Mike Harris: And Now, the Harper Comeback. Just Read the Signs

All the ways he’s campaigned for leader almost as soon as Scheer won.


Laughing and waiting? Former Tory PM Stephen Harper has sent many signals he wants back in the role of Conservative leader. Photo by Adrian Wyld, the Canadian Press.

For months now, sources within the Conservative party have been telling me of an internal faction eager to see Andrew Scheer gone in order to make way for the return of Stephen Harper as party leader.

Nothing we’ve seen in recent weeks, and now today, argues against this. In fact, Scheer’s doomed attempt to hang on to the CPC leadership has been like watching a puppy running around on a six-lane highway. And now he’s roadkill.

So who might be next up? As the Christmas ditty goes, it’s beginning to look a lot like Harper, everywhere you go.

As one Senator put it to me on background, “While the avalanche of criticism mounts, no one is talking up a successor. Who is waiting in the wings, ready to go, straight out of the box? Only one person is ready. Stephen Harper, come on down!”

It may not be as glitzy or cut and dried as that. There are certainly other leadership assets within the CPC, including Lisa Raitt, Michael Chong, Peter MacKay, Erin O’Toole, and Rona Ambrose.

Each of them might be able to move the party closer to millennials, urban voters, and environmentalists — if that is where the CPC decides it needs to go in pursuit of power. A speculation, by the way, that is far from a sure bet.

But each also has their fair share of drawbacks.

Raitt, Chong, and O’Toole were rejected by Conservatives in the 2017 leadership race — and then Raitt went on to lose her seat in parliament in the recent election.

MacKay is blamed by some for betraying the old Progressive-Conservative party when the CPC was created. The PCs were submerged by, rather than merged with, the Canadian Alliance led by Harper.

Although Ambrose got good reviews for her interim leadership, the full-time Big Job is another matter. Nor is it at all certain she wants to leave private life where she seems to be enjoying herself.

There is also something else.

Despite their various talents, none of these potential candidates has anything like the network that Harper maintains to this day within the CPC. That includes a coveted spot on the Conservative Party Fund. Perhaps that’s why Harper himself had this to say to an audience at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business in February 2018, less than a year after Scheer became leader:

“I think I probably could still easily be leader of my party if I wanted to. I mean, I’m the de facto founder of my party.”

Hubris or honesty? Both actually.

A guy named MacKay had a little to do with creating the CPC back in 2003. But Harper’s vaunted opinion of his leadership prospects may be accurate. It gained major traction from a November 2019 Abacus Data poll that asked 3,000 respondents over the age of 18 this question: Andrew Scheer or Who?

Across the country, and in vote-rich Ontario, where the Scheer campaign sputtered, Stephen Harper did very well. But there was one measurement in the poll where the former PM was in a class by himself.

“Our test of potential alternatives to Mr. Scheer finds none, except for Mr. Harper, are preferred over Mr. Scheer among those who voted Conservative in the last election,” wrote David Coletto, one of Abacus’s founding partners.

If a Harper comeback seems impossible, history offers reminders of people who got an unlikely second kick at the can.

There is of course the famous return from the political dead of Richard Nixon. After crushing defeats in 1960 and 1962, Nixon rebounded to become President of the United States.

But there is a better example closer to home, the prime ministerial resurrection of Pierre Trudeau in 1980. After being defeated by Joe Clark in 1979, Trudeau won back his old job in 1980 — and stayed on for another four, improbable years.

Would Harper want to duplicate that? No one knows. But judging from how hard he has worked to keep his name out there, often at Scheer’s expense, it certainly looks like it.

Harper’s self-marketing blitz

Despite being chairman of the International Democratic Union, a secretive group dedicated to helping elect right-wing governments around the world, Harper has sought out the limelight as a retired politician in a way he never did as PM.

