Why Trudeau’s Circus Act May Not Survive the Blockade Crisis

Events in BC keep knocking the PM off balance. Will Liberals give him the hook?


Cartoon by Greg Perry.

Is the curtain coming down on the Justin Trudeau era in Canadian politics?

When the next election rolls around, both the Conservative and Green parties will have new leaders. Even NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is newish.

No one should be surprised if the Liberal party follows suit. The case for dumping Justin Trudeau before the Liberals face the electorate again gets stronger by the day.

The federal government’s handling of the Wet’suwet’en protest against TC Energy Corp.’s Coastal GasLink project has been a month and more of Amateur Hour come to politics.

First, the prime minister ignored the crisis in favour of a foreign trip to promote a temporary seat for Canada on the UN Security Council. That made him look completely off rhythm.

When he finally did cut his travels short and returned to Canada, Trudeau claimed that protesters in violation of court injunctions were the problem of the B.C. government because it was responsible for enforcement and policing.

As Singh tweeted at the time, “pretending the federal government has no role is a failure of leadership.”

Although Trudeau advised patience in dealing with the Wet’suwet’en protests, a course far wiser than Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s shrill demand for frontier justice, the PM backed away from his own stand on Feb. 21, declaring that the blockades must come down.

No one on the Indigenous side listened, and the police were called in. That made the PM look hypocritical. Again, Singh skewered Trudeau, tweeting that it was heartbreaking to see “land defenders and Indigenous matriarchs dragged off their land.”

And when new blockades sprung up in places like Saskatoon and L’Isle Verte, as others were taken down in Ontario and Quebec, Trudeau simply exuded weakness.

The Wet’suwet’en and the Mohawk Warriors showed more resolve than the leader of the country, as they continued to defy the law — or from their perspective, to follow a higher one.

Irresponsible, hypocritical and weak are not the stuff of which leaders are made.

Trudeau has made himself chief juggler in a circus of incompetence. Already the damage to the Liberal government has been great.

The mortal sin of politics

At the height of the crisis, Via Rail Canada laid off 1,000 workers, and Canadian National Railway another 450.

Critical supplies of important items like propane dwindled to dangerously low levels in Eastern Canada.

As freight trains ground to a halt in front of solidarity blockades, Canadian ports saw a dramatic drop in landed cargo. Vessels diverted to more reliable ports in the U.S. They may or may not come back when rail service is fully restored in this country.

In his handling of this crisis, two weeks too late, Trudeau has committed the mortal sin of politics: he has made everyone unhappy. If in losing the last election, Scheer missed an open net on a breakaway, as Conservative leadership hopeful Peter MacKay quipped, the PM has scored on his own net in overtime.

Indigenous activists are disgusted by the PM’s flip-flop on the use of the police against them on their own territories. It is about as far as a politician can get from any known theory of reconciliation.

Nor has Trudeau’s failure to meet personally with the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs created much confidence in his leadership. The swagger and spontaneity seem gone. Only the cynical political calculations remain.

Provincial premiers and business leaders are equally unhappy. They have criticized the PM for doing damage to the economy by not acting quickly and forcefully enough to get freight trains moving again.

For the official opposition, it has been the perfect opportunity to use the prime minister as a political piñata. Not only have his actions angered both protesters and business leaders, the polls show Canadians too are disenchanted with their prime minister.

In a recent DART Maru/Blue poll, 69 per cent of respondents agreed that “Canada is broken,” the country is headed in the wrong direction, and Trudeau is not governing well.

As for the standoff with Indigenous protesters, the poll found that just 27 per cent endorsed the PM’s course of action. By comparison, 36 per cent of respondents thought the hapless Scheer had done a good job.

