Trudeau is betting his entire government on the fight against climate change

Last time, climate change was just one item in a crowded throne speech. Now, it’s centre-stage.

Gov. Gen. Julie Payette delivers the throne speech in the Senate chamber in Ottawa. (Chris Wattie/Canadian Press)

Talk is cheap and everything is easier said than done — but a throne speech, by its very nature, can only be measured by its words. And the two most prominent words in the official remarks that opened the 43rd Parliament were “climate” and “change.”

“Canada’s children and grandchildren will judge this generation by its action — or inaction — on the defining challenge of the time: climate change,” Gov. Gen. Julie Payette said, delivering the most striking sentence of Thursday’s 3,300-word speech.

The word “climate” appears 11 times in the speech. It first appears in the first section of the speech — the part that is, by tradition, set aside for the Queen’s representative to offer a few opening thoughts.

If climate change is the defining political issue of the age, Justin Trudeau’s government will be judged by how it navigates the opportunities and risks it presents — opportunities and risks that were laid bare by the recent election and will now play out over the course of this Parliament.

By the measure of its words, this throne speech serves as a sort of benchmark of how much has changed in just six years.

In 2013, in the waning days of Stephen Harper’s government, Julie Payette’s immediate predecessor, David Johnston, delivered a speech from the throne that ran on for more than 7,000 words. It was the longest throne speech of the last 30 years — and not once did it mention the word “climate.”

Prime Minister Stephen Harper welcomes Gov. Gen. David Johnston as he arrives to deliver the speech from the throne in the Senate Chamber on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Wednesday Oct. 16, 2013. (Justin Tang/CP)

There was a glancing reference in the speech to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but only at the 4,600-word mark — after long sections on balancing the federal budget, reducing the size of government, creating jobs, expanding trade, developing natural resources, supporting farmers, building infrastructure, cutting taxes, supporting small businesses and “defending Canadian consumers.”

Two years and an election later, the need for a “clean environment” merited its own section in the Trudeau government’s 1,700-word opening statement. But “the environment” still only ran third among the government’s broad areas of concern, behind “growth for the middle class” and “open and transparent government.”

“First and foremost, the government believes that all Canadians should have a real and fair chance to succeed,” Johnston declared on behalf of Trudeau in 2015. “Central to that success is a strong and growing middle class.”

Climate change moves to the political centre

The “middle class” — shorthand for economic security and broadly shared prosperity — was the spine of the Trudeau agenda, a strong foundation that could support priorities like reconciliation, gender equality, diversity, political reform and combating climate change.

On Thursday, climate change was front and centre.

Governor General Julie Payette shares a laugh with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau before delivering the Throne Speech in the Senate chamber, Thursday December 5, 2019 in Ottawa. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

In December 2019, fighting climate change feels like the overarching cause in Canadian federal politics, the thing that everything else must work toward. It’s not just a moral imperative — it’s a political one as well. Payette reminds parliamentarians they share a ‘space-time continuum’

As the fall’s federal election demonstrated, climate change now defines the gulf between the political left in Canada (who are very eager to do something to reduce this country’s emissions) and the right (who are not).

But the Liberals do not have the left to themselves.

More than 60 per cent of voters in October cast a ballot for a candidate whose party supported a price on carbon, but those votes were split between the Liberals, the Bloc Québécois, the NDP and the Greens. In the short and medium terms, if the Liberals are to advance an agenda through this Parliament, they’ll do it, more often than not, with the cooperation of the Bloc or NDP. MORE


Bloc leader says West’s oil ‘obsession’ rules out separatist help

File photo of Bloc leader Yves-François Blanchet at the leaders’ debate in Ottawa in October 2019. Photo by Andrew Meade

The leader of the Bloc Québécois says Western Canada’s need to “obsessively want to extract oil from the ground” means it is difficult for his party to help further any separatist sentiment there.

“If they were attempting to create a green state in Western Canada, I might be tempted to help them,” Yves-François Blanchet told reporters in Ottawa on Wednesday, following a meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“If they are trying to create an oil state in Western Canada, they cannot expect any help from us.”

Blanchet’s rendezvous with Trudeau is one of a string of meetings the prime minister is holding with political leaders following his minority government’s election and ahead of a new Parliament scheduled to open in December.

Blanchet, however, left his meeting saying he was open to collaborating on Liberal government proposals to tackle climate change. The Liberals are 13 votes shy of a majority needed to pass legislation on their own, and with 32 seats, the Bloc is in a position to lend a helping hand.

“When there will be some initiatives brought forward in order to reduce our emissions to improve the huge problem of climate change, we will be open to discussion,” said Blanchet.

“However, each and every time, we have the duty to remind this government that they are also promoting the extraction, exportation, and consumption of oil throughout the world, which is destroying the effect of what they are trying to do on the other end.” MORE

Big Oil’s Political Reach

Mapping fossil fuel lobbying from Harper to Trudeau

Image result for stephen harper justin trudeau

In Canada between 2011 and 2018 the fossil fuel industry was one of the most active industry groups lobbying the federal government with over six contacts per working day made with government officials. During this period, the intensity of lobbying increased when salient policy issues—like the Environmental Assessment Act—arose or when there were big stakes for industry such as major pipeline decisions and approvals.

