The following first appeared in print and online in The Sudbury Star on Saturday, April 20 2019 (see: "May: Trudeau must shift from climate delayer to champion"). Please allow me a moment for a little shameless self-promotion (because, after all, if I don't promote myself, who will?). It's often been suggested to me that the things I write about are extremist, or at least politically unpalatable. The same criticism is often made about Green parties. And yet, I know that more and more the ideas that I've been writing about for over a decade now are starting to filter into mainstream thinking. Nevertheless, for those on the right side of the political spectrum, the notion that we'll transform our economy from a fossil fuel-driven one to a true 'green economy' stand at odds with their perception of reality.
And trust me, they're not afraid of telling me just how 'at odds' their reality is from my own.
Anyway, since writing this piece, a really excellent blogpost from former Liberal National Policy Director Jamie Carroll was picked up the National Newswatch media aggregator (see: "Killing TransMountain Pipeline expansion could be Trudeau’s path to victory," National Newswatch, April 22 2019).
Carroll, although coming at the issue from a completely different perspective (as evidenced in the title of his original post from his Fool From the Hill blog, "I'm an Asshole. Is Justin Trudeau?" April 21, 2019) essentially suggests the same things that I do in my piece: that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party should look at kiboshing the Trans Mountain pipeline as a part of a successful re-election strategy.
I point this out for several reasons. First, when I read Carroll's piece (first brought to my attention via National Newswatch), I was thrilled to see that a Liberal strategist and I were in agreement that killing Trans Mountain was a viable political strategy for Justin Trudeau to pursue. Our motivations might be different (I want to save the planet, Carroll seems to want to see the Liberals re-elected), but that only reinforces, for me at least, that the idea of killing Trans Mountain is a viable one in that it could be a bit of a consensus move for those on the left and moderate right of the political spectrum (I always have and will continue to insist that the Liberals inhabit the right side of the political spectrum).
Second, Carroll obviously carries the kind of clout that one needs to gain national attention to start this kind of conversation. And start it he has. Today, Macleans Magazine Politics Insider newsletter (which you really ought to subscribe to if you haven't already) links some of the dots and reports that there might be something happening behind-the-scenes here, despite outward pooh-poohing by Liberals. I still think this government outright killing the project is very unlikely - but there's no denying the signs that they're at least mulling it over.
Those signs include the suggestion made yesterday by federal Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi that a decision on Trans Mountain could be pushed back by the government until after the next election (see: "No guarantee of federal decision on Trans Mountain pipeline before election: Sohi," the Canadian Press, April 25, 2019). This comes just a week after Sohi scuttled the government's mid-May decision deadline in favour of mid-June - ostensibly to buy the government some time to consult with indigenous peoples.
And that could play a part in what appears to be the government's new aggressive environmentalism. Just yesterday, the government announced a ban on mining, oil and gas activity, waste-dumping and bottom trawling in Canada's protected marine areas (see: "Canada banning oil, gas and mining from marine protected areas," the Canadian Press, April 25, 2019) - although it does leave one wondering just how 'protected' those marine areas really were given the need for this action.
And of course, the Prime Minister himself has really upped his game over the past couple of weeks on climate change. Yesterday, with a nudge and a wink at Andrew Scheer's Conservative Party, he decried that some Canada's opposition parties are climate change deniers (see: "Trudeau says Ontario 'shortsighted and irresponsible' for challenging carbon tax," CBC News, April 25 2019).
Taken together, there might be something here - and some hope for Canada that the Liberal Party really is going to get serious about climate change. I continue to be concerned, however, that it's all just a part of another Liberal electoral deception - greenwashed rhetoric with the goal of pulling the wool over Canadian's eyes just long enough to win back the government. I want to see real action while they still have the time - and the power - to do so.
Killing the Trans Mountain pipeline is the kind of evidence of seriousness that I'll be looking for.
Now, here's my Sudbury Star post from this past weekend.
Since polls closed in Alberta earlier this week, and it quickly became evident that Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party had swept Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP from power, everyone seems to have a little advice for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Trudeau and his Liberals face an increasingly volatile electorate, with conservative parties having seized power in four provincial capitals within the past year. Many see this as a harbinger of things to come for his government. But Kenney’s election actually presents Trudeau with an opportunity, if only he has the temerity to seize it.
On the campaign trail, Kenney committed to following in Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s footsteps by scrapping many of the climate change initiatives put in place by the previous government, including a provincial price on carbon pollution (see: “Jason Kenney’s plan for more climate change,” Jason Markusoff, Maclean’s, April 1, 2019). Kenney outright campaigned on raising greenhouse gas emissions and exacerbating climate change. Alberta voters seemed not to care.
Without question, Trudeau has lost a couple of important climate allies in Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and former Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne. In 2015, Trudeau campaigned on the idea that he could both build new pipelines to expand the tar sands while reducing emissions so that Canada could meet its Paris climate targets (see: “Oilsands pollution on collision course with Canada's climate plan,” Barry Saxifrage, National Observer, February 20, 2018). That so-called plan never made any actual sense – but it came to be seen as some sort of ‘grand bargain’ between the economy and the environment. To this day, it’s a position that the Liberals cling to, despite the overwhelming evidence that we can’t reduce emissions while expanding and creating new fossil fuel enterprises.
With Notley now out of the picture, the federal Liberals can finally get serious about climate change. Notley’s climate plan was anything but a serious commitment to reduce emissions. The Alberta NDP’s plan would have seen the tar sands grow to take up 22 per cent of Canada’s carbon budget by 2030 – and a whopping 78 per cent by 2050 – leaving little room for emissions from virtually every other sector of the national economy. And Kenney is greedier for an even larger share.
Notley, and now Kenney, need the Trans Mountain pipeline to move bitumen from an expanded tar sands. Unlike Notley, Kenney is hardly a friend to Trudeau. What Trudeau couldn’t say to Notley about Trans Mountain, he can — and should — say to Kenney.
The political payoff for the Liberals could be significant. To win the next election, the Liberals need only be successful in four regions — the Atlantic provinces; Quebec; the Greater Toronto Area, and B.C.’s Lower Mainland. With NDP support flat-lined and that party unlikely to elect an MP east of Sturgeon Falls, the Liberals ought to be doing what they can to pick up NDP support. Polls show that’s exactly what they’ve done in Quebec, but the other regions might be tougher nuts to crack without more of an incentive.
Trudeau and the Liberals could give NDP supporters reasons to vote for them in October by outflanking the New Democrats on the environment. The Liberals have now given themselves until the middle of June to make a decision on Trans Mountain. If the Liberals said ‘No’ to the pipeline and took it out of play, Trudeau could leave Jagmeet Singh holding the LNG bag by also opting out of public subsidies previously committed to a huge new fracked natural gas enterprise in northern British Columbia.
With regime change in Ontario and Alberta, the way forward for Trudeau is clear. Without allies to hold him back, swift and effective unilateral action is called for. It’s time for the Liberals to walk their talk on climate change. I may be a partisan of a different stripe, but if Trudeau were to finally make the shift from climate delayer to climate champion, he would have my support.
(opinions expressed in this blogpost are my own, and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the Green Parties of Ontario and/or Canada)
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