If there’s one thing this week’s release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Report ("Climate Change: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerabilities") tells me, it’s that it’s time for the New Democratic Party of Canada to tear itself apart – for the good of our nation, and for the good of the global economy. And the NDP may actually be in the process of doing just that.
Events happening around Canada – and around the globe – this week must make NDP members and supporters who value sensible economic and environmental policies feel rather ostracized. Indeed, for those NDP supporters, many of them younger Canadians, who understand the significance of the climate crisis and the threat it poses to to future of this nation and the world, they must be feeling very demoralized indeed. For NDP members who have long championed putting a price on carbon as one of many actions available to elected officials to help stave off the climate crisis, I can’t help but wonder whether they’ve started to feel that the Party that they thought they knew has morphed into something else all together.
NDP: A Failure of Leadership on Climate Change
Look, I understand that the NDP talks a decent game on climate change – and credit where it’s due, at least Tom Mulcair and the NDP aren’t afraid to mention “climate change” in discussions with the media, with voters, whomever. But the internally inconsistent policies which the NDP has decided to champion show quite clearly that when push comes to shove, the NDP really is all talk – and if they form government (a very big “if” right now, given their stagnant polling numbers), all that Canada will get from the NDP is more of the same.
For my readers who comment to me that I seem to be much harder on the NDP than I am on the Conservatives or Liberals, I feel once again that I should point out that if this is the case, it’s only because I have always expected more from the NDP than I have from the other parties – precisely because they appear to talk a good game, as well as appearing to be somewhat sincere about their desire to protect low-income Canadians. I do not feel that way about the Conservatives, for whom I have little but contempt when it comes to the climate crisis. Nor do I feel that way about the Liberals, a party which has chosen to address the climate crisis much as a diner in a lunchroom cafeteria decides to order a vegetarian meal by opting for the salmon instead of the prime rib.
The Browns Take Over
The problem for the NDP is, quite clearly, too many of their old guard remain in positions of power and influence within the Party, both nationally and provincially. These “browns” running the show are comprised of backroom political operatives who’ve never seen a focus group they didn’t want to spin, and old-style labour organizers. Together, the browns continue to trump the aspirations of the greens – to the detriment of consistent climate change policy, and to the detriment of Canada.
Late last year, I held out some hope that NDP leader Tom Mulcair (who is clearly not a “brown”) would be able to get a grip on his Party and pull it into the 21st Century. I wrote about his December, 2013 speech on energy issues to the Economic Club of Canada in relatively glowing terms (see, “NDP ups its Game: One Green’s Take on Mulcair’s Energy Vision”, December 5, 2013). Since then, though, it’s rapidly becoming clear that the browns are the ones calling the shots in the NDP.
B.C. NDP Browns Lead the Way into the 19th Century
British Columbia will be a battle-ground province for the NDP in the next federal election. After B.C. NDP leader Adrian Dix bungled the provincial election, the NDP on the left coast have been doing a fair bit of soul searching. Former federal leadership candidate and brown backroom boy Brian Topp prepared a fairly candid analysis of what can only be described as one of the worst electoral failures in Canada’s history. I critiqued Topp’s critique extensively in a blogpost from last year (see, “Brian Topp Reveals How NDP Plays Cynical Partisan Games with the Environmental Issues”, September 24, 2013). In short, Topp, in typical brown fashion, cited the NDP’s position on the environment as problematic, particularly because a real “Green” Party exists in B.C. to call them out on inconsistencies (I’m clearly paraphrasing here) and due to the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain flip-flop. Both issues remain relevant to this discussion. Let’s explore the second first.
Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain Pipeline
Mid-way through the election, Dix announced that the NDP was reversing its position on the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline proposal, which would see diluted Alberta bitumen flow from the tar sands to the Port of Vancouver in an amount more than 1 and a half times greater than Enbridge’s Northern Gateway (890,000 barrels per day vs. 525,000. See, “Northern Gateway and Trans Mountain: how two pipeline projects compare”, the Globe & Mail, December 22, 2013). Up until Earth Day, 2013, the NDP maintained that it would take a “wait and see” approach with Trans Mountain in a way that they weren’t taking with Northern Gateway. To some, this seemed like a politically sensible approach to a difficult issue for the NDP, who have long been tarred by their opponents as opposing any and all economic initiatives.
