Of course New Democrats, generally speaking, aren’t climate change deniers. After all, this is the Party that introduced the Climate Change Accountability Act, which was adopted by our elected officials in Parliament in, but met its death in the Conservative-dominated Senate (since then, the NDP has re-introduced the bill). The NDP has long called for a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050, although they’ve never offered a cohesive plan on how to accomplish that task. The Party has also quietly supported a price on carbon, if not a “job-killing” carbon tax.
But these are all vestiges left over from the old NDP, pre Thomas-Mulcair, back when the NDP was concerned with at least appearing to have a principled stance on issues of importance, even if those issues weren’t popular with voters.
What has the NDP been doing lately with climate change?
Expanding the Tar Sands
Supporters and others who might not be paying close attention to this issue will be surprised to discover that despite the NDP still occasionally talking a good game on climate change, the policies it now pushes run directly counter to the actions Canada needs to take to meaningfully reduce emissions. NDP supporters will be particularly surprised to discover that Mulcair’s New NDP, motivated far more by obtaining power than taking a principled stand, has decided instead to embrace the expansion of the Alberta tar sands. This stance is despite the knowledge that doing so will surely doom Canada’s ability to meet our incredibly woeful 2020 emissions reduction target we agreed to in Copenhagen back in 2009.
And it will certainly mean that the NDP’s own target of 80% below 1990 emissions levels will never be met – not with an industrial enterprise which plans on more than doubling its production, from its current output of slightly less than 2 million barrels of oil per day to more than 5.1 million barrels per day by 2030 (see: Alberta Energy, Facts and Statistics).
NDP: Playing Pipeline Politics
There was a time not all that long ago when the NDP came out in opposition to some of the largest pipeline projects currently on the books. Certainly, the NDP has consistently opposed both Enbridge's Northern Gateway pipeline and the TransCanada's Keystone XL – although opposition to both of these pipelines has never really been about climate change. Environmental and First Nations concerns led the NDP to oppose Gateway, while exporting jobs to the United States seems to be the NDP's central rationale for opposing Keystone.
But back in 2013, New Democrats seemingly also opposed Kinder Morgan's proposed Trans Mountain pipeline, which would see an existing pipeline route twinned to carry diluted bitumen to the Port of Vancouver, and diluents needed for dilbit transport flow the other way, to Alberta. Of course, the opposition was a provincial position, adopted by then B.C. NDP leader Adrian Dix in the midst of an election campaign – and again, climate change really wasn't the central concern raised by the Party (it had more to do with tankers plying the waters off the coast of Vancouver – a legitimate issue which I'm in no way to trying to belittle – I just note that Dix's opposition wasn't about expanding the tar sands or limiting climate change).
In fact, it wasn’t entirely clear to most paying attention that the NDP actually opposed Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline at all, but rather just the location of the pipeline’s terminus. Some NDP candidates floated alternative locations for the pipeline’s port during the election campaign, significantly muddying the waters of the NDP’s actual position on Trans Mountain. Eventually, Dix had to tell voters that he was against oil tankers off of B.C.’s coast, period – which many (including myself) have equated with an anti-pipeline stance, perhaps erroneously (see: “Dix says oil tanker stance applies towhole region”, Eric Swanson, Burnaby Pipeline Watch, April 27, 2013).
"Not Supporting, Not Opposing"
Whether or not Dix was against the pipeline or just the tankers, after Dix lost the provincial election in a rather astounding manner, the NDP quietly changed its ways on Trans Mountain. Now, both the B.C. Provincial and the federal NDP neither oppose or support the new pipeline. Many environmental organizations view this as a clear step backwards, on both the issue of climate change and tanker traffic. These groups argue that it would be relatively easy for the NDP to oppose Trans Mountain if it were really concerned about either issue. But “not opposing” seems to be the order of the day.
That seems to be what the NDP is now saying about TransCanada's Energy East pipeline now, too. After about a year's worth of general unqualified support for Energy East, a pipeline which Leader Tom Mulcair is convinced will create jobs in Quebec and the Maritimes, despite evidence to the contrary (see “Mulcair sticks withpipeline policy as report challenges Energy East”, the Globe and Mail, February 6, 2014), the NDP has slowly started shifting its position on the pipeline. And again, this shift has nothing to do with climate change. Instead, it has everything to do with the NDP's focus on obtaining power.