With that kind of opening, political rivals pounced. Scheer claimed that the PM had actually “elevated” the crisis by his approach to it, that relying on protesters rather than police to take down the blockades early in the standoff was not leadership, but abdication.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney used the crisis to drum up support for his kneejerk Critical Infrastructure Defence Act, aimed at what the premier described as “green, left militants” who do things like blockade railways. That will soon be a crime in Alberta with serious consequences.

Kenney seems to be echoing former Conservative public safety minister Vic Toews, who put opponents of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline in the same category as terrorists. Kenney also blamed Trudeau for driving investment away by creating the appearance of “anarchy” in Canada.

Despite the string of stumbles and bumbles, there was still a chance for the PM to recover. If he could negotiate a settlement to the crisis, what would otherwise be seen as feckless dithering might be turned into statesmanship. Again, the federal government faceplanted.

What’s been ‘arranged’?

Consider the murky, March 1 “arrangement” with the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs aimed at defusing a bitter dispute over the construction of the 670-kilometre Coastal GasLink pipeline through that nation’s traditional territory.

All Canadians have been told is that a proposal has been made by the federal government and the provincial government of British Columbia that the Hereditary Chiefs will now take back to their people. That proposal in part is to recognize Wet’suwet’en land ownership of 22,000 square kilometres of unceded territory in northwestern B.C. As for the full Monty on the deal, Trudeau says he will leave the release of details to the discretion of the Wet’suwet’en.

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett has made clear that the federal government offered recognition of land title without asking for anything in return.

No wonder.

The Supreme Court of Canada confirmed Wet’suwet’en title to traditional lands and waters 23 years earlier in the landmark case of Delgamuukw v. British Columbia. Back then, the issue was clear-cutting forests on the traditional territory of the Wet’suwet’en. Though today it is about pipelines, the collision between government and First Nations remains inextricably linked to the environment.

It is true that the Supreme Court didn’t cross every “T” and dot every “I” of that landmark ruling. But the only thing new in this so-called “breakthrough” agreement after talks in Smithers, B.C., is the prospect of an endless round of implementation talks around the 1997 decision — in other words, a classic example of governments ragging the puck.

Nor has there been any mention, at least publicly, about how this agreement would deal with other First Nations with overlapping claims on the same territory as the Wet’suwet’en.

So far, there is no good reason to believe this deal will ultimately be embraced by the Wet’suwet’en Nation in two weeks or so. That’s because the negotiations failed at three critical levels.

First, the proposal does not deal with the issue of the Coastal GasLink pipeline itself. In fact, the position of both parties remains unchanged. The governments insist the project will go forward; the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs continue to oppose it. Since government negotiators have made clear that any agreement will not be retroactive, further protests appear inevitable.

Nor has the policing issue been dealt with. The Wet’suwet’en wanted the RCMP completely out of their territory. Instead, the force closed their outpost, euphemistically known as the Community Industry Safety Office. It moved its 20 officers to a detachment in nearby Houston, B.C.

But RCMP patrols of the Morice West Forest Service Road, inside Wet’suwet’en territory, were set to continue after negotiations ended. Since the Wet’suwet’en have said that out means out, it is hard to imagine how they will be satisfied with a continued RCMP presence on their territory. They are still under surveillance.

Finally, the Wet’suwet’en wanted all workers on the Coastal GasLink project off their traditional lands. Instead, work was scheduled to resume on the project after the draft agreement was reached by Chief Woos for the Wet’suwet’en, and ministers Carolyn Bennett and her provincial counterpart, Scott Fraser, for the governments involved.

PM as expanding target

Why does all of this matter?

With all the big issues outstanding, it is difficult to see a long-lasting solution coming out of the Smithers negotiations. That is ominous. As Douglas Porter, the chief economist of the Bank of Montreal told the Financial Post, the last month of painful disruption to the economy from the blockade will have long-term damage if it was not a one-off.

Protests sparked by the Coastal GasLink project are not the only white water Trudeau is facing. When work begins in earnest on twinning the Trans Mountain pipeline, that project too is certain to meet with vigorous protests.