This study provides a network analysis of federal lobbying by the fossil fuel industry in Canada, covering both the Conservative government of Stephen Harper and the Liberal government of Justin Trudeau.

The network this research uncovers amounts to a small world of intense interaction among relatively few lobbyists and the designated public office holders who are their targets.

In comparing lobbying across the Harper and Trudeau administrations, we find a pattern of continuity-in-change: under Trudeau, the bulk of lobbying was carried out by the same large firms as under Harper but focused more on government bureaucrats rather than the members of Parliament who were more frequently contacted under Harper.

The shifting pattern in focus is concerning as it indicates that elite policy networks outlast election cycles and potentially the stated platforms of elected officials. The study also examines lobbying in relation to specific projects such as pipeline proposals and decisions.

The lobbying period under examination coincides with a period during which climate change was acknowledged as an increasingly urgent threat and one in which the Canadian economy became focused significantly around carbon intensive resources.  SOURCE

This report is part of the Corporate Mapping Project, a research and public engagement initiative investigating the power of the fossil fuel industry in Western Canada. The CMP is jointly led by the University of Victoria, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Parkland Institute. 

Trudeau extends olive branch to Western Canada, vows to build Trans Mountain despite opposition

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau makes his way to a press conference at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa on Wednesday. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Two days after much of Western Canada rejected the Liberals on election day, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau today vowed to be more sensitive to the needs of Alberta and Saskatchewan and to build the Trans Mountain expansion pipeline in the face of entrenched opposition from environmentalists.

Trudeau told a press conference in Ottawa this afternoon he clearly has to do more to earn the trust of people in the two resource-rich provinces. He said that work will start with ensuring more pipeline capacity is brought online so that oil producers can sell their product abroad at prices closer to the going world rate.

While Trudeau campaigned on a promise of more aggressive action to fight climate change, he said nothing has changed with respect to the government-owned Trans Mountain project and insisted it will be built after years of legal wrangling.

‘In the interest of Canada’

“We made a decision to move forward on the pipeline because it was in the interest of Canada to do so, because the environment and the economy need to go together. We will be continuing with the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion,” he said.

“Albertans and people in Saskatchewan have faced very difficult years over these past few years because of the global commodity prices, because of the challenges they are facing. For a long time they weren’t able to get their resources to markets other than the U.S. We are moving forward to solve those challenges.”

Lengths of pipe for the Trans Mountain expansion project are stacked at Edson, Alta. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

If built, the 1,150-kilometre expansion project would nearly triple the existing pipeline’s capacity to 890,000 barrels a day. It would transport product directly from Alberta’s oilpatch to coastal B.C. for shipping to markets in Asia.

Trudeau has promised any profits from the existing pipeline — pegged at some $500 million a year in corporate tax revenue alone — and the planned expansion will be used to fund green-friendly initiatives to help tackle climate change.

The federal Liberal government has twice approved the $7.4-billion Trans Mountain expansion. Ottawa bought the project from its original U.S. proponent, Kinder Morgan, in 2018 after that company threatened to end all essential spending on the project in response to outspoken opposition from B.C.’s provincial NDP government.

Even after a stunning court decision in August 2018 quashed the Liberal cabinet’s initial approvals, Trudeau promised to build the project “the right way.” After another consultation process with Indigenous peoples and an improved environmental review, cabinet again approved the project in June 2019. The Federal Court of Appeal is currently reviewing an appeal by Indigenous groups of that second approval.

Trans Mountain’s fate not up to MPs

While Trudeau might have to rely in this minority Parliament on vote support from the NDP and Green caucuses — two entities that have expressed strident opposition to Trans Mountain — the project’s future does not depend on any one vote in the House of Commons.

In Canada, major natural resources projects like pipelines go through a regulatory review process led by the Canadian Energy Regulator (or, as it was known until recently, the National Energy Board) . It falls to cabinet, and cabinet alone, to give the project a final “yea” or “nay.” And while those decisions are subject to judicial review, it’s not up to individual parliamentarians to decide whether a particular project is approved.

Power & Politics

Asked why Liberals were wiped out in Alta. and Sask, @JustinTrudeau said: “Why did this happen is not the central issue we have. The central issue for me is how do we move forward in a way that responds to the concerns that Albertans and Saskatchewanians have clearly expressed.”