Energy East - the Quebec Perception
You see, Energy East isn't all that popular in Quebec. In that province, environmental activists and every-day citizens have expressed significant concerns regarding the route of the pipeline, as well as the export terminal which TransCanada proposed to be built at Cacouna – right in the midst of beluga habitat (see, “GabrielNadeau-Dubois must reject Energy East to win QC seats”, CBC News, March 19, 2015). If the NDP isn't particularly concerned about one student's point of view, they do tend to be swayed by polls - and a recent one shows that 71% of Quebecers favour protecting the environment over the energy east pipeline (see: "61% of Canadians say protecting the climate more important than pipelines and tar sands"the Climate Action Network, April 7, 2015).
To the NDP's credit, the Party never supported the export terminal at Cacouna because of the beluga. But this was hardly a brave position for the NDP to adopt, given that even Alberta Progressive Conservative Premier Jim Prentice also came out in favour of protecting beluga (see: “Energy East must be kept away from belugas,Quebec and Alberta premiers say”, the Globe and Mail, December 2, 2014). With everyone opposed to the marine facility, or at least in favour of not hurting belugas, TransCanada finally amended its proposal and dropped the Cacouna port idea all together (see: “TransCanadadelays Energy East, won’t build Quebec oil terminal”, the Globe and Mail, April 2, 2015).
Nevertheless, the NDP’s opposition to the marine export terminal at Cacouna was the first wedge the Party drove into its unqualified support of Energy East. Climate change would soon follow, after national outcries were raised that the National Energy Board would not be considering upstream impacts from pipeline development in its assessment. It's being suggested that there's a "civil war" going on in the NDP caucus over the issue of climate change and pipelines (see, “10 questions for NDP energy critic Guy Caron aboutEnergy East”, Ethan Cox, Ricochet Media, April 12, 2015).
NDP on Pipelines: Hypocrisy & Spin
Moving the NDP to consider climate change impacts was a bit of a process. Originally, the NDP refused to discuss climate change in the context of pipelines – at least the ones which it supported or took no position on, like Energy East and Trans Mountain (see “Greenwashing on Climate Change Starting to Take a Toll on NDP“, Sudbury Steve May, November 4, 2014). Of course, that didn't stop NDP candidate Joe Cressy from hypocritically attacking Liberal Adam Vaughan during the Trinity Spadina by-election (Vaughan's Liberal Party supports Keystone XL – Cressy was unimpressed that the Liberals were supporting a pipeline which would lead to the expansion of the tar sands and contribute to climate change – despite that his party at that time supported Energy East outright and had taken no position on Trans Mountain – see, “NDPslams Adam Vaughan for missing climate debate”, NOW Magazine, June 18, 2014).
Finally, after withering criticism from organizations like the Council of Canadians (see: “NDP supports Energy East pipeline”, November 14, 2014) and 350.org (see: “Energy East = Climate Change”, November 16, 2014) in December of last year the NDP decided to champion a process for pipeline development which included climate change impacts (see: “Justin Trudeau late tothe party on pipelines”, December 12, 2014).
Essentially, the NDP’s position on pipelines has is that they don't support any of them, but they take no position on Trans Mountain or Energy East. Interestingly, the NDP have been trying to spin their lack of position on Energy East by claiming that they’ve never had a position, which is a complete denial of the reality of the past two years. (see, “10 questions for NDP energy critic Guy Caron aboutEnergy East”, Ethan Cox, Ricochet Media, April 12, 2015).
The NDP and the NEB
Based on the above, it might appear that the NDP now supports a National Energy Board process which requires an assessment of climate change impacts. But pinning the NDP down on climate change has been a really slippery proposition over the last several years. Let’s not yet leap to the conclusion that the NDP wants to the NEB to evaluate climate change impacts, even though the NEB is the agency responsible for the pipeline’s evaluation. Although the NDP made the link between Energy East and climate change in a press release, we can’t conclude that the NDP is yet ready to call on the NEB to consider climate change impacts.
Of course, the NEB has no mandate to assess the climate change impacts of any pipeline (see: “It’s taboo to talk climate change atNEB’s Energy East hearings”, Obert Mandondo, the Canadian Progressive, March 6, 2015). The assessment process which informs the NEB's recommendations to government may include looking at the economic impacts of development the tar sands, but it can't look at how expanding the enterprise may negatively impact the Earth's climate – as absurd as that sounds.
The NDP know of the NEB’s limiations, of course. Maybe that’s why they’re not calling on the NEB to evaluate climate impacts. Of course, if a party were serious about having climate change impacts considered, it would sort of kind of make sense to suggest that it be the NEB which does the evaluation in order to better inform its decision.
