National Post Letter

LetterIn today’s National Post, I’ve got another letter to the editor on everyone’s favourite topic: the Trans Mountain pipeline. (I’ll stop repeating myself once people start listening!) My letter appears only in the print edition, so I cannot provide a link. Accordingly, here is the full text:

The pipeline crisis

Re: PM takes right tack on Trans Mountain, Andrew Coyne, April 17

Regarding the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, Andrew Coyne writes, “this is not a debate about a pipeline, or not any longer. It is about who decides.”

With all due respect, it absolutely is about the pipeline.

If greenhouse gas emissions do not peak and subsequently decline within the next couple of years, the world will fail to meet its commitment to limit warming to no more than 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius. The time for building new fossil fuel infrastructure has come and gone — not just in other countries, but here at home, too.

To insist on procedural niceties — in the face of the climate chaos we risk unleashing and the burden we are placing on future generations — is narrow-minded provincialism at its worst.

David Taub Bancroft, Vancouver

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Of Premiers and Pipelines

In an interview with the National Observer last week, Justin Trudeau raised more than a few eyebrows by comparing B.C. premier John Horgan to former Saskatchewan premier and climate policy obstructionist Brad Wall.

“Similarly and frustratingly,” said the prime minister, “John Horgan is actually trying to scuttle our national plan on fighting climate change. By blocking the Kinder Morgan pipeline, he’s putting at risk the entire national climate change plan, because Alberta will not be able to stay on if the Kinder Morgan pipeline doesn’t go through.”

All this over a timid proposal by the B.C. government to study the effects of bitumen spills before allowing increased shipments through the province.

Clumsy “guilt by association” attempts aside, I understand what the prime minister is trying to get at. His approval of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain expansion, so goes the reasoning, is part of a grand national compromise. Alberta gets a pipeline (flowing through B.C.) and environmentalists get carbon pricing. Win-win, everyone’s happy. Remove one piece of the strategy and the whole thing comes crashing down.

Except that it doesn’t. The Alberta government’s willing participation — while preferable — is not strictly needed. As Trudeau himself admits, “there is a federal backstop that will ensure that the national price on carbon pollution is applied right across the country.”

Furthermore, his climate plan was a pretty rotten compromise to begin with. The federal carbon pricing requirement is set to rise to $50 per tonne by 2022, but then it stops. This is not nearly enough to get us to the 30 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions that Canada pledged to achieve by 2030 at the Paris climate conference. To meet that commitment would require an eventual price of $200 per tonne (if pursued through carbon pricing alone). Or, at the very least, a federal government with the political backbone to say no to environmentally destructive fossil fuel projects.

The international community has agreed to limit warming to no more than 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. That means reaching peak global emissions no later than 2020. Simply put: now is not the time to be building new pipelines.

Nobody suggests shutting down the oil sands tomorrow. But at the very least, at this moment in our history, we must stop moving so aggressively in the wrong direction. If the Trans Mountain pipeline is allowed to go forward, alongside other fossil fuel infrastructure proposals with decades-long lifespans, that would mean sabotaging the meagre gains made by our inadequate federal carbon scheme.

A transformation on the scale required demands bold national leadership. Sadly, beyond a few token half-measures, said leadership has been lacking from Trudeau. It is no ideal solution for the mantle to pass to a provincial premier, but under the circumstances, I don’t see what other options we have.

While the Kinder Morgan kerfuffle has gotten very ugly very fast, and will likely only get uglier, Canada is morally obligated to do more than free-ride on international efforts. So let’s brace ourselves for the coming ugliness and keep our eye on the prize of climate justice.

This post appears on rabble.ca.

Globe and Mail Letter

LetterIn today’s Globe and Mail, you will find a letter from me (fourth from the top, under the heading “In the national interest”) relating the present interprovincial pipeline kerfuffle to global efforts efforts to solve the climate crisis. Never hurts to remind ourselves how much is really at stake.

What Is a Left-Leaning Green to Do?

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/8/8a/Ic_thumbs_up_down_48px.svg/200px-Ic_thumbs_up_down_48px.svg.pngWith less than a week to go before election day and polls tightening across British Columbia, I find myself in the all-too-common predicament of dreading the electoral options before me.

The Liberals, naturally, are out of the question. They have governed this province horrendously through 16 years of the wrong kind of class warfare, slashing education and social services, offering up more for wealthy donors than for regular people or the natural environment. True, former premier Gordon Campbell showed genuine concern for climate change for about 15 minutes back in 2008, but his successor Christy Clark froze BC’s paltry carbon tax at $30 per tonne and weakened her predecessor’s clean energy regulations in service of her pie-in-the-sky LNG dreams.

As for the NDP, the kindest thing one can say is that they are not the Liberals. Leader John Horgan, in an attempt to appeal to both the labour and the environmental wings of his party, is pledging to raise the carbon tax to the level required by the federal government, but to do so at a marginally faster pace than will the BC Liberals. The party favours some LNG projects and not others. It is strongly opposed to Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, while it straddles the fence on the Site C dam.