He has undergone a transformation. The lone wolf has become a publicity hound. A few examples:

In July 2018, Harper made big news with a visit to the White House, where he met with Donald Trump’s former national security advisor John Bolton. He did that without observing the small courtesy of informing Global Affairs Canada, the Canadian Embassy, or the Privy Council Office about his trip. It is not everyone who can walk into the West Wing. When they do, it is big news, especially when that person is a former PM.

At around the same time, Harper stuck a competitive and very public elbow in Justin Trudeau’s ribs over the NAFTA talks. The former PM accused the Liberals of dragging their heels on the deal, preferring to score political points in Canada by fighting with the deeply unpopular Donald Trump.

After the deal was struck, Harper went on Fox News to say that Trump had driven the best deal in the new USMCA agreement to replace NAFTA, adding at a later geopolitical summit in India that a smart Canadian leader would get along with Trump. Millions more eyeballs on the former PM, and another major news story that eclipsed anything Scheer was doing.

On a visit to the U.K. at the height of the Brexit chaos in late September 2019, Harper castigated the country’s Supreme Court for ruling that Prime Minister Boris Johnson had illegally shut down Parliament.

When Harper was in office and trashed his own chief justice, Beverley McLachlin, it became a national story. Now he was dumping on the justices of another country’s highest court in the middle of a national crisis, and that became an international story. Once again it featured Stephen Harper, ex PM, playing in the big leagues.

And then there was Harper’s high-profile apology to Tabitha Speer, the widow of the U.S. medic allegedly killed by former child soldier Omar Khadr. Harper’s move came after the Trudeau government paid out $10.5 million to Khadr, and offered an apology for violating his charter rights while he was a prisoner at Guantanamo.

Since Scheer had just become leader, Harper might have advised the new leader to be the one to make that apology. There were political points to be scored, since PM Trudeau didn’t reach out to Speer. And there was a fierce public backlash over the payout. Instead, Harper did it himself, once again copping the headlines and leaving Scheer in the shadows.

Harper yet again won the spotlight while putting his thumb in Trudeau’s eye regarding another item of Canada’s foreign policy. The former prime minister added his name to a full-page ad in the New York Times praising President Trump for walking away from the nuclear deal with Iran. The same man who had apologized to Americans because PM Chretien didn’t follow the U.S. into the Iraq War was doing it again. And getting the media bang for his buck.

The cherry on the sundae of his self-promotion? Harper published a new book in 2018. Coincidentally, the subject of Right Here, Right Now is political leadership, and what it takes to provide it in an age of “disruption.” Harper knows that he is the only Conservative leader in Canada to actually win power since the post Mulroney debacle of 1993, the only one with the right stuff.

It could be argued that the publicity seeking is just part of doing a good job for the International Democratic Union. Fair enough. But what about all those clickbait ads and paid Google polls promoting Harper-the-politician that have run while Scheer has been leader?

In one of them, Harper is pictured in a dark jacket and tie, looking off to his left. The caption reads Miss Me Yet? Viewers get this instruction: “Hit the button if you think Stephen Harper was the best Prime Minister. And sign the thank you card.” That one was put up by Strong and Free.

Harper post
Among those trolling for a Harper comeback is the right-wing group Strong and Free.

In another, there is a split-screen, featuring Harper on one side and Scheer on the other. Both men are holding their hands in the same position, palms upward, emphasizing a point. But the image of Harper is bigger and more forceful, while Scheer looks relatively puny.

Viewers are asked to vote on this question: “Would you vote for Harper as the Conservative leader now? There is an orange “Vote Now” button and the option to share it on Facebook and Twitter. In one screen shot of results, Harper gets 2,077 votes, and Scheer 892, a 70-30 split.

Who’s put Scheer on the plank?

So Harper, with help from others, has self-promoted and kept his image as a strong political leader alive and well all through Scheer’s tenure as Conservative leader. Has anything else happened that would suggest he might be thinking about a political comeback?

There is.

