And he said, "Yes, yes, I am... I'm a vegetarian, actually, but don't tell anyone!"
My first thought was, what an odd place to meet John Baird. The Green Door is basically packed on any night of the week with tree-hugging, veggie chomping, earth-loving activists. And Baird is most recently credited with playing a major role in removing any meaningful targets from the Bali climate change initiative. Against tradition, he barred opposition MPs from participating in the summit, and then even as reports of Canada's dismal environmental performance surfaced, he stood with the US and Japan in blockading the Bali agreement.
I said, "You know, I have to say I was pretty disappointed with Canada's showing at the Bali climate change summit."
"Oh, why is that?", he replied.
So I told him, from the reports I'd read, it seemed Canada played a major role in watering down many of the milestones that were meant to be included in the proposal.
He replied, "We can't keep doing the same things we've been doing for the last 60 years because they don't work," and stated that you can't have regulations that don't include some of the biggest emissions countries out there.
"Well," I told him, "my view on that, and one that seems to get a lot of agreement from many Canadians I talk to, is that Canada should do the right thing regardless of what China or India or other countries may or may not do. Canada should take a leadership role in setting an example for other countries to follow."
At this point John seemed a little annoyed, but guarded by a well-practiced veneer of professional courtesy. His reply didn't make a whole lot of sense to me: "If China has enough money to build up a huge military and throw journalists in jail, they have enough money to do something about the environment!" He reiterated that what we've been doing for the last 60 years wasn't going to work, and that carbon emissions were worse now than ever. I told him I was well aware of that. Nevertheless, I said, the comments from the New Guinea delegate resonated with many people.
"If for some reason you are not willing to lead, leave it to the rest of us. Please get out of the way."
After dinner, as I headed uptown for a coffee, I wondered why his parting remark didn't make much sense to me. China... lots of money... journalists... jail. What do any of those things have to do with Canadian environmental policy? How can we ignore the moral hypocrisy of pointing fingers at China while Canada effectively hobbles the effort to give real traction to the latest international environmental initiative? I decided his statement didn't make sense simply because it's not logical. He was probably in a rush, trying to grab a quick bite to eat, not in the mood to get questioned. But I had hoped for something a bit more tenable.
It would have been neat to find out more about John Baird's thinking on the environment and Canada's direction on environmental issues, his reasons for hamstringing Bali, and why his vague proposals for a yet-to-be-determined alternative are so much better... but he had taken his veggie plate to go, and made a beeline for the door.
"Keep up the good work," I said, with as much "veneer" as I could muster.
Perhaps instead of "I'm a vegetarian, actually... but don't tell anybody!" a more appropriate statement might have been, "I'm anti-Kyoto, anti-Bali, and anti-environment, actually... but don't tell anybody!"