John Ivison: Climate change showdown in the House of Commons leaves all three major parties bloodied
|National Post 15 May 2019 at 18:26|
So, remember the finale of Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, where three of the criminal gang, guns pointed at one another, are caught in a Mexican standoff that doesn’t end well for any of them? The resulting shootout sees “Nice Guy” Eddie gun down Mr. White, who in turn shoots Eddie and his father, Joe. With all three dead, Mr. Pink grabs the satchel of diamonds and runs for the door.
Something similar unfolded in the House of Commons Wednesday during debate on an NDP motion that called on Parliament “to declare an environmental and climate emergency.”
It must have seemed a good idea at the time. NDP leader Jagmeet Singh is determined not to be outflanked at the next election by Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, as his predecessor Tom Mulcair was in 2015.
As a result, he introduced the climate change motion to embarrass Trudeau over his environmental record. The motion called on Canada to “increase the ambition of its 2030 greenhouse gas targets” and to kill the plan to expand the Trans Mountain pipeline.
As Singh never tires of saying, climate leaders don’t build pipelines. The problem is that, until this week, the NDP leader has supported a liquified natural gas development that includes a pipeline to northern B.C.
After the loss of a previously safe NDP seat to the Greens in last week’s Nanaimo-Ladysmith byelection, Singh has been under pressure to be bolder on the environment, not least from former MP Svend Robinson, who is running again in Burnaby and who has called on Singh to “step up” and reject the $40-billion LNG Canada mega-project.
Other NDP MPs such as B.C.’s Jenny Kwan have recently praised plans that call for emissions reductions twice as deep as those called for in the Paris agreement, as part of a Green New Deal.
Catherine McKenna, the environment minister, pointed out the NDP “flip-flop” during question period, claiming the leader is abandoning a project backed by the B.C. government that will create 10,000 jobs.
Singh appears increasingly to be a man of no convictions. A Tuesday interview with Power and Politics host Vassy Kapelos was painful. He was asked directly three times whether he still supports the LNG project and three times he equivocated.
The NDP tried to discomfit the Liberals with its motion — forcing the government to vote against it because of the Trans Mountain clause
Peter Julian, the NDP energy critic, cited estimates from Canada’s Building Trades Unions as a testimonial for how many jobs could be created under the party’s plan.
But Singh’s lack of clarity is upsetting some unions. “The truth of the matter is we will be dependent on fossil fuels for many years to come and leaders need to be mindful of that,” said Arlene Dunn, director of Canada’s Building Trades Unions. “An LNG plant in B.C. has the potential to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions if it’s used to replace coal power abroad.”
The NDP tried to discomfit the Liberals with its motion — forcing the government to vote against it because of the Trans Mountain clause.
In turn, the Grits adopted the same tactic to box in the Conservatives by bringing forward their own motion calling for recognition of a climate emergency.
This too might have seemed like a good idea at the time, but it resulted in unwelcome scrutiny of the Liberals’ own environmental shortcomings.
The Harper government always used to divide policy into “sword” issues they were keen to push — terrorism, law and order, the economy — and “shield” issues — the environment, First Nations — they were less keen to talk about.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer speaks to media following a caucus meeting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on April 10, 2019. Sean Kilpatrick/CP
The environment remains a shield issue for Conservative leader Andrew Scheer. But increasingly, it has become a shield issue for the Liberals too.
The Conservatives claim Trudeau plans to increase the cost of the carbon tax to 15 times its current level if his government is re-elected, leaving the average family with a $5,000-a-year bill.
We know that the cost will rise to $50 a tonne by 2022 and it seems likely it will keep rising thereafter (if not to the level the Conservatives claim).
Environment Canada’s most recent numbers suggest that, on the current trajectory, Canada will fall 79 megatonnes short of the government’s 2030 greenhouse gas emissions targets — a 30-per-cent reduction from 2005 levels over the next 11 years.
McKenna remains adamant that the Liberals will meet the Paris target, but the current shortfall suggests further increases in the carbon tax post-2022.
Many Liberals are deeply worried about the impact of the tax on business competitiveness, so the government has quietly relaxed the rules for big emitters like the cement and petrochemical industries to ensure they are not driven out of the country by the new levy.
And, of course, they bought an oil pipeline.
For voters whose preeminent concern is climate change, the Liberal Party suddenly lacks daring and imagination. Trudeau cannot detail how he will hit Canada’s Paris target without opening himself to the charge that he is making everyday life unaffordable. The Liberal pledge to rebate any proceeds raised by the tax has not yet convinced those Canadians that don’t trust Trudeau on tax issues.
The only consolation for the Liberals is that talking about climate reduces the Conservatives to a state of mortification, swiftly followed by tortuous use of alliteration to attack Trudeau’s jet-set lifestyle (“high carbon hypocrisy,” etc.).
The Conservative plan will be released in the next month or so, and will doubtless be heavy on regulation. While expensive and just as likely to increase the cost of everything as the carbon tax, crucially, the cost will be on producers, not consumers. It is a sleight of hand the Liberals are keen to highlight.
“We have got an emergency here and the party opposite is misleading Canadians,” said McKenna. She appeared high on self-righteous outrage but she has a point.
Scheer spoke to the issue after Conservative caucus Wednesday. His party believes climate change is happening and is caused by human beings. It believes Canada has an obligation to reduce carbon dioxide emissions but will do so in a “global context,” he said. A carbon tax will not reduce emissions because it is not an environmental plan, it’s a tax plan, he added, before spraying anti-Trudeau alliteration at reporters like pheromones.
That position makes the federal Conservatives outliers in the global consensus that market-based carbon pricing — either a tax or a trading system — is the most efficient approach to slowing climate change.
The simple truth is that for people who believe we really do face a climate emergency, the Conservatives have nothing to say that is not balder and dash.
But the Tories were not alone in emerging from the debate in rough shape. The NDP motion left all three major parties haemorrhaging.
When the gunsmoke cleared, the only leader left standing was the Greens’ Elizabeth May. Her party wants to cut fossil fuel use in half by 2030 and completely by 2050. Such draconian cuts don’t come for free. But if you believe that the planet is on fire, she is at least candid.
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