Consider the people who wanted Scheer to walk the plank before the party’s leadership review in April. Almost all of them are one-time acolytes of Harper:

Kory Teneycke, Harper’s former director of communications, who now heads Conservative Victory, a group that was dedicated to dumping Scheer; Jenni Byrne, Harper’s former deputy-campaign manager and long-time loyalist; Sara MacIntyre, Harper’s former press secretary, who is now spokesperson for Conservative Victory; and former member of the Harper administration Jeff Ballingall, the co-founder of the Ontario Proud and Canada Proud websites — the “king of Canadian Conservative Shitposting” according to Canadaland.

Other disses of Scheer’s leadership have been offered by former Harper cabinet ministers. Former trade minister Ed Fast turned down a post in Scheer’s shadow cabinet. Former MP and one-time Harper campaign manager John Reynolds joined Conservative Victory to force out Scheer. And Peter MacKay famously referred to Scheer’s social conservative values as a “stinking albatross” that the Liberals adeptly hung around his neck.

And who was doing the assessment of Scheer’s unsuccessful campaign to unseat Trudeau? None other than former Harper cabinet minister John Baird. You may rest assured that Baird’s assessment would have been unflattering, from Scheer’s sneakiness about his dual citizenship to the hiring of Warren Kinsella to “seek and destroy” the People’s Party of Canada led by Maxime Bernier.

The crowning irony of Scheer’s fate resting almost entirely in the hands of Harperites? The very campaign Conservative activists and insiders are now trashing was devised by Hamish Marshall — the former director of strategic planning for PM Stephen Harper.

Place your bets

So will Harper seek a re-match with Trudeau and go for a Rocky moment?

No one knows of course. But it’s already humming on the telegraph wires. Here are the words of columnist Graham Lane appearing in the Winnipeg Sun and the Province newspapers:

“With Scheer providing a gracious timely retreat, Conservatives would be free to find a well-tested winner to step up to the plate. Perhaps Stephen Harper, a well-known skeptic of ham-handed, ever-expanding federal state, could be persuaded to return. With the knowledgeable and effective Harper back in the saddle, Canada could begin healing — economically and politically.”

The only thing that has changed is the takeover date. The Conservatives thought Trudeau would win another majority in 2019, but he was damaged by the SNC-Lavalin scandal and the blackface episodes.

Scheer has now resigned. There are allegations he used Conservative party funds to send his kids to private school. Harper would have been privy to that information.

Harper redux should surprise no one.  SOURCE


Scheer Peddling ‘Conspiracy Theory’ About Oil Industry, Says NDP MP

An old debate is new again in a fresh session of Parliament.

TORONTO — The first day of debate in the new session of Parliament began with a throwback claim that “foreign-funded activist groups” are hijacking Canada’s energy industry.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer responded to the throne speech on Friday, raising concerns about the Alberta and Saskatchewan economies. He warned his colleagues in the House of Commons not to underestimate feelings of alienation on the Prairies — which didn’t sit well with all members.

Scheer reaffirmed his party’s commitment to support Canada’s energy sector, saying one of his party’s core commitments is to “ban foreign-funded activist groups from participating in the pre-approvals process for large energy projects

The mention of “foreign-funded activist groups” having a role in landlocking the energy industry in Western Canada resurrects an argument made in a 2012 open letter by former Conservative natural resources minister Joe Oliver.

Amid debate about the fate of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline, Oliver blamed foreign-funded “radical groups” for finding any means necessary to “achieve their radical ideological agenda” to block resource development.

“Their goal is to stop any major project no matter what the cost to Canadian families in lost jobs and economic growth,” he wrote at the time. “No forestry. No mining. No oil. No gas. No more hydro-electric dams.”

Scheer’s resuscitation of a similar line of argument irritated NDP MP Charlie Angus.

The Timmins—James Bay MP mocked the Conservative leader for seemingly blaming activists for job losses — and dragged Scheer for failing to propose “any coherent climate change plan” before and during the election.

