Pipeline fight is not over, and Canadians everywhere have a stake

A shot of Fort McMurray, Alberta in 2012. Photo by Kris Krüg from Flickr

The Trudeau government and the petrobloc (the fossil fuel industries and their political, financial and media allies) would like you to believe that the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline (TMX), intended to triple the flow of diluted bitumen from the Athabasca Sands to the port of Vancouver, is a done deal.

But the latest approval of TMX by the Trudeau government and the industry-friendly National Energy Board does not settle the issue.

There are significant legal challenges from six major First Nations whose territories include much of the proposed pipeline route through B.C. Ecojustice is litigating in the Federal Court of Appeal to defend the critically endangered southern resident orcas. The B.C. government is taking its case for jurisdiction over the transport of diluted bitumen within B.C. to the Supreme Court.

The Indigenous-led, grassroots place-based resistance that encouraged the Texas-based multinational Kinder Morgan (founded by two former Enron executives) to walk away from the project, is re-emerging, after the construction delay imposed by the Federal Court of Appeal in August 2018.

And the federal election in October could give the balance of power to two parties – Greens and New Democrats – which are opposed to the pipeline.

Now, a new front has opened up: a national campaign to halt fossil fuel subsidies on which projects like TMX depend.

B.C. residents in the sacrifice zones of the pipeline project know of its local, regional and global environmental risks, from tank farm fires, pipeline rupture, oil tanker spills and orca deaths, to intensified planetary heating. These concerns didn’t always resonate with Canadians elsewhere, facing economic insecurity and public service cutbacks.

But the federal government’s 2018 purchase of the pipeline has added an enormous new risk to Canadian taxpayers. While the petrobloc touts TMX as a route to economic prosperity, taxpayers may see more pain than gain.

Buying the pipeline alone cost taxpayers $4.4 billion, far more than analysts said it was worth, with a further nine to 12 billion dollars needed for expanding its capacity, locking Canada further into planet-heating infrastructure while creating far fewer permanent jobs than investment in renewable energy.

Independent analysts like Andrew Nikiforuk and J. David Hughes argue that optimistic pro-pipeline estimates of Asian demand for Canadian bitumen downplay such factors as escalating construction costs, the completion of two other pipelines by 2022, high transportation costs, alternative supply sources and lower-quality product.

“Trans Mountain has been losing money since Ottawa overpaid for it, leaving taxpayers on the hook,” economist Robyn Allan told me. “Revenues from tolls on the existing line are insufficient to cover all the interest expense or any of the principal amount the government borrowed to finance the acquisition of the 66-year-old pipeline. Billions more in taxpayer-funded subsidies will be required to finance the expansion since shipper tolls will not cover the cost of building it.”

This is why Kinder Morgan walked away: capital costs were too high and Trans Mountain’s expansion ceased to be commercially viable. Any reasonable cost-benefit analysis reveals that there are no net economic benefits from the expansion, either, and the obvious environmental costs are staggering.”

So why did the feds bail out such a toxic investment?

A senior researcher at Alberta’s Parkland Institute told me that TMX has become a political symbol. Serious climate action means ending fossil fuel subsidies (as Trudeau promised in 2015) and investing directly in sustainable energy and infrastructure.

Yet Canadian governments continue to pour about $3.3 billion annually (according to the International Institute of Sustainable Development) into direct support for an industry whose business model entails knowingly jeopardizing the habitability of the planet. That amount would fund job retraining for 330,000 workers, including in greener industries with potential for exporting technology and energy. MORE

Canada’s ‘Green New Deal’ could change the game ahead of the elections

Jagmeet Singh in Toronto on Sept. 7, 2018. (Brian de Rivera Simon/Getty Images for eOne)

The Green New Deal, a plan to decarbonize the economy while ushering in a greater level of social and economic justice, has become a key policy debate in the United States, with major segments of the Democratic Party, including some presidential candidates, endorsing the plan to varying degrees. The goal of the plan isn’t just to cut fossil fuel consumption but also to do so while investing in jobs, education, infrastructure, health care and a wide array of programs designed to challenge the status quo.

In Canada, the GND has sparked great interest among progressives, who are looking for a plan that will help avoid climate catastrophe while not leaving behind the working class and marginalized populations. A few years ago, a document called the Leap Manifesto was drafted by a group of Canadian environmentalists. Though it had some of the elements of current progressive plans, it failed to capture the national imagination and was viewed as insufficiently concerned with reforms beyond decarbonization.