The NDP represents the province’s best shot at effecting a change in government, yet this does not in itself constitute sufficient reason to vote for them. To cast one’s ballot “strategically” lets mediocre parties off the hook for their mediocrities and sets the stage for a race-to-the-bottom-style proliferation of inadequate policy. Progressives must demand more from the NDP, insisting that our support be earned, not taken for granted.

Which brings us to the Greens, the party perennially on the verge of either breakthrough or irrelevance, never quite reaching either. Unsurprisingly, the Greens have by far the most environmentally sound platform — and probably the most progressive one too. They promise to raise the carbon tax to an eventual target of $70 per tonne — $20 above the federal requirement — and to expand it to cover some emissions not currently priced. Party leader Andrew Weaver has been a lone voice of reason in the Legislature opposed to LNG development, and he rejects the approval of any new fossil fuel infrastructure.

On the social front, the Green Party matches the NDP’s promise on raising corporate taxes, while surpassing them on personal income tax hikes for the wealthy. Income assistance rates would be higher under a Green government than under either other major party. Both the NDP and the Greens have some worthy, albeit incomplete, ideas on housing, and while NDP child care policy presents a good deal more detail, the Greens have one-upped them on affordability.

Boasting the largest increases to both spending and revenue, Greens distinguish themselves as the party of what is ominously referred to in right-wing circles as “big government.” While their rivals promise to keep budgets in the black, the Greens pledge only to balance the books on average over a four-year term, allowing deficits to occur during individual years.

Where the Greens start to falter is not so much in their platform as in their leader. Weaver is an accomplished climate scientist and former lead author on several IPCC reports. When he speaks, people rightly listen. But his stature suffered when, during his term as MLA, he bewilderingly voted for two Liberal government budgets.

Like many Green voters, I could not help but wonder what he was thinking. Was it a matter of deep-seated conviction on his part? Or of wanting to “do politics differently,” as he nebulously claimed in the moment? Did he simply wish to ingratiate himself to whoever happened to be in government? Add to this his strange infatuation with private power and his criticism of the NDP’s equity policy on candidate nominations, and it is not clear that Weaver is capable of walking his party’s progressive talk.

Furthermore, the stakes are particularly high in the current election, in which the Greens are polling unusually well for a third party, while the Liberals and NDP wage a closely fought battle for first place. If no party gets a majority in the Legislature, who would Weaver and his potential caucus-mates throw their support behind for premier?

For my part, I plan, with some reservation, to risk another vote for the Greens on May 9, premised on the possibly flawed assumption that an NDP-Green alignment makes more sense than a Liberal-Green one. Two budgets aside, Weaver has voted with the NDP far more often than he has with the Liberals, and he stated in 2013 that he would prefer an NDP to a Liberal government.

However, I understand that others, including many whose opinions I deeply respect, might make their calculations differently. Weaver is a bit of a gamble. Under the circumstances, I cannot blame anyone for casting a safe — albeit uninspiring — vote for the NDP.

This post appears on rabble.ca.

Vancouver Sun Letter

LetterFor what is likely to be my last letter to the editor of 2016, see today’s Vancouver Sun (fourth letter from the top). The gist of my argument is that Kinder Morgan is bad.

Fun fact: this ain’t the first time I’ve responded to a pro-Kinder Morgan op-ed by former NDP Premier Dan Miller.

The Case for ‘Yes’ in Metro Vancouver’s Transit Referendum

File:Vancouver Transit.jpgWell, anybody could have called this one.

According to a new survey by Insights West, 53 per cent of residents plan to vote No in the upcoming 2015 Metro Vancouver Transportation and Transit Plebiscite. Only 38 per cent say they will vote Yes to the proposed half-percentage-point sales tax increase to help fund more buses, new rapid transit lines, improved walking and cycling networks, road and bridge upgrades, and more.

The once mighty Yes campaign’s decline is a regrettable development, but no one can honestly claim to be surprised. Though referendums can be useful exercises, they are out of place on matters such as public transit where the impacts of present-day decisions are borne in large part by future generations. Voters risk falling victim to the myopic lullabies of anti-tax zealots and their assorted useful idiots. Provincial and municipal representatives would have done well simply to sit down together and hammer out a fair cost-sharing arrangement.

But it’s too late for that now. For better or for worse, the provincial Liberals made a cheap pledge during an election which everyone expected them to lose, and we’re stuck with this plebiscite as a result. Mail-in ballots are on their way next month. It is therefore crucial, for reasons of social and environmental justice, that we do all we can to beat the odds and secure a win for the Yes side.

Is TransLink the problem?

So why, one might ask, is the delightfully named “Metro Vancouver Congestion Improvement Tax” proving so unpopular? Apart from the reflexive mantra of “we hate taxes,” two primary reasons come to the fore. The first is the reputed wastefulness and unaccountability of TransLink, Metro Vancouver’s regional transportation authority.

It is true that the organization suffers a democratic deficit, a convoluted governance structure, and bewildering levels of executive compensation. Moreover, the roll-out of the new Compass fare card system has been disastrous, and recent high-profile service shutdowns on the SkyTrain have not made matters any easier.