“We get the conspiracy theory of foreign radicals who are trying to undermine our industry. Nobody buys that. We don’t have any coherent plan other than, ‘Grrr grrr grrr carbon tax.’”  PARLVU SCREENGRAB

Scheer has no credibility on the “single biggest crisis facing our planet,” Angus said in reference to climate change. The longtime NDP MP chastised the Conservative leader for using national unity issues as a way to leverage support the expansion of fossil fuel production.

The Opposition leader “tells the rest of Canada that they have to go along with his conspiracy theories … or they will break up our country,” Angus said before making a veiled attack at the leadership and party unity challenges currently facing Scheer.

“I would tell that member to drop that kind of language because the ground is certainly melting beneath his feet very quickly at this point.”

Scheer brushed off Angus for delivering “idle rhetoric.” He called the NDP MP’s words “despicable,” which prompted an exchange with the Speaker about tone in the House.

As Western premiers blow smoke on carbon tax, youth organize for climate justice

Image: Spence Mann
Image: Spence Mann

Justin Trudeau’s re-election has unleashed political outrage in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is talking about Alberta’s being “betrayed” while Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe sent a letter to Trudeau demanding the cancellaiton of the federal carbon tax, support for various pipelines, and a renegotiation of the formula for equalization payments.

I’ll withhold detailed comment on equalization payments, other than to say that for many years, Saskatchewan was a “have-not” province that relied heavily upon them. But let’s look more closely at Moe’s letter as it relates to the carbon tax and pipelines. Moe’s strident demands are likely based upon the election results in Saskatchewan and Alberta, where the Conservatives won 47 of 48 seats. On the other hand, parties supporting a carbon levy won almost two-thirds of the seats and popular vote across Canada.

It is significant, too, that the results in Alberta and Saskatchewan were not monolithic. In Alberta, 28 per cent of those casting ballots voted for the Liberals, NDP or Greens, and these parties all support a carbon tax. In Saskatchewan, 34 per cent of the electors voted for those three parties. If we had purely proportional representation rather than our flawed first-past-the-post electoral system, parties other than the Conservatives would have 10 seats in Alberta and five in Saskatchewan. So Kenney and Moe cannot say that they are speaking on behalf of all their constituents.

 Carbon tax haters are delayers and deniers

Kenney, Moe and others constantly repeat the mantra that the carbon tax will be a “job killer” and according to Doug Ford will lead to a recession. But these claims have been challenged. In a February, three independent experts, including the highly respected Don Drummond, concluded: “Economists are virtually unanimous in the view that carbon pricing reduces greenhouse gas emissions at the lowest possible cost to the economy.” British Columbia, Quebec and California are all using some form of carbon tax and their economies are humming along.

If Moe and others are opposed to a carbon tax, what is their suggestion, if any, for a means to reduce greenhouse gas emissions? There’s the rub. While Moe, Kenney, Ford and Andrew Scheer rail against the carbon tax, or demand that various pipelines be built, they usually avoid any mention of the climate crisis.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which includes the world’s best climate scientists, has been issuing reports for years. The IPCC reports of late are increasingly urgent in tone. The IPCC now says that global carbon dioxide emissions will have to fall by 45 per cent in 2030, and to reach a net of zero by 2050 to avoid catastrophic damage.

The Trudeau government — implausibly, many suggest — has promised that it is on course to meet those targets and that a carbon tax is the rightful centerpiece of that effort. Ottawa believes the tax will encourage a market shift away from fossil fuels toward renewable sources of energy.

The strategy of the tax’s opponents has shifted from denying the reality of climate change, which is no longer credible, to tactics of delay. During the election campaign, Conservatives said they would require large polluters to pay into a research and development fund for green technology. That plan appeared suspiciously akin to what was being proposed by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the oil industry’s main lobby, which has a close relationship with Andrew Scheer. Tellingly, the proposal contained no associated targets or timetables for reducing emissions, and was described by one analyst as simply “a plan to expand fossil fuel production.”