But things are different now. Today, the youth, both around the world and in Canada, have made climate justice a prevailing issue. Climate science, too, has made it ever clearer just how short a window we have to reduce our carbon footprint. And, crucially, the GND has offered Canadians framing and language that are more acceptable than those of the Leap.

Canada’s political outlook is also different than it was a couple years ago. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals — who ran on an aura of progressivism — have left many environmental activists disappointed by missing emission targets and buying a multibillion-dollar pipeline. In part because of this, the Green Party is polling at unprecedented numbers and recently won a second seat in the House of Commons for the first time in party history, with projections giving them a few more in October’s general election. In this context, it is clear that green issues are motivating voters like never before.

This is where Jagmeet Singh and his New Democratic Party come in. Canada’s party of the social democratic left is polling below its 2015 election results and, while still poised to finish with the third-most seats in Parliament, is seeing the Greens polling closer than ever before. Not to be outdone, the NDP has released a bold plan that would act as a GND for Canada.

Not only does it commit to green objectives such ending fossil fuel subsidies, setting emissions targets, banning single-use plastics and incentivizing electric vehicles, but it also commits to a national retrofitting program that will affect all housing stock in Canada by 2050 and will help create an estimated 300,000 jobs. The plan also includes working with municipalities to build free electric public transit by 2030.  MORE

Fact Check: How the New Democrats could create 300,000 new green jobs

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh speaks to delegates and supporters at the Ontario NDP Convention in Hamilton, Ont., in June. His party is vowing to create 300,000 new green jobs as part of a $15-billion fight against climate change. (Tara Walton/Canadian Press)

The Claim: “Our plan to fight climate change will create at least 300,000 new jobs.”

— A central pledge from the NDP’s Power to Change: A New Deal for Climate Action and Good Jobs

The Facts:

The federal New Democrats are promising to create at least 300,000 “good jobs” over the next four years if elected. And the party’s climate change strategy makes it clear that those employment gains would come in the sectors of infrastructure, transit, housing and renewable energy.

Mélanie Richer, the party’s communications director, says the figure is a “conservative estimate” of the jobs that will be created by the $15 billion in green investments that an NDP government would make over its first mandate, including $6.5 billion for mass transit, $3.5 billion to spur the transition to renewable energy and $2.5 billion targeted at making communities and homes more energy efficient.

The NDP based its math on studies like the 2017 Jobs for Tomorrow report commissioned by Canada’s building trades unions, which estimated that 3.3 million construction positions — and up to 14 million more “indirect” jobs — would be created by 2050 if the country made the society-changing shift to net zero carbon emissions.

The transition to net zero carbon emissions in Canada would create more than 17 million jobs by 2050, according to one labour-sponsored study. (Reuters)

The linchpin of the New Democrat’s green jobs plan is a related promise to require “large-scale building retrofits across all sectors” to reduce energy demand, including setting a target to retrofit “all housing stock in Canada by 2050,” with half of the improvements to be completed within the next 11 years.

To put that in perspective, the 2016 Census counted 14.1 million private dwellings across the country. So meeting that 50 per cent target in little more than a decade would require the renovation of more than 630,000 homes each year — a truly massive task.

The NDP is also vowing to build a half-million new affordable housing units over the next decade.

Would all that generate work for at least 300,000 people? Surely, yes.  MORE


The NDP and the future of social democracy in Canada

Why Trudeau’s broken electoral reform promise could rebound on him

In a minority Parliament, he could find himself painted into a corner

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s about-face on electoral reform was an unambiguous example of a broken campaign promise. He probably hasn’t heard the last of it. (Terry Reith/CBC)

Four years after he made it, Justin Trudeau’s promise of electoral reform haunts him still.

But while reform is a nagging headache for Trudeau, it is still the dream of proportional representation’s advocates, including Jagmeet Singh’s New Democrats — even if it’s rather unclear how any leader could now promise to move forward with the sort of change that Trudeau rejected.

While the greater question of whether Trudeau has lived up to his promises is at least debatable, when it comes to electoral reform, the answer is fairly straightforward.

In June 2015, Trudeau vowed that the federal election of that year would be the last conducted under the first-past-the-post system. In February 2017, as prime minister, he decided to walk away from that commitment.