Unfortunately for the NDP, it’s absolutely inconsistent to adopt a “wait and see” approach to a pipeline which will facilitate the runaway expansion of the Alberta tar sands enterprise, and allow some of the world’s dirtiest fossil fuels to be exported (without upgrading) to Asia, where it will be burned and significantly contribute to global greenhouse gas emissions. Knowing as we do that we must keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, and having as a nation committed to doing so in Copenhagen in 2009, there is absolutely zero economic or environmental case which can be made to justify the Trans Mountain pipeline.
On Earth Day, 2013, Adrian Dix changed his Party’s position on Trans Mountain (dubbed by the media as Dix’s “Kinder Surprise”). He came out firmly against the project, saying that an NDP government would do what it can to prevent the pipeline from expanding, in order to protect the shallow Burrard Inlet from increased oil tanker traffic. There was little mention of climate change, but for what it was, it was a good decision. A decision which many of the old-guard browns came to lay at Dix’s feet as the primary reason that Dix lost the election.
Back-up to April, 2013 though, and let’s take a closer look at what was really going on with the BC NDP. Dix’s party had been polling far ahead of the incumbent Liberal Party for months, but when BC Premier Christy Clark pulled the plug and the real election campaigning began, the Liberals stole all of the momentum. Importantly for this narrative, the BC Green Party was also starting to steal a little thunder from both the Liberals and the NDP. Dix, feeling squeezed by the Greens in a few strategic ridings on the lower mainland and Vancouver Island, had to find some way of eating into just enough of the Green’s vote to win those seats. In short, Dix’s flip-flop on Trans Mountain had far more to do with niche electoral politicking than it did climate change.
Partisan Electoral Game Playing Driving NDP Policy Decisions
Dix’s decision on Trans Mountain exemplifies everything that is wrong with the NDP. Even when a good policy decision is made, it’s often made for the wrong reasons. Rather than doing what’s right, the NDP is focused on winning elections and obtaining power. They will abandon any long-held beliefs to capitalize on partisan gains. They simply can’t be trusted to stand behind what they say they’ll do. Look no further than to the NDP’s continued insistence that the Party supports moving to a proportional representation electoral system, and ditching the archaic first-past-the-post fiasco in place throughout Canada. NDP provincial government after NDP provincial government have failed spectacularly to take any action on this important issue at all.
(As an aside, and before anybody suggests that the sins of the NDP’s provincial parties should not reflect on the federal party, I must remind my readers that provincial and federal New Democratic parties are integrated in a way beyond all other federal/provincial parties operate. You, as an individual, cannot purchase a membership in the federal party without also purchasing a membership in your province’s provincial party – unless you live in Quebec, where the NDP has no provincial party. Although policy development processes take place independently, the NDP has always had a keen eye to marrying federal and provincial policies. And like most political parties, including my own, the people that operate provincially are also involved federally – but the difference with the NDP being that you, as a member, don’t have a choice in the matter – you must do both. Not only is the NDP’s approach anti-democratic, it values free-thinking individualism far less than it does mindless partisan game playing, in my opinion).
Also importantly, the NDP appears to be completely devoid of vision and is floundering around – which strangely is also a part of the NDP’s electoral strategy. Rather than approaching voters in B.C., Nova Scotia or nationally with some sort of comprehensive vision for a truly 21st Century Canada, the NDP throughout our nation have instead chosen to focus on small-scale boutique issues. Here in Sudbury, our MP, Glenn Thibeault (a classy man whom I admire), the NDP’s critic for small business, tourism and consumer affairs, has been leading the NDP’s charge into “retail politics”, by knocking on doors and telling voters to get behind the NDP’s strategy to reduce ATM fees. I guess that’s fine for it’s worth – I think ATM fees are too high, too – but at the end of the day, if issues like these are what the NDP is going to trot out to voters in 2015 – forget it. For all that I admire Mr. Thibeault, he and his party are proving to be a waste of Canadian’s time.
