddon and Wigle, 2009, p.10), higher emissions rates, implementation problems, and inter-provincial conflict. According to Snoddon and Wigle (2009):

“In Canada the climate change policy environment is currently fragmented. Both the federal government and the provinces are implementing or proposing their own initiatives, often with little thought about how they will interact with those of other governments. While multiple governments operating in the same policy field is not a unique situation in Canada, in the case of climate change this approach can be costly and environmentally ineffective…” (P.1).

As a result, the policies will become ineffective, costly and may become stagnant. Lachapelle, Borick, and Rabe (2012), add that the withdrawal of Canada from the Kyoto protocol was in part due to the disagreement between the federal government and the provincial government on what to do concerning climate change (p.344). They also address the fact that “heterogeneous sub-federal interests have produced a policy stalemate at the federal level…”(p.344).

The review of the National Post article by Bruce Cheadle points out how the federal government promised to impose a national carbon price if the provinces were unable to agree. This relates to Snoddon and Wigle’s (2009) statement, “a federal carbon tax can be introduced almost immediately (and, if necessary, without agreement by the provinces)” (p.18). The effects and how effective the policies or regulations will be is also pointed out in the article –“ The issue is going to be, how high is that price, how tough or stringent? If the regulation is not really changing anything, the implicit price is zero.”[8] The review of the articles used for this paper notes the inter-governmental conflicts that arise due to climate policy initiatives. Rabe et al (2012) stated that a number of surveys showed that “… the public places a general responsibility on the federal level, indicating that the national, state, and local governments all have the responsibility to address the issue of climate change” (p.344).

There is also the issue of how to incorporate both provincial and federal policies due to the decentralized nature of the Canadian government, where individual provinces make their own climate change policies, and also where the federal government imposes national climate change policies. The federal government may also decide to work together with the provinces to set up climate change policies. This is covered in the Globe and Mail article by Shawn McCarthy, stating how “Ottawa will work with industry and the provinces to establish national regulations for the sources of methane…”[9] In certain cases, the provinces adopt certain climate policies since the federal government lacks the initiative to implement them. According to Lachapelle, Borick, and Rabe (2012), one reason for support for provincial policy initiatives is due to the lack of federal engagement on the issue (p.345). They also point out that, although some people may be against “sub-federal policy initiatives” due to the “free rider problem and the issue of equity”, there is still a strong support for such unilateral provincial policies (p.346). This “helps to explain the recent policy innovations undertaken by some of the provinces…” (p.346). Examples of such provinces are Quebec and British Columbia, who already have carbon tax policies (Snoddon and Wigle, 2009, p.4) and are both members of the Western Climate Initiative (WCI). Rivers (2010) also mentions the failure of the federal government to move beyond modest spending and voluntary measures to reduce national GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions levels (as cited in Lachapelle, Borick, and Rabe, 2012, p.343).


[1] Kathryn Harrison. The Road not taken: “Climate change policy in Canada and the United States in Global Environmental Politics vol. 7:4 (2007): 93.

[2] Harrison, Global Environmental Politics, 96.

[3] Campbell Clark, “Premiers’ climate change meeting long on principles, short on specifics,” The Globe and Mail, March 4, 2016, http:// http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/premiers-climate-change-meeting-long-on-principles-short-on-specifics/article29040659/

[4] Kelly McParland, “Premiers unite against Ottawa’s carbon plan before the first gavel has banged,” The National Post, March 3, 2016, http:// http://news.nationalpost.com/full-comment/kelly-mcparland-premiers-unite-against-ottawas-carbon-plan-before-the-first-gavel-has-banged

[5] Harrison, Global Environmental Politics, 114.

[6] Jason Fekete, “Environment minister pushes for carbon pricing despite worries it could ‘kneecap’ energy sector,” The National Post, February 19, 2016, http://news.nationalpost.com/news/environment-minister-pushes-for-carbon-pricing-despite-worries-it-could-kneecap-energy-sector

[7] Jennifer Ellen Good, “The Framing of Climate Change in Canadian, American, and International Newspapers: A Media Propaganda Model Analysis,” Canadian Journal of Communication, vol 33(2008): 234.

[8] Bruce Cheadle, “Premiers agree to carbon pricing as part of national climate strategy,” The National Post, March 3, 2016, http://news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/canadian-politics/premiers-agree-carbon-pricing-to-be-part-of-overall-climate-plan

[9] Shawn McCarthy, “Trudeau vows to clamp down on methane emissions,” The National Post, March 10, 2016, http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/industry-news/energy-and-resources/us-canada-agree-to-methane-emissions-cut-to-fight-climate-change/article29129124/


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Media Environment Canada Environmental policy




Title: Media Coverage of Environmental Issues in Canada. Arguments, discussion, historical background