What those potential protesters have learned from the Wet’suwet’en is that crisis democracy works, as writer Robert Jago of the Kwantlen First Nation and the Nooksack tribe recently told The Tyee. Standing up to this government on matters of principle, rights and constitutional law, gets the attention of the big boys.

Since the PM made the dubious move of buying TMX, he will have little option but to force it through, even as the price-tag for construction spirals out of control toward the $12-billion mark. That will leave Trudeau looking like a reactionary colonialist to the Indigenous community and a faux-environmentalist to all those people who once embraced the star of the Paris climate talks as their champion.

In other words, B.C. could easily end up being Trudeau’s political Waterloo, the place where his words and deeds no longer align.

When you add in the cancellation by Teck Resources Ltd. of its $20-billion Frontier Mine project, and the lingering bad taste left by the PM’s unethical performance during the SNC-Lavalin scandal, it is easy to see how Trudeau will be targeted by his political opponents: He will be painted as the leader who is all image and no substance, who says one thing and does another, who wants to have it both ways on all issues, but usually delivers to the corporate side.

At the deepest level, it comes down to the perils of charisma politics. A charismatic leader is like a shot of adrenalin, as Trudeau proved in 2015, when he took the third party in Parliament all the way to a majority government.

At the time, former federal environment minister and B.C. MP, David Anderson, told me that when a political party places its bet on leader star-power, it is a two-edged sword. They can lift a party up in a big hurry, but they can also bring it down even faster. Again, Trudeau proved that in 2019, losing his majority government to an inept contender.

It will take more than a beard to hide the brewing leadership problem faced by the Liberals.  [Tyee] SOURCE


Apple, Amazon, and the rest of Big Tech all have a lot to learn from the Green New Deal

It’s vital to cut carbon emissions. But tech companies have a responsibility to go a lot further than that—and the ability to do so.

[Source Images: yucelyilmaz/iStock, Djahan/iStock, Jezperklauzen/iStock]

For many years, the biggest technology companies have made pioneering commitments to reducing their energy footprint. Google and Apple claim to be completely carbon neutral: Apple says all its facilities are powered entirely by renewable energy, while Google has become the world’s largest buyer of renewable energy to offset its energy costs. In 2018, Apple said it had reduced carbon emissions by 58% since 2011. Microsoft is on track to reach 60% renewable energy across its data centers by the end of 2019, while Facebook’s goal is to reach 100% renewable energy by 2020. In 2019, Amazon announced that it is aiming to make half of its shipments carbon neutral by 2030, and the company says it has eliminated 244,000 tons of packaging materials, avoided 500 million shipping boxes, and continues to invest in electric vehicles, aviation bio fuels, and renewable energy.

Given that many corporations aren’t as focused on sustainability, the tech companies’ efforts to reduce emissions appear at first to be a good track record. But as the fight against climate change heats up, the big tech companies’ claims and commitments still are not enough to make an impact on a widening emissions gap—in 2018, global emissions levels rose 2.7% after years of not growing at all. The UN says that these levels must drop 55% by 2030 to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change.

And while much of that growth in emissions can be attributed to a range of corporate bad actors, some leaders in the climate community think tech companies are not doing enough to use their clout and tech prowess to make real change.

“Let’s get over this notion that [tech companies] are some kind of heroes. They’re not,” says Richard Wiles, the director of the Center for Climate Integrity. “They’re doing the least they can do to get the most greenwashing benefit out of it,” he says, referring to the practice of promoting an organization’s environmental record when its products and practices actually aren’t good for the climate.

In February 2019, U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey introduced the Green New Deal resolution, designed to tackle the principal challenges facing the country right now. While this framework’s main goal is for the United States to become net carbon zero by 2030, it also advances a larger, more revolutionary agenda. Because slashing carbon emissions will require overhauling the entire economy, it also demands fixes for other underlying issues: income inequality, housing and healthcare affordability, and race and gender injustice.