It is a mystery, however, why anyone would believe that voting No could solve these problems. High-level decision-makers and bureaucrats are not “punished” when denied the ability to implement sensible policies. They are neither fired nor forced to take pay cuts. On the contrary, the only effect is to punish the general public by worsening our transit system’s dysfunctionality in a time of rapid population growth. The poor in particular would suffer through this act of sabotage to one of the cheapest means of getting around. All this in addition to further increases in air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and traffic congestion.

It is also worth noting that while any waste is indefensible — public bodies must always strive to improve their efficiency — the items commonly cited as examples of TransLink’s storied wastefulness add up to a mere fraction of one per cent of its annual expenditures. In other words, the vast majority of the organization’s budget goes to the vital public services we rely upon it to provide. So let’s keep matters in perspective, shall we?

Are sales taxes the problem?

A second concern for some segments of the No team is the kind of taxation being considered. Sales taxes, they argue, are regressive, in that they disproportionately impact people with low incomes. If we are to expand public transit services, we should try to do so by means of more progressive alternatives.

So far so good. Indeed, the options are limitless if we allow our imaginations to run wild.

In place of a regional sales tax, perhaps transfers from higher levels of government, which are already anticipated to defray the bulk of the costs, could cover every last dime of transit funding. Personal and corporate income taxes could be raised. So too could the provincial carbon tax, for although it is just as regressive as a sales tax (all else being equal), it at least adheres to the polluter pays principle.

The problem is that not one of these idyllic alternatives is on the table, nor will they magically become so if residents vote No. We are not faced with a choice between several different mechanisms by which to pay for needed transit investments; we are faced with a choice between making those investments and not making them.

A sales tax boost may not be perfect, but as far as tax hikes go, 0.5 per cent is fairly small — amounting to an average of 35 cents per household per day, according to the Yes campaign (or about twice that by the No side’s reckoning). And unlike other sales tax proposals, such as our dearly departed HST, this one is earmarked almost entirely towards public transit, an indisputably progressive cause which benefits people with low incomes and helps to prevent climate destruction.

So what exactly is the problem, Metro Vancouver? Will we succumb, as suggested by the latest poll, to the cynical panderings of “starve the beast” fanatics? Or will we defy the prognosticators and rise to the occasion?

This blogger is not optimistic, but he hopes to be proven wrong.

This post appears on rabble.ca.

It’s the Climate, Stupid!

Portland protestNot two weeks since the federal government’s long-anticipated approval of the Northern Gateway pipeline, the magnitude of the obstacles faced by the project are becoming clearer by the day.

There is widespread public hostility — both in Kitimat, envisioned as the pipeline’s end location, as well as across British Columbia more generally. First Nations and environmental groups have launched several court challenges, with more expected to come. Massive protests and civil disobedience are inevitable. Efforts will soon be underway to initiate a province-wide referendum. The government of BC, which must provide about 60 permits, is ambivalent about the pipeline at best, while federal opposition parties are promising to reverse the project’s approval if they win next year’s election.

All this in addition to the much-ballyhooed 209 conditions.

Nevertheless, as rosy as matters may look from certain angles, victory is far from assured. The entrenched power of Enbridge and its political backers in Ottawa and Edmonton is nothing to scoff at, and pipeline opponents would do well to take a step back and consider why exactly they are opposed.

I say this because in the coming months, British Columbia will be bombarded by relentless propaganda (as though we haven’t had enough already) claiming that Enbridge has heard our cries of protest and will commit to building the greenest, most environmentally responsible pipeline it can build. The threat of bitumen spills on land and at sea will be neutralized. The company will meet and exceed provincial demands for “world-leading” response, prevention, and recovery systems.

Never mind for a moment the disingenuousness of such attempts to deflect and to co-opt. Never mind Enbridge’s less-than-exemplary record on oil spills. Such promises, even if true, are irrelevant because they fail to address the proverbial elephant in the room, climate change. The fight against pipelines is not just about our wilderness, our rivers, our coastlines — vital though these are. It is about the planet-wide impact of dangerously accelerating tar sands expansion, a process that Northern Gateway is meant to facilitate.

According to current projections, if warming is to be kept within the two-degree limit pledged by world leaders at Copenhagen, global greenhouse gas emissions must peak some time before 2020. Such a scenario is not consistent with the continued building of large-scale fossil fuel infrastructure with decades-long lifespans (at least not here in the developed world). Virtually every new pipeline, oil refinery, LNG facility, or coal-fired power plant is another nail in the coffin of climate stability.

It is possible to disagree reasonably about how rapidly to phase out existing infrastructure, how aggressively to tackle the transition to wind, solar, tidal, geothermal, and other renewables. But at the very least, at this stage in our history, to continue full speed in the opposite direction without a care for the consequences should be unthinkable.

That — in addition to the risk of spills — is what’s wrong with Northern Gateway. That is why we can’t let them win.

This post appears on rabble.ca.