Whatever the merits of that decision (Trudeau had misgivings about the ramifications of moving toward proportional representation and feared that a national referendum would be divisive), electoral reform is easily classified as a “broken” promise — an  example readily available whenever a critic or political rival wants to assess the Trudeau government’s four years in office.

Regardless of how many (or few) Canadians were eager to see the electoral system changed, that abandoned commitment has become a totem for the argument that Trudeau has failed to live up to expectations.

What do Canadians want?

But then, there’s also what happened after Trudeau broke that promise — when actual voters were asked whether they wanted to adopt reform through referendums in British Columbia and Prince Edward Island.

In December 2018, British Columbians voted against moving to proportional representation by a margin of 61 per cent to 39 per cent. Four months later, in Prince Edward Island, the vote was different but the verdict was the same, with Islanders saying no to proportional representation by 52 per cent to 48 per cent.

Ballots from B.C.’s electoral reform referendum are counted in Victoria, B.C. on Dec. 11, 2018. (Michael McArthur / (CBC)

Those results don’t change the fact that Trudeau promised electoral reform, nor do they answer questions that might be asked about how his government approached the issue after it came to office.

But those two referendums suggest a significant number of Canadians share the prime minister’s discomfort with proportional representation. The two votes also underline the risk that a national referendum would have produced a narrow or divided result that broke down along provincial or regional lines.

Still, those results have not deterred the New Democrats from promising to move forward with a change to a mixed-member proportional representation system should they form government after this fall’s federal election. MORE


Green Party: Canada’s first-past-the-post electoral system must go.

It represents neither our voices nor our values.

Trudeau government accused of jeopardizing sex workers’ safety by refusing to amend Conservative legislation

Sex workers made their voices heard at the recent Red Umbrella march in Vancouver, which is held every year to promote safer working conditions in their industry.
Sex workers made their voices heard at the recent Red Umbrella march in Vancouver, which is held every year to promote safer working conditions in their industry.CHARLIE SMITH

At the seventh annual Red Umbrella march last month, Vancouver sex workers expressed exasperation over the federal Liberal government’s failure to take their safety concerns seriously.

This point was reinforced by several of their allies, who wanted to shine a spotlight on the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act.

The law was passed by the former Conservative government nearly five years ago—on December 6, 2014.

Under section 286.2, anyone who receives a financial or material benefit through the sale of sexual services—apart from sex workers themselves—is liable to hefty prison sentences.

Section 286.4 outlaws the advertisement of sexual services.

The law also makes it illegal for anyone to buy sexual services.

According to Andrew Sorfleet, president of the Triple-X Workers’ Solidarity Association of B.C., Parliament has infringed on sex workers’ constitutional right to freedom of association.

And he’s upset that the Liberal government under Justin Trudeau has never amended this legislation in its nearly four years in power.

Andrew Sorfleet cannot charge dues for sex workers to belong to the Triple-X Solidarity Association of B.C. because of a law passed by the former Conservative government.
Andrew Sorfleet cannot charge dues for sex workers to belong to the Triple-X Solidarity Association of B.C. because of a law passed by the former Conservative government.

“We are not allowed to collect money from sex workers and we are not allowed to collect money in order to promote their business in any way,” Sorfleet told the Straight at the event. “That’s what a professional association or union would be doing. We would be breaking the law.”

Sorfleet revealed that the Triple-X Workers’ Solidarity Association of B.C. has created a certification mark, which could be made available to members to indicate that they are part of the group.

“In order to do that, we have to collect dues,” he said. “All of those things are against the law. I cannot recruit members right now without putting them in legal jeopardy. That’s a problem for me.”

To reinforce his frustration, Sorfleet declared that he has “no hope in these Liberals”.

The federal NDP did not mention sex workers’ safety in its long list of promises that was released last month.

But the NDP candidate in North Burnaby–Seymour, Svend Robinson, has suggested that something can be done in this regard.

He told the Straight at the rally that the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act allows for a review by the Commons justice committee.

“We are not allowed to collect money from sex workers and we are not allowed to collect money in order to promote their business in any way,” Sorfleet told the Straight at the event. “That’s what a professional association or union would be doing. We would be breaking the law.”

Sorfleet revealed that the Triple-X Workers’ Solidarity Association of B.C. has created a certification mark, which could be made available to members to indicate that they are part of the group.