Support on the street

While premiers Moe and Kenney attempt to delay, there is growing support on the street for climate action. On September 27, hundreds of thousands of people — 500,000 in Montreal alone — marched in climate strikes that took place in 200 Canadian cities and towns. Many of the organizers were youth, and they were participating in a global day of action to demand that our political leaders do more to confront the climate crisis. These youth organizers are looking to the future. Premiers Moe and Kenney are staring into the rear-view mirror.

Ethics watchdog pushes for ‘collusion’ probe of Conservatives, oil lobby

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer speaks to reporters after the English-language leaders’ debate on Oct. 7, 2019 in Ottawa. Photo by Andrew Meade

The Conservative Party and Canada’s largest oil and gas lobby group stand accused of possibly “colluding” in violation of the country’s elections law, according to a complaint made to a federal commissioner.

Ethics watchdog Democracy Watch said Thursday it was calling on Commissioner of Canada Elections Yves Côté to investigate whether the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) and the Tories broke the Canada Elections Act.

The complaint centres on the fact the lobby group and the Conservatives have both done business with an advertising firm co-founded by Hamish Marshall, who is Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s campaign manager.

These connections, along with revelations about three events this past spring involving Scheer and oil industry executives, “point to a relationship of collaboration and support” that would give Côté “reasonable grounds to investigate,” the complaint reads.

“Don’t just call them up and say, ‘Hey, are you guys colluding?’” Democracy Watch co-founder Duff Conacher urged the commissioner in an Oct. 10 interview.

“There’s enough there, I think, for (Côté) to go to court and try to get a subpoena.”

As part of its evidence to the commissioner, Democracy Watch cited a National Observer story that a member of the CAPP board of governors lobbied Scheer during a gala dinner event sponsored by one of CAPP’s member companies, Imperial Oil….

Recent changes to the Canada Elections Act ban third parties and political parties acting “in collusion with each other,” including through information-sharing, in order to “influence” the third party in its partisan campaign activities, ads or election surveys. MORE

If Scheer wins, Albertans can kiss their economic future goodbye

Alberta oil sands in a photograph by Kris Krug

Yet the political parties who pretend to represent the interests of the oil industry are the ones dismantling carbon pricing and other policies that would help Canada transition to a clean economy. Add to that the McCarthy-esque Kenney “war room” trying to suggest that foundations and charities are somehow not permitted to weigh-in on the world’s great challenge of climate change, and oil industry lobby groups sponsoring nonsense to support this kangaroo-court sham, and we have the makings of the true demise of Alberta as an economic player going forward.

To understand why and how this will happen, we need only turn back the clock to the days of Harper and the various Alberta premiers whose collective intransigence led to Alberta and Canada being a global punching-bag as climate laggards. Forgotten, it seems, is that the Conservatives in power federally and provincially were still incapable of getting a pipeline built, mainly because of their climate science avoidance and disrespect of due process. How then do they imagine that even greater ignorance, and more egregious due process will succeed?

If Scheer wins, this is what the Canadian political playbook will look like. First, Conservatives (or at least the Reformers at the helm) will be gloating in a false victory for those who do not accept the urgency. Second, a strong coalition of leaders who seek to delay action will dig in on dismantling climate policies, ensuring that Canada returns to global pariah status on the international stage. Third, as a consequence of the first two, anti-Alberta campaigns will ramp-up and the Kenney war room will be exposed for the boondoggle it is. And finally, the international investment community will hasten the already rapid withdrawal of investment from Alberta accelerating the provinces economic woes. At this point new pipelines will not be needed as the industry will be contracting. There is now an active and sophisticated global movement on sustainable investing and if Canadian businesses (financial and fossil fuel) aren’t actively defining how to invest in the transition out of oil, the scenario painted above will come faster and harder….