As the United States begins the transition to a carbon neutral economy, it’s vital that the biggest technology companies—Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Microsoft—lead the way. The “big five” of tech command a significant portion of the economy. The International Monetary Fund estimates their collective worth at $3.5 trillion, more than the GDP of the United Kingdom. What’s more: Their products, hardware, cloud networks, and internet infrastructure touch nearly every industry and every individual. Of all the industries in the U.S., tech’s reach is perhaps the more difficult to conceptualize, but also the broadest.

What happens in the technology industry today radiates out into nearly every corner of the economy. Which is why, for the Green New Deal to take root in the U.S., Big Tech needs to be involved. These major companies have both the capacity for innovation, the economic resources, and the political clout to precipitate the shifts laid out in the Green New Deal framework. Will they decide to take the lead? MORE

True leaders work for us, not the fossil fuel industry


The Kochs, ConocoPhillips, and PetroChina have profited enormously from the tar sands ecocide and the planet has paid an enormous price as carbon emissions threaten our human existence. They were and are actively supported in this environmental rape by successive neoliberal governments. You and future generations will be left with the debt. Unless…

Image: Melbourne Water/Flickr
Image: Melbourne Water/Flickr

Some politicians believe protecting a sunset industry’s interests is more important than looking out for the citizens who elected them. In Australia, the coal industry holds sway over government policy. In Canada, bitumen and fracked gas rule. In the U.S., it’s all of the above. Fortunately, many people, especially youth, are heeding the rational voices of those who acknowledge the tremendous opportunities in cleaner energy and economic diversification.

Politicians often justify their undying support for the fossil fuel industry by claiming they’re looking out for jobs and the economy — but those claims don’t hold up.

Despite assertions of some political representatives in Australia and the U.S., coal doesn’t have a bright future and “clean coal” doesn’t exist. In Canada, pipeline opponents, Indigenous communities, and environmental groups aren’t putting bitumen jobs at risk; automation, market forces, and change in the face of the climate crisis are behind the declines.

Calculations of “energy return on energy invested” — the amount of energy output over the amount required to produce it — shows one reason for bitumen’s lower price compared to conventional oil. The latter historically delivered 30 units or more for each unit invested, although that’s declining as easily accessed sources become depleted. Recent research shows wind energy can also reach this level, while solar is closer to 9:1 or higher. Oilsands bitumen is 5:1 or lower, because large amounts of energy are required to extract, process and refine it, which makes it costly, inefficient and much more emissions-intensive than conventional oil.

But instead of a rational debate about how to shift from fossil fuels to cleaner energy with minimal disruption to workers and society, media and short-sighted politicians inundate us with logical fallacies and absurd conspiracy theories about who’s funding the people and organizations that want a prosperous future with clean air, water and soil and a stable climate.

True concern for workers means helping them find new ways to employ their skills, including offering retraining and incentives for jobs in the growing clean energy sector — a process Canada’s government recently started with its Just Transition Task Force for Canadian Coal-Power Workers and Communities. All political parties should find ways to reform employment policies to reduce waste, inequity and rampant consumerism, including improved work-life balance with shorter workweeks.

Decision-makers who care about the people they represent and understand science, social trends and technological potential know that a low-carbon future offers better health, livability and economic resilience. The fossil fuel industry is still the most profitable (and among the most destructive) in human history, but those days are coming to an end. True leaders understand this. SOURCE

Proposed “Big Moves” on climate could transform Vancouver in ways residents might not have imagined

This posting is a teaser to get you to read the common sense, realistic plans Vancouver is making in the full article. It contains all sorts of initiatives that the Prince Edward Council should be considering. If you wish to send an email to all Members of Council as a group, please email council@pecounty.on.ca.