A Waste of Time Canada Can't Afford
For time really is of the essence. The IPCC says that we have to get our act together on reducing carbon emissions by 80% by the year 2100. If we're going to give ourselves and our children an opportunity to inhabit a livable planet, between 65% and 80% of known carbon reserves must stay in the ground. On greenhouse gas emissions, Environment Canada has already pretty much admitted that Stephen Harper’s Conservative government has abysmally failed to plan to meet our weak Copenhagen reduction targets.
While the world burns, the NDP fiddles.
The Wrong Carbon Pricing Scheme
Browns like Brian Topp are in charge of moving the NDP away from tackling the climate crisis. In the lead-up to the NDP’s policy convention in 2013, the NDP had the opportunity to ditch its bank-friendly Cap & Trade carbon pricing scheme for a much more straight-forward and effective Carbon Fee & Dividend approach to carbon pricing. While Cap & Trade might work on paper, it seems that when politicians get involved in implementation, it’s gone horribly wrong (witness the collapse of the European trading scheme due to low-price carbon credits, and the complete failure of the Chicago trading market). Further, it’s unclear why the NDP, which professes to be champions of “the little guy” would support a carbon pricing scheme which will make it more difficult for small, local businesses to compete against giant multi-national corporations.
Yet in the NDP there remain dinosaur elements who think that they’re economists and insist that any and all “consumption taxes” are somehow “regressive” and therefore not appropriate to burden low-income earners with. And that’s patently nonsense. If a low-income earner isn’t consuming a particular product, such as gasoline, because they can’t afford to own a car, a carbon tax on the price of gas isn’t going to be regressive to them. And while it’s true that carbon taxes on fossil goods and services will make consumption more expensive – that’s exactly the point: we need to reduce consumption, along with investing in sustainable alternatives for people who are impacted - like providing them with a gauranteed livable income.
But instead of acknowledging this reality, the NDP throughout Canada (and especially here in Ontario) continue to go on about making gasoline less expensive so that those who aren’t low income earners can drive their cars more and contribute to changing our climate, which will directly impact the health and well-being of everybody, and especially of low-income earners who won’t be able to cushion themselves from the economic fall-out in the same way that the rich will.
There is frankly no reconciling the position that a Party which advocates cheap gasoline, or projects which facilitate the runaway development of the tar sands, really gives a damn about the climate crisis.
NDP Flip-Flop-Flip on Kinder Morgan Reveals Hypocrisy on Climate
It’s increasingly looking like Tom Mulcair's brave words to the Economic Club of Canada back in December were really nothing more than hot air. Mulciar almost immediately followed up his “energy vision” speech with a low-key announcement that the NDP had, once again, flip-flopped on its Trans Mountain pipeline position. In a piece published in Canada.com, Mulcair confirmed that the NDP isn’t going to oppose Trans Mountain and “get caught making the same mistake as Dix did when he announced midcampaign that a provincial NDP government would oppose the $5.4 billion Kinder Morgan pipeline project to the B.C. coast.” (the quotation here is from the journalist at Canada.com, and not Tom Mulcair. See, "Mulcair confident in the face of sinking polls", Canada.com, December 23, 2013)
NDP Embraces Energy East
Further, Mulcair has long been on record supporting with few caveats TransCanada’s “Energy East” pipeline, which will see diluted Alberta bitumen flow to ports on Canada’s east coast. Mulcair believes that existing refineries in Saint John, New Brunswick, and Montreal and Quebec City, Quebec, will be able to add value to the dirty bitumen, creating jobs for Canadians. Unfortunately, the NDP continue to cling to this notion, even in the face of recent reports which suggest that the vast majority of raw bitumen will have to be exported, due to a lack of refinery capacity and the price-tag of upgrading oil refineries to handle the tarry bitumen (see, “Energy East pipeline no boom for refineries because most oil will go overseas: Report”, the Financial Post, March 18, 2014)
The basis for Mulcair embracing bitumen pipelines has a lot to do with jobs, and the idea that exploiting our non-renewable fossil resources as quickly as possible will create well-paying Canadian jobs. Clearly, he’s not off-base with that assumption. Mining and pumping even more bitumen will certainly create some very well-paying jobs, and if you could figure out a way to refine the bitumen here in Canada, well, we’d get a good number of more jobs out of that. Everybody likes jobs, right?