“In order to do that, we have to collect dues,” he said. “All of those things are against the law. I cannot recruit members right now without putting them in legal jeopardy. That’s a problem for me.”

To reinforce his frustration, Sorfleet declared that he has “no hope in these Liberals”. MORE

Liberal concessions on the environment leave the Greens and NDP battling for climate-motivated voters

This posting is part of a CBC News series entitled In Our Backyard, which looks at the effects climate change is having in Canada, from extreme weather events to how it’s reshaping our economy.

Both parties are presenting bold plans to rapidly reduce emissions, but it is still early days

The NDP has struggled since Singh took over as leader, currently sitting around 15 per cent support. The Greens, meanwhile, have momentum.   (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The climate crisis will be a major issue in the upcoming election, and the NDP and Greens will be jousting to own the file.

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, who has promised to scrap the carbon tax, probably won’t be the top choice for anyone who considers the environment a priority, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has alienated many progressive voters with his government’s carve-outs for industry and $4.5 billion purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline.

With more than 80 per cent of Liberal, NDP, and Green voters saying climate is “top five” issue in the fall election, the Liberals’ weakness presents the NDP and Greens with an opportunity to tap climate-motivated voters. Both parties are presenting bold plans to rapidly reduce emissions, but NDP leader Jagmeet Singh has so far failed to gain traction, and the Greens will face heightened scrutiny as the election comes closer.

Where carbon pricing once dominated the policy discussion, it appears many centre-left voters in Canada — influenced by discussions catalyzed by the Green New Deal in the U.S. — have become more open to radical plans for public investment to drive the transition away from fossil fuels and create good-paying jobs.

New emissions targets

The Liberals have held firm on carbon pricing, despite the parliamentary budget officer saying the tax would have to double to hit our Paris targets, but the NDP and Greens’ new plans are clearly inspired by what’s happening south of the border. The NDP’s “new deal for climate action and good jobs” pledges a 38 per cent cut in emissions, exceeding the Liberals’ 30 per cent, while the Greens’ “Mission Possible” commits to a much more ambitious 60 per cent reduction by 2030.

Both plans maintain carbon pricing, but they’re supplemented with programs that they say will create hundreds of thousands of jobs retrofitting homes, installing renewable energy, expanding public transit, and doing other work to reduce emissions. The NDP is a more natural party to push this vision because of its longstanding relationship with labour, but the Greens gain the upper hand politically.

The NDP’s “new deal for climate action and good jobs” pledges a 38 per cent cut in emissions. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

The NDP has struggled since Singh took over as leader, currently sitting around 15 per cent support (almost five points below its 2015 result), and his presence in Parliament hasn’t made much of a difference. Even though the NDP’s plan is impressive in its commitment to create 300,000 jobs, expand access to employment insurance, and invest in transit, trains, and rural buses, it’s unclear whether Singh can effectively sell these ambitious proposals to Canadians.

The Greens, meanwhile, have momentum. They’ve picked up seats in four provincial legislatures, a second federal seat, their poll numbers have risen to nearly 11 per cent, and leader Elizabeth May has the highest approval rating among her federal peers. However, this attention will come with scrutiny, and it’s not yet clear that their plan will hold up. MORE

How can Canada’s politicians and parties take up the fight for a Green New Deal, and work with communities to translate its bold vision into policy?

Svend Robinson in a recent photo. Robinson says he has decided to try to return to federal politics by running in Burnaby North—Seymour, he hopes it helps the candidate in the neighbouring riding: NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh. (Svend Robinson)

The NDP has already started using the phrase “Green New Deal” to frame their new climate platform. Avi and Maya talk to maverick NDP candidate Svend Robinson about how the party is doing on climate so far, and whether it’s capable of getting the Green New Deal right.

The NDP’s history of opening itself to the creativity and energy of social movements hasn’t always been an inspiring one. But the good news is, there’s a growing group of radical candidates across the country — and they’re putting transformational change on the table in Canada.

Check out Change Everything’s new episode and subscribe to the podcast here.

As Avi puts it, recording this episode with Svend “was a great chance to explore the movement-electoral interface with someone who has been through it all a few times before.” We can’t wait for you to hear the result. HERE

Premier Horgan walking a political tightrope on pipeline issue

“It has become quite clear the B.C. Greens will never take down this government.”