Fossil fuels aren’t going away tomorrow and having Alberta supply Canada and the rest of the world with Canadian fossil fuel is a much better scenario for Canada than shutting down one of the largest economic engines, while other countries eat our lunch. Contrary to popular wisdom, demand for fossil fuels is still growing. The Americans are massively expanding their domestic oil and gas production to record levels, the Norwegians still drill for oil offshore, the Germans mine coal etc. The only option for Canada is to understand and embrace the complexity of how to finance the transition to a clean economy through a measured, long-term transition investment strategy that sees the cleaning up of the fossil fuel sector in a way that demonstrates global leadership. Politicians pitting different parts of Canada against each other is about the worst possible outcome for Canadians and a sad reflection on the narrow-mindedness of our Balkanized politicians. We need to be competing with the world, not each other. SOURCE

A fortune lies in Canada’s oil sands. Many voters want to leave it there.

Robbie Picard, founder of Oil Sands Strong, sits for a photograph at a diner in Fort McMurray, Alberta, on Sept. 24, 2019. Photo: Bloomberg Photo By Jason Franson. / The Washington Post
Robbie Picard, founder of Oil Sands Strong, sits for a photograph at a diner in Fort McMurray, Alberta, on Sept. 24, 2019.  Photo: Bloomberg Photo By Jason Franson.

At the Fish Place diner in Fort McMurray, booths are filled with oil workers in baseball caps and the parking lot is lined with pickup trucks sporting six-foot (1.8 meter) neon safety flags, a hallmark of the mining industry.

Fort McMurray is the regional hub for the oil sands that produce two-thirds of Canada’s crude, a status that puts the city carved out of Alberta’s wilderness at the heart of the Oct. 21 federal election.

Robbie Picard, who heads an oil-sands advocacy group, calls it “the most important election we’ve ever had.” Over a breakfast of eggs and cheese in the diner, Picard said that a second term for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would cause “anxiety, depression and despair” in the city. “I’m terrified for our future,” he said.

In a campaign that’s been uncharacteristically personal in tone for Canada, energy and the environment is arguably the key policy area that will decide the election-and most agree the outcome of the vote will in turn be crucial for Canada’s energy sector.

Not only will it determine the future of carbon taxes, pipeline approvals and environmental regulations, it’s also a referendum on a dispute central to the country’s identity: Is Canada a global oil superpower or is it a leader in fighting climate change?

Trudeau and his Liberal supporters argue that it can be both, using proceeds from its oil and gas to fund green-energy solutions. He says he has supported the industry more than his Conservative predecessor, spending C$4.5 billion ($3.5 billion) to save a key pipeline project from cancellation, taking flak from the environmental camp in the process.

But critics including his main challenger, Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, hammer him for abandoning a pipeline through British Columbia, failing to push through another line to Canada’s east coast and passing a law that they say will make major energy projects impossible to approve. Trudeau’s comment at a town hall meeting in Ontario back in 2017 that the country needs to phase out the oil sands has added to the sense that it’s not just specific policies but the industry’s very existence that’s on the ballot.

“Do we want our energy industry to be a global player, or do we want our industry to go into hibernation and we’ll just slowly shut it down?” Derek Evans, chief executive officer of oil-sands producer MEG Energy Corp., said in an interview. “That’s the point we’re at.”

The source of the dilemma lies in the expanse of forests and marshes surrounding Fort McMurray. These lands contain the world’s third-largest crude reserves, but the sticky bitumen extracted needs to be transported to market, and that means building hugely contentious pipelines. At present, there just aren’t enough of them for an energy sector that accounts for a tenth of Canada’s economy and a fifth of its exports.

In recent years, rising production from the oil sands has strained against limited pipeline capacity, exacerbated by delays to projects like TC Energy Corp.’s Keystone XL. That has weighed on regional oil prices and prompted companies including Royal Dutch Shell Plc and ConocoPhillips to sell off Canadian assets in a $30 billion-plus capital exodus.