Supporting the Right Job Creators
Yes, everybody likes jobs. But it’s the kind of jobs that Mulcair is championing, and how job creation in the fossil fuel sector will hamper job creation in Canada’s renewable energy sector – the very sector which is currently the world’s fastest growing industrial sector. By putting the majority of our eggs into the non-renewable resource basket, as the brown brain-trust behind the NDP seems to want us to do, Canada risks missing out on the economic boom which is taking place throughout the globe – and importantly, we risk missing out on opportunities to build a stronger, more competitive national economy based on inexpensive renewable energy, rather than increasingly expensive fossil fuels.
This is yet another example of the NDP’s dumb economics. But wait – it gets worse.
Former B.C. NDP Premier Harcourt's Hypocrisy
This week in B.C, former Premier Mike Harcourt had a very public spat with the Party, and announced that he was leaving, largely because of Dix’s “20 seat losing” decision to flip-flop on Trans Mountain (see, “Former Premier Mike Harcourt quits BC NDP in nasty public split”, the Globe & Mail, April 1, 2014). Despite now being involved with “sustainability issues”, it’s pretty clear that Harcourt, an old-school brown, doesn’t have a clue about climate change – or worse, he’s another focus-group hand-holder who values winning over doing what’s right. By publicly leaving his Party, Harcourt has essentially thrown down the gauntlet to the B.C. NDP – telling them they must choose brown policies over green ones in an attempt to save resource sector jobs (rather than cashing in on the renewable clean-tech sector).
Harcourt’s condemnation of his former Party’s opposition to the B.C. carbon tax does little to build credibility in my mind, despite being warranted. If anything, it simply exposes him as a just another NDP hypocrite on climate change who wants to talk the talk, but will never walk the walk.
Division is Real, and Starting to Show
Yesterday, the Vancouver Sun columnist Vaughan Palmer, writing in Canada.com, seems to suggest that Harcourt’s challenge needs to be taken up by an NDP struggling with appearing to be “anti-growth” (see, “B.C. NDP caught between a rock and a green place”, Canada.com, April 2, 2014). Palmer, although misguided in his notion about economic policy, hits the nail on the head, though, by exposing the division within the NDP. Anecdotally, I continue to hear about this division between the “browns” and the “greens” here in the Sudbury and Nickel Belt ridings, and throughout Canada. The division is real – and the browns are winning the day.
Palmer goes on to report that both provincial NDP leadership contenders, John Horgan and Mike Farnsworth, have called for the development of B.C.’s non-renewable fossil resources. Farnsworth has embraced Mulcair’s position of “neutrality” on Trans Mountain, while Horgan is insisting that an NDP government would buy into what must be one of the dumbest economic development proposals of all-time: the fracking of natural gas in northern B.C. for liquefied export (LNG). Not only is B.C. LNG proposal economically suspect on its own merits, given that there is no proven long-term Asian market which justifies such a massive investment of public dollars, a rethink appears to be in order. Whatever B.C. decides to invest to get the LNG dog barking runs the risk of becoming yet another fossil fuel stranded asset – a sinkhole for all investors when the carbon bubble bursts.
Linda McQuaig - Still Welcome in the New NDP?