Pro-Climate or Pro-Pipelines: NDP Wants to be Both
But the NDP continues to dither. They now want climate impacts to be considered for pipelines, but they won’t ask the NEB to do it. Yet, if climate impacts were included in any evaluation, environmentalists rightly believe that those impacts will outweigh any other merits of pipeline development, and decision makers will have to say No to proposals (see: “Newsweek: Canada’s tar sands at risk of becoming astranded asset”, Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, February 26, 2015). If the NDP really wants climate change impacts to be considered for pipelines, why is the NDP so very reluctant to state its position?
Probably because the NDP doesn't at all like the logic map that it's been drawn into by their attempt to win votes in Quebec and address the criticism of environmentalists. The NDP wants to maintain the facade that they're not against the pipelines, because they are concerned that every-day voters who continue to believe that Canada's economic salvation lies in developing the oil sands won't vote for a party which puts up barriers to expansion. Maybe they're right, politically speaking. But they're playing a very disingenuous and dangerous game.
Those serious about climate change know full well that you can't be both pro-pipeline and pro-climate. The two are mutually exclusive. The NDP doesn't seem to understand this yet, or if they do, they are keeping it to themselves until after the next election.
NDP Attacking Climate Champions
Lately, the NDP has upped the stakes by directly levelling criticism at Elizabeth May and the Green Party of Canada – which is currently polling around 16% in the anticipated British Columbia electoral battleground. Mulcair has gone on the attack, trying to confuse voters by mischaracterizing the Green Party’s position on pipelines. “Anybody who is that adamant would have to complete their thought and say we should get rid of existing pipelines”, Mulcair said to Vancouver media when asked about May’s opposition to current pipeline proposals (see: “Tom Mulcair fights the squeeze inMetro Vancouver ridings”, the Vancouver Sun, March 17, 2015). Of course, May and the Greens aren’t proposing to remove existing pipelines, no matter how much Tom Mulcair and the NDP want voters to think they are.
Playing the fear card is something that the NDP is very good at. Elsewhere, NDP supporters are claiming that only the NDP can knock off Harper, so voting Green or Liberal equates to a vote for the Conservatives (see: “Leaders target B.C. to gainseats in 2015 election”, the Huffington Post, March 19, 2015). And lately on social media, sanctimonious NDP supporters and a few NDP staffers have been crying foul that the Green Party dares contest the election in the Victoria riding at all, because they believe that MP Murray Rankin should be sainted as a champion of the environment (for a sample, see comments to: “Greens going after NDP inVictoria ‘with all we got’: party president”, ipolitics, April 10, 2015). As long as Rankin toes his party line on expanding the tar sands and building more pipelines, I think Green Party of Canada President David Bagler is right – he’s fair game.
May and the Green Party wear opposition to new pipelines as a badge of honour, because if you're serious about climate change, you know full well that we're going to have to leave over two thirds of the world's known fossil reserves locked in the ground. And the dirtiest fossil fuels, like tar sands bitumen, will likely need to be left interred at a higher rate. Simply put, if all of the carbon is burned, we can kiss anything resembling today's climate good-bye within the next couple of generations (see: “Oil sands must remain largely unexploited to meet climate target, studyfinds”, the Globe and Mail, January 7, 2015).
The NDP: Naive on Carbon Sequestration
Clearly, the NDP hasn’t yet got that memo. “We are not so naïve to think we can leave our resources in the ground forever”, NDP MP Jinny Sims (Surrey-Newton) was quoted as saying to Vancouver media in response to questions about Energy East (see: “Mulcair says a flawed regulatory process hinders Energy East reviewprocess”, the Vancouver Observer, March 19, 2015). I’m not willing to tar the entire New Democratic Party with Sims’ comments, so I’ll limit my observations to this: does Simms really think that people like Bank of England Governor Mark Carney are being “naïve” when they warn of the economic risks associated with a carbon bubble brought on by resource sequestration? (see: “The latest on the environment carbon bubble issue”, the Australian Solar Network, March 28, 2015).
On the one hand, the NDP claims to be concerned about climate change and want the climate impacts of pipeline proposals assessed (just maybe not by the NEB) – even though they know full well that expanding tar sands production will negatively impact the climate. On the other hand, they refuse to take a position on the two biggest pipelines being proposed – Energy East and Trans Mountain – out of fear of appearing to be anti-development.