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Trudeau said he has spoken recently with Western leaders like Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi about how the federal government can support a region that has struggled with slumping commodity prices and constrained export capacity.
“I will be reaching out specifically to westerners to hear from them … to talk about how we can make sure that the concerns, the very real concerns of Albertans, are being addressed and reflected by this government,” Trudeau said.
“This is something that I take very seriously, as a responsibility, to ensure that we are moving forward in ways that benefit all Canadians. I will be listening and working with a broad range of people to ensure that happens.” MORE

Justin Trudeau is a fake progressive. Now Canada must vote for real ones

Ahead of Monday’s election, little divides the Liberal prime minister and the reactionary Conservatives. But there is an alternative

 ‘Trudeau promised big but delivered small.’ Justin Trudeau at a campaign rally in Montreal, October 2019. Photograph: Valerie Blum/EPA

How far Justin Trudeau’s star has fallen. In 2015, the rise of this hopey-changey wunderkind was supposed to usher in a bold new Canadian era: democratic reform, ambitious climate action, a plan to tackle inequality, and a new, respectful relationship with Indigenous peoples. But his Liberal party’s bid for re-election, ahead of the election on Monday, looks altogether different: this campaign is dominated by warnings, in ominous tones, about the threat posed by a resurgent, rightwing Conservative party.

 Canadian elections: can Justin Trudeau hold on to power? – video explainer

But if Canadians want the kind of country that reflects their progressive views, the choice in this election is clear: vote for the NDP. The overlooked story of the election is the surge in the party’s popularity, which has come at the expense of both the Liberals and Conservatives – and in spite of the media’s efforts to write it off.

Under the leadership of Jagmeet Singh, the NDP has finally halted its right-ward slide – which allowed Justin Trudeau to outflank it to the left in 2015 – and is offering its most progressive platform in a generation. State-funded dental care and prescriptions, 300,000 green jobs and free public transit, paid for by a wealth tax on the ultra rich: the sort of the ambitious leftwing policies that polls consistently show Canadians are hungry for.

In an age of turmoil, it is this kind of politics, rather than establishment Liberalism, that can hope to stem the tide of an increasingly xenophobic right. Pervasive insecurity and discontent in Canada, fundamentally unaddressed by Liberal policies, have been capitalised on by rightwing politicians to scapegoat migrants and Muslims – followed closely by openly white supremacist groups, whose numbers have nearly tripled since Trudeau came to office. This week’s endorsement of Trudeau by Barack Obama underscores the dynamic: both are defenders of a bankrupt, corporate-friendly centrism that has demonstrated it is no match for rightwing faux populists such as Donald Trump. This is what gives the ultimate lie to the promise of “strategic voting”. The politics of the Liberals aren’t a lesser evil – they are the surest path to greater evil.

The only answer to a rising right will come from a left courageous enough to take on vested interests, rather than the vulnerable – and to redistribute obscene levels of private wealth in the service of the public good. The NDP is not going to win this election. But if Canadians elected enough of its MPs, a minority Liberal government might be forced to rely on the party to pass legislation: this would provide powerful leverage in parliament to push for vital new social programs and a transformative approach to the climate crisis, with social movements pressuring from the outside. Universal healthcare, public pensions, the 40-hour work week, same-sex marriage: all were won under previous minority Liberal governments when the NDP held the balance of power. But for that to become possible after Monday, it will take voting from hope, not fear. In this election, Justin Trudeau isn’t Canada’s real progressive choice – nor the politician to stop the rise of an ugly right.



Trudeau’s Promised Indigenous Housing Strategy Still Nowhere in Sight

We spoke to Indigenous leaders and housing advocates to learn what’s at stake and what they want to hear from the parties.

UBCIC’s Grand Chief Stewart Phillip says the failure to fix the Indigenous housing crisis is ‘a dimension of racism.’ Photo by David P. Ball.

Next month marks the two-year anniversary of the Trudeau government’s launch of Canada’s first-ever National Housing Strategy.

But Indigenous people, whose ancestors have lived here for tens of thousands of years, were barely mentioned, with no new funding marked solely for Indigenous housing.

This despite the fact that First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people — just five per cent of the overall population in Canada — are far more likely to live in overcrowded or unsafe housing, pay more than 30 per cent of their income on housing or become homeless.

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, an umbrella organization of First Nations governments, says the failure to address the Indigenous housing crisis is easily explained.

“It’s a dimension of racism,” he said. “And society’s attitude is ‘Indigenous people have always been poor. They’ve always lived in substandard, dilapidated housing. What would one expect? They’re Indigenous peoples,’ right?”

The Liberal government pledged in 2017 to create housing strategies for Inuit, Métis and First Nations people.

But almost two years later, there are still no Indigenous housing strategies.

Only the NDP has included such strategies in its election platform, although former Liberal MP Adam Vaughan said in a recent debate on housing that his party is “committed” to a separate national urban Indigenous housing strategy by and for urban Indigenous people.

Robert Byers, chair of the Indigenous housing caucus for the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association, an umbrella group for social and Indigenous housing providers in Canada, is not surprised by the delay.

He cites his own experience working on the national homelessness strategy released earlier this year.

“Imagine how slow something can go, and then slow it down about three or four more times,” he said, adding he understands federal policies and procedures need to be followed when creating a national strategy and that takes time. But it only accounts for some of the delay, Byers said, and he doesn’t know what else could be holding the strategy up. MORE

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