This division within the NDP between the old-guard browns and the greens isn’t sustainable. Contrast all of the above with an excellent article by former NDP candidate Linda McQuaig (who ran for the NDP unsuccessfully in the recent by-election in Toronto Centre, losing out to Liberal Chrystia Freeland by a healthy margin) appearing yesterday in iPolitics (see, “Death, denial and the toxic politics of climate change”, iPolitics.com, April 2, 2014). McQuaig’s position on climate change has been well-known for a long while now, but even for her, the iPolitics article ramps up the urgency of dealing with the climate crisis.
At the time of the Toronto Centre by-election, the NDP was still being cagey with its policy approach to the climate crisis, and the Trans Mountain behemoth was one of the pipelines that the NDP opposed. Sure, Mulcair had embraced Energy East, but the talk of refineries and the benefits of job creation hadn’t been seriously analyzed yet (to recap, it appears that Energy East will create very few jobs, and refineries won’t be profitable, so they won’t get built). Since running for the NDP, McQuaig’s party has now reversed itself on Trans Mountain, embraced LNG in B.C. (but at least not on the basis of the B.C. Liberals’ foolish notion of allowing the project to be proceed based on the use of temporary foreign workers), and are demanding cheaper gasoline and cuts to energy prices in Ontario. It’s absolutely not clear to me that the NDP could be considered the same Party that it was when McQuaig ran under its banner just a few months ago.
NDP's Middle Class Buffet Approach Abandons Canadians in Need
McQuaig, who like Naomi Klein, understands a thing or two about poverty and the distribution of wealth, is clearly on the green (losing) side of the NDP divide. Her iPolitics article charts new territory for someone in the NDP, by first acknowledging that the fossil fuel industry (and our “lickspittle governments”) are the real enemies of the climate – and ergo of our economy, and of people. Can you imagine Thomas Mulcair daring to declare war on the fossil fuel industry?
Wait a minute – didn’t he try to half-heartedly do just that a few years ago when he started to talk about “Dutch Disease”? Thanks to a few clearly biased media reports by journalists who think that they’re economists (and by economists who shill for the fossil fuel industry and its government supporters), Mulcair quickly clamped his mouth shut, and never the phrase “Dutch Disease” has been uttered again. The brown spin-doctors must have went ballistic with Mulcair's implication that the West’s fossil fuel industry was somehow culpable for a loss of jobs in Central Canada – along with being a major contributor to climate change. Canadians are, after all, used to hearing about what a benefit the Alberta tar sands brings to each and every one of us, and to our children. The brown-stained spin doctors surely didn't want to rock that boat, truth be damned.
McQuaig’s no-holds barred piece in iPolitics certainly would not have seen the light of day if she were currently the nominated candidate for the NDP in a Toronto riding. When you're on the NDP Team, you pretty much have to leave behind all critical thinking and subscribe to the orange group-think. Transgressors will be punished. McQuaig, by acknowledging the 2 degree Celsius threshold which warming must held to, has gone much further than Tom Mulcair or Megan Leslie have ever dared, lest they further alienate the browns in their own party. She writes about the threat to investors and the economy of having to leave fossil assets stranded, sequestered safely in the ground, lest the bursting of the carbon bubble wipe out pension plans and savings.
McQuaig’s of off-message dissent would be entirely out of place in today’s NDP (although the NDP does have a habit of saying one thing in one part of Canada, and the exact opposite in another part of Canada, so it might be within the realm of possibility). Maybe McQuaig sees the writing on the wall within her own Party, acknowledging that the division is irreconcilable.
Maybe that’s why McQuaig has started to write like a Green.
NDP: No Longer Part of the Solution
As much as I had hoped, for the sake of my nation, that the NDP would one day get its act together and champion action on climate change, I can see now that my hopes have been misplaced. All around the nation, the NDP is stepping back from the challenges posed by the most important economic issue of our times. The lack of trust which today’s NDP has instilled in voters due to repeated inaction on numerous matters, many of which the NDP considered their own priorities, has led me to conclude that my hopes for change have come to naught.
Rather than the NDP being a part of the solution to the climate crisis, that party has willfully decided to be a part of the problem. And woe be to Canada.
(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 Party of Canada)