NDP Using Tactics of Climate Change Deniers
The NDP's “principled” position on pipelines now appears to be the same one used by climate change deniers when they urge inaction on the climate. In an interview earlier this week, NDP energy critic Guy Caron twisted himself into a pretzel claiming that the NDP needs more time to study impacts (see, “10 questions for NDP energycritic Guy Caron about Energy East”, Ethan Cox, Ricochet Media, April 12, 2015). The party line appears to be that it would be irresponsible to adopt a position until all the fact are known – and by extension, those other parties which have already taken a position are being irresponsible – which is all very reminiscent of what some tea-party republicans have started to say in the States about climate change.
This may buy the NDP some time and get them through the next election, if their assertions about the science are left unchallenged. It all sounds reasonable, sure, especially with the NEB's evaluations on-going (and not expected to finish up until sometime after October, 2015). But the reality is quite different.
Wait Until the Science is In
First of all, the facts are well known. If production in the tar sands is going to more than double by 2030 – which is the current plan – then new pipeline capacity is needed. And the pipelines are only needed if production is going to expand. The two go together. So arguing that pipelines won't lead to expansion as some in the NDP have tried to do is just beyond any semblance of logic. Even the NDP has kiboshed those talking points. Now, the Party just remains silent on the issue, hoping that by ignoring it, it will go away. Kind of like what they've traditionally done with the Green Party. They'll have about as much success ignoring tar sands expansion, too.
Can't Stop the Tar Sands
Second, it is also well known that if we are going to hold warming at two degrees Celsius, two thirds of known global carbon reserves will need to be left in the ground (see: “Leave fossil fuels buried to preventclimate change, study urges” the Guardian, January 7, 2015). We can’t hold warming at 2 degrees and burn known reserves. Yet the NDP wants to pretend otherwise. It is their goal to get bitumen to tidewater – or to refineries . Either way, the NDP tacitly acknowledges that the tar sands reserves will be burned. They even want to try to use profits from the tar sands to expand renewable energy initiatives (see: “Our new vision for a new Century. Our plan for a prosperous and sustainableenergy future”, NDP, December 14, 2013) – which can only be described as a surreal energy plan from the perspective of limiting climate change.
Can't Make a Decision Because the Process is Flawed
And finally, the NDP knows that the science it claims to be waiting for isn't going to appear as part of the NEB process – which then should mean that it would be very easy to oppose the pipelines for a lack of scientific validity (as the Green Party has done) – but of course, the NDP again wants to pretend otherwise. NDP energy critic Guy Caron has hinted that the NDP might be taking a position of some sort before the end of spring, but likely whatever position the NDP ultimately takes on pipelines, it won’t be due to climate change concerns.
NDP: Insincerity on Climate Change & the NEB
How sincere is the NDP being with regards to climate change impacts and pipeline assessments? Interestingly, NDP MP Nathan Cullen (Skeena-Bulkley Valley) has a private member's bill in front of the house in which changes to the NEB's assessment process are proposed. It's a great bill for what it is – Cullen wants the NEB to assess tanker traffic impacts, and to undertake meaningful consultation with First Nations where pipelines are proposed.
One might think that if the NDP were sincere about having the climate change impacts of new pipeline projects evaluated, it would insist that the NEB review those impacts. One might think that since the NDP has a bill in front of the house to amend the way in which the NEB assesses pipeline proposals, that there might be something about climate change in that bill. While one might think that, clearly the opposite is true (see: Bill C-628, Text atFirst Reading, September 23, 2014).
NDP: Unprincipled Position on Climate Change
All of this brings me back to my original questions. Why is the NDP behaving like climate change deniers on pipeline proposals? Why are they putting politics over principle?
If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's probably a duck. When it comes to climate change, pipelines, energy policy and the National Energy Board, despite the NDP's protestations to the contrary about their interest in climate change impacts, it's abundantly clear that the NDP is trying to perpetuate a fraud on Canadian voters.
If the NDP should form government, what is clear is that going forward, the plan will remain the same: build pipelines, develop the tar sands and pay lip service to serious action on climate change – exactly what the Liberals and Conservatives before have done. And that's not what Canada needs.
But instead of changing course and developing a meaningful position on climate change, the NDP chooses to slag politicians like Elizabeth May and parties like the Greens which have actually taken a critical look at the issue, and which stand up for the climate and economy each and every day, no matter what voters might think. In short, instead of taking a principled stand on climate change like the Greens do, the NDP has decided to play games with the most important issue of our time, while obstructing real action.
Shame on the NDP. Canada deserves better.
(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)