Is Stephen Harper “the best thing to happen” to the environmental movement?

Rick Smith — the executive director of the left-leaning Broadbent Institute — says that "Stephen Harper is the best thing to happen to the environmental issue in Canada. Ever."

At first glance that certainly sounds like an odd statement coming from the left who have slammed the Tories' position on the Kyoto accord, its promotion of Alberta's oilsands, for allegedly muzzling scientists, for spending cuts to research and for weakening the Navigable Waters Act.

But, if you read Smith's latest op-ed in the Toronto Star, you soon discover that he is being cheeky.

He suggests that the Chretien/Martin Liberal band-aid environmental solutions gave a Canadians a false sense of security. He upped the ante on his criticism of the Conservative government: "Stephen Harper is to environmental protection what Freddy Krueger is to unsuspecting teenagers in A Nightmare on Elm Street."

"Now that Canada’s environmental house has been thoroughly burned to the ground it seems to me we have an opportunity. There’s no pretending anymore. We have nothing. So at some point, hopefully soon, when we once again have a government at the federal level that’s interested in the environment, we’ll have the chance to rebuild.

"This brings me to the second environmental legacy of the Harper years: a fierce and rejuvenated environmental movement. The great irony of the much-reported, politically motivated Canada Revenue Agency assault on environmental charities is that it has made traditionally cautious and low-key individuals and groups very angry. Blatant injustice tends to have that effect on people."

Smith's full column can be read here.

[ Related: Tories appear to be rebranding Stephen Harper as 'the environmental prime minister' ]

Like Smith, Canada's environmental groups have tried to portray Harper as a villain on this issue.

Greenpeace's Mike Hudema says that Harper's "pipeline pushing ways" are certainly providing pathways of resistance.

"Stephen Harper's legacy when it comes to the environment is a trail of destruction from gutting environmental safeguards, to pushing pipelines and tar sands projects regardless of the damage to the land, water, climate, community health or First Nations rights," Hudema told Yahoo Canada News.

"History will look upon his record with disdain as someone who failed to address a growing climate crisis already ravaging communities all around the world and instead pushed us deeper into it."

The Sierra Club's John Bennett told Yahoo that "even if the [Green Party] formed the next government" it would take a decade to rebuild "the damage to science and programs" caused by the Harper regime.

Bennett, however, isn't as optimistic as Smith about people and non-government organizations banding together to defeat the Tories.

"It's a nice notion to believe bad government empowers public involvement but the turnout at the poles tells a different story," he said.

"As for more defiant NGOs we are no longer able to inspire people with what can be done, [with]positive messages.

"We have been dragged down in the mud of modern politics of division."

[ Related: In light of charity audits, Fraser Institute boss says his organization has nothing to hide ]

For their part, the Tories say that they are dealing with the environment issue in a way that doesn't destroy jobs and growth.

They claim that they've acutally taken a leadership role in international climate change efforts with their sector by sector regulatory approach on greenhouse gas emissions.

"Our Government has already taken action on two of its largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions—transportation and electricity," Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq, recently told a U.N. conference.

"This approach has made Canada the first major coal user to ban the construction of traditional coal-fired electricity generation units.

"Building on this strong record, we are now working with provinces to reduce emissions from the oil and gas sectors while ensuring Canadian companies remain competitive."

The government also brags about $10 billion in investments to support green infrastructure, energy efficiency and clean energy technologies.

Moreover, they recently announced a $252 million National Conservation Plan (NCP), which "will involve significant steps towards achieving our biodiversity targets, that is, protecting 17 per cent of our land and inland waters, and 10 per cent of our marine and coastal areas."

"Our actions domestically are delivering clear results as Canadian greenhouse gas emissions have decreased while our economy has significantly grown for the same time frame," Aglukkaq said.

Friend or foe? Hero or villain? What do you think?

Will Stephen Harper's action — or inaction on the environmental issue — buoy the environmental movement? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.

(Photo courtesy of the Canadian Press)

Are you a politics junkie?
Follow @politicalpoints on Twitter!