A year ago, the pipeline pinch reached crisis proportions, sending Canadian heavy crude prices crashing below $15 a barrel and prompting Alberta’s government to intervene with mandated production cuts to stave off a full collapse. While prices have rebounded, the situation remains tenuous, hitting Alberta’s economy hard and inflaming opposition to Trudeau’s federal government.

The political predicament is encapsulated in the proposed expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline, which carries the heavy crude extracted near Fort McMurray about 715 miles (1,150 kilometers) westward to a Pacific port near Vancouver.

In 2013, then-owner Kinder Morgan of Houston won federal approval to triple the line’s capacity, promising to alleviate the bottlenecks and help Canadian crude reach new markets in Asia. But the proposal hit so much opposition-legal challenges, protests and a British Columbia government pledging to block it-that by last year Kinder was ready to abandon it.

Then, in a move that stunned the nation, Trudeau’s government swept in to buy it, vowing it would be built. Yet the purchase won Trudeau little support in deeply conservative Alberta, and it only hurt his standing with environmentalists, earning him the nickname “Justin Crudeau.” While opposition remains, construction on the project has begun.

Naomi Klein, the prominent Canadian writer and activist, said the purchase highlights the “utterly hypocritical” position Trudeau has taken since coming to power, allowing the oil sands to expand while claiming to make Canada a climate leader.

“What we need to be doing is investing the billions of dollars that the Trudeau government has been spending buying pipelines on rolling out renewable infrastructure,” she said in an interview. “We have not done that. We’ve wasted precious time.”

Trudeau’s energy policy thus risks alienating voters on both sides of a debate that is increasingly becoming a key dividing line across Canada. It’s a political reality that Scheer is playing upon, portraying his Conservative Party as a champion of the oil sector and pledging to remove the stricter environmental regulation brought in by Trudeau. With her party polling at a record, Green leader Elizabeth May also sees an opening.

Current polls suggest a close race, with Trudeau’s Liberals set to lose their majority. That raises the prospect of a minority Liberal government with the even more environmentally minded Green Party and New Democratic Party-“a nightmare” outcome for oil sands advocates like Picard, but arguably one in tune with voters in large parts of Canada. MORE


‘Mr. Delay, Mr. Deny’ and Canada’s precarious climate change future

Both Scheer and Trudeau have much to improve upon when it comes to climate policy; the Liberal government, in particular, is mired in deepening contradictions on environmental matters

PHOTO: Justin Trudeau/via Wikimedia Commons

During the recent federal leaders’ debate, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer only distinguished himself on climate issues by earning the title of “Mr. Deny” from Jagmeet Singh, leader of the New Democrats.

But Scheer nonetheless had two important insights into environmental issues raised during the campaign.

First, he reiterated the contradictions of the Liberal government’s approach to climate change, noting of Justin Trudeau’s participation in the Sept. 28 climate strike march in Montreal:

“I find it interesting and ironic that Justin Trudeau is actually protesting his own government’s record on the environment.”

Second, he has noticed, correctly, that for the most part, “the largest (industrial) emitters receive an exemption” from the Liberal’s carbon pricing system.

Of course, rather than addressing these contradictions and gaps by strengthening the way the carbon pricing system applies to large industrial polluters, the Conservatives would simply scrap the “job-killing” carbon pricing system altogether.

That, as Trudeau rightly pointed out, would remove the central element of Canada’s strategy for meeting its obligations under the Paris climate change agreement and effectively replace it with—if based on the feeble contents of the Conservatives’ own climate strategy so far—nothing.

At the same time, Scheer promises to use long-dormant Constitutional powers to override provincial and Indigenous objections to a national energy corridor that seems designed to cement Canada’s role as a high-carbon export economy for decades to come.

Separatism revival?

PHOTO: Andrew Scheer/Andre Forget via Wikimedia Commons

It’s difficult to imagine a better strategy for reviving the otherwise moribund separatist movement in Quebec given the strength of the objections to the proposed Energy East pipeline throughout the province.