Coun. Christine Boyle's motion last January declaring a climate emergency has set the stage for dramatic recommendations from Vancouver city staff.
Coun. Christine Boyle’s motion last January declaring a climate emergency has set the stage for dramatic recommendations from Vancouver city staff.

…Vancouver city council will deal with two major staff reports focusing on greenhouse gas emissions.

The first includes recommendations on the city’s response to a “climate emergency”, which was declared in January by council.

It’s hard to underestimate the impact that this report could have on the city and possibly other countries in the years to come….

Local governments can change the world. That’s been seen in everything from antismoking efforts to cannabis regulation to the peace movement to the trend across the globe to viewing drug addiction as a health issue.

In all four of these areas, Vancouver was a leading player in North America, just as it has been in responding to climate change.

Local actions can persuade senior governments to follow because municipalities are often hothouses for innovation. And this has also been the case with climate change.

Witness the role that municipal governments, including Vancouver, had in strengthening the backbone of world leaders to set hard limits in the Paris Agreement of 2015.

“In Canada and around the world, there is a growing movement of hundreds of local governments recognizing the emergency that climate change represents, accelerating their own actions, and calling on provincial/state and national governments to ramp up their responses,” the city report states. “Given the world’s increasingly urbanized population is on the front lines of the fight against climate change, the world’s urban population will disproportionately experience the effects of global warming.”

Forest fires have brought shrouds of smoke to Vancouver in recent summers. City staff have proposed
Forest fires have brought shrouds of smoke to Vancouver in recent summers. City staff have proposed “clean air” rooms as one possible response. METRO VANCOUVER 

The city report recommends six “Big Moves”, which will be voted on by council. Below, I’ve listed them, as well as their implications for city residents. MORE

Hanes: Montreal takes small but important step in climate change fight

Mayor Valérie Plante announces city officials will reduce travel and offset their carbon footprint by buying credits.

Mayor Valérie Plante: “We need to invest massively in public transit systems versus investing massively in roads.” PIERRE OBENDRAUF / MONTREAL GAZETTE

When Mayor Valérie Plante jets off to Buenos Aires to attend an international summit of cultural cities, she will offset the 2.5 tonnes of greenhouse gases the trip will generate by purchasing carbon credits.

At city hall on Tuesday, Plante announced that all travel by elected officials, political staff and municipal employees will from now on be evaluated on the basis of necessity and the most ecological way to get there. And all air travel will be compensated by buying credits to the Bourse du carbone Scol’ERE, a program that funds environmental education for schoolchildren.

Plante didn’t offer a target for reducing travel or emissions or even say how much money is budgeted to buy credits. (Bourse du carbone Scol’ERE says one credit, which equals one tonne of carbon dioxide, costs $26.09). But she did say that about 150 trips were taken last year by city representatives and she has already minimized her own travel for environmental as well as family and financial reasons.

This isn’t a move that is going to single-handedly save the planet. And it’s a small gesture given the magnitude of the problem humanity is facing. But at least it’s also a show of leadership in the fight against climate change during a week where it has been sorely lacking. MORE


Wiring Public Policy for Digital Government

Image result for Wiring Public Policy for Digital Government
Photo: Shutterstock by Aleksandar Malivuk

Digital government, or E-government, is no longer just an interesting side project aimed at harnessing the power of digital technologies and data analytics to better deliver services and “create public value.” It is now a core priority for many countries, so much so that the UN has a survey that rates how countries compare with one another in embracing technologies and innovations inside government. Canada ranks 23rd among leading countries in e-government development. The hope is that digital government will not only bring efficiencies and more sophisticated use of data (including through artificial intelligence) for a range of programs and services, but will also improve the interaction between citizens and the state.

But before any country can make digital government work, policies and practices must shift. In this feature series, experts look at the challenges associated with the expansion of digital government, and how everything from governance structures to procurement practices and public-service recruitment must be rethought. The writers also examine how public policy-makers must take a proactive role in shaping digital government so that core values and ethics are not put at risk. MORE