That said, Scheer’s observations about the Liberal government’s contradictions on the climate file emphasize the point that the approval, then the $4.5 billion purchase, then re-approval of the Alberta-to-Vancouver Trans Mountain pipeline has become a millstone around the Trudeau government’s neck when it comes to appealing to progressive voters.

The defection of those voters to Singh’s NDP and Elizabeth May’s Greens threatens Trudeau’s majority government, and perhaps his ability to form a government at all.

Ironically, with the exception of the Trans Mountain pipeline question, the government’s record on the environment and climate change, although not perfect, is certainly respectable.

Trudeau’s Liberals have done more than any previous federal government to implement effective policy measures to reduce GHG emissions. They achieved a federal-provincial near-consensus (only Saskatchewan and Manitoba refused to sign) on the December 2016 Pan-Canadian Framework for Clean Growth and Climate Change.

In the aftermath of that agreement, which included commitments by all provinces to adopt some form of carbon pricing, Trudeau has stood remarkably firm in the face of opposition from newly elected Conservative premiers in Ontario, Alberta and New Brunswick.

The federal carbon pricing backstop is now being implemented in whole or in part in six provinces and all three territories. It was originally expected that, under the Pan-Canadian Framework, all of the provinces would implement their own carbon pricing systems. A major federal role in the process was never anticipated.

To its credit, Trudeau’s government has applied the federal backstop as provinces abandoned their commitments under the Pan-Canadian Framework and dismantled their own carbon pricing systems.

The government’s support for the Trans Mountain project was grounded in a deal with former Alberta premier Rachel Notley, exchanging a federal commitment to pursue a pipeline to tidewater for Alberta’s constructive engagement in a national climate change strategy.

Fair trade-off

This was, arguably, a reasonable trade-off. Alberta’s refusal to engage in discussions of serious climate change policies had been the key stumbling block in more than two decades of efforts to formulate an effective national climate change strategy following the adoption of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change at the Rio Conference in 1992.

Notley’s NDP government was initially true to its word and did engage seriously on the climate change issue. It participated in the 2016 Pan-Canadian Framework, implemented a carbon tax in Alberta, initiated a phaseout of coal-fired electricity and launched major strategies around energy efficiency and renewable energy.

None of these things can be said of Notley’s successor, Jason Kenney, who as leader of the United Conservative party became the premier of Alberta in April.

Rather, Kenney has made a point of shredding Notley’s climate change strategy, particularly the carbon tax. Kenney has signalled his intention to join the quixotic challenges by Ontario and Saskatchewan to the federal carbon pricing system to the Supreme Court of Canada.

He’s also challenging the federal government’s new environmental assessment legislation, Bill C-69.

The situation begs the question: If Alberta has walked away from its part of the bargain, why is Trudeau—dubbed “Mr. Delay” by Singh in the debate—still trying to move the Trans Mountain project forward?

Why not put pipeline on hold?

Wouldn’t it have been a better political and climate change strategy to put the pipeline on hold until Kenney agrees to re-engage, in a serious and constructive manner, on climate change?

The political cost of such an approach appears to be low. Trudeau’s continued support for the project seems to be winning him few friends in Alberta anyway. At the same time, it would have given the Liberal leader a much stronger response to his Green and NDP challengers.

It would have also provided a better justification for joining Greta Thunberg’s climate strike—Trudeau could have argued he was protesting the governments of Alberta, Ontario, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and New Brunswick and their refusal to take the issue seriously.

The future of Canada’s first serious attempt and—as May pointed out during the debate, potentially last opportunity—to actually implement an effective national climate change strategy now hangs in the balance on Oct. 21.

The Liberal government’s deepening contradictions on energy and environmental matters has played no small part in creating the precarious situation in which Canada now finds itself.

Future generations may well be justified in saying, as Thunberg recently did in her speech to the United Nations: “We will never forgive you.” SOURCE