John Horgan

Absolutely no one should be surprised that Attorney General David Eby was quick to declare the B.C. government will appeal the decisive court ruling against it over who controls what can flow through an interprovincial pipeline.

But the lack of emotion attached to his pronouncement was telling, another indication perhaps of the B.C. NDP’s chief desire that this issue just goes away, even with that pending appeal.

The NDP continues to walk a political tightrope on the pipeline expansion issue as it tries to placate environmental anti-pipeline activists within the party while at the same time declaring support for the resource industry.

The party has long said it would use “every tool in the toolbox” to fight the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, but as I have noted here before, the toolbox turned out to be a very small one containing a rather weak and tepid “tool.”

That tool was this court case, considered a bit of a Hail Mary pass pretty much from the start. The government provided no legal evidence that a province could control what is a federally regulated entity, i.e. an inter-provincial pipeline.

Nevertheless, the NDP had to do something – anything – to make it look like it was trying to block the pipeline. Environment Minister George Heyman sheepishly admitted early on upon taking office that there was absolutely nothing “legally” the government could do to stop its construction.

Hence, the rather novel court argument about jurisdiction over something the government had to live with. As expected, the B.C. Court of Appeal made short work of it, giving the argument a 5-0 drubbing.

Nevertheless, the NDP has to exhaust its legal options no matter how dim the prospects of ultimate victory are. It may all be a waste of tax dollars, but it is political capital that the NDP is more concerned about.

And an appeal will allow B.C. Premier John Horgan to be able to say, “I did what I could” to stop the pipeline and that will be the end of things.

Some environmental groups will be upset, but they were upset with the decisions to finish the Site C dam and woo the LNG industry into this province and that opposition mattered little at the end of the day.

Some have mistakenly thought that launching the appeal was designed to keep the B.C. Green Party in check to ensure it continues keeping the NDP in power. That is a misread of the reality that has emerged about the relationship between the two parties (for all their criticism and complaining, it has become quite clear the B.C. Greens will never take down this government). MORE



” While Liberals and Conservatives use the issue to beat each other up, a closer look shows that they actually have the same emission targets and the same love of pipelines, and that both parties will exempt the biggest polluters from paying a price.”
-Jagmeet Singh on climate change

Last Monday, New Democrats called on Justin Trudeau to declare an environment and climate emergency. Canadian communities are already paying the price of climate inaction and the NDP is calling on the Liberals to bring in strong measures to fight climate change.

“It’s increasingly clear that if we fail to act now to fight climate change, the costs will be immense. The Liberals’ policies – from continuing fossil fuel subsidies to buying and pushing for expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline, to practically eliminating the carbon tax for some of Canada’s biggest emitters – are sending Canada in the wrong direction,” said NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh. “Canadians should be able to count on their government to have the courage to do the right thing on climate change, while creating good jobs and making life more affordable for Canadians.”

In addition to declaring a climate emergency, the NDP’s motion urges the Liberal government to bring forward a climate action strategy that prioritizes reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, sets ambitious targets with measures to hold the government accountable, takes concrete action to reduce emissions and invests in building the clean energy economy we need now.

“Justin Trudeau’s Liberals have adopted Stephen Harper’s weak targets, and those won’t even be reached for two centuries. And the Conservatives have no plan to tackle climate change. Tackling climate change means we all have to work together and we need to make sure no worker or community is left behind,” added Singh. “We have already started laying out our plan with our commitment to make all buildings – including homes – more energy efficient. This plan will save you money, create good local jobs and fight climate change. New Democrats have a proud tradition of fighting climate change and we will not stop. SOURCE

Fighting for Climate Credibility

Now is the time to encourage political leaders to move beyond recognition of our climate emergency and commit to reducing emissions to at least 1.5 degree C as quickly as possible

Canada’s political parties are competing for climate credibility

With five months to go before the next federal election, Canada’s political parties are competing for climate credibility, seemingly engaged in a battle to show they care more about the environment, reports The National Observer.

This is a climate activist’s dream. Not only will climate be the top issue in the October election, but having politicians compete for climate action supremacy is dizzying. I frankly did not see this coming.

Climate Credibility

Fighting for Climate Credibility, Below2CImage credit: Bernd Hildebrandt, Pixabay

Liberals are poised to declare a climate emergency

The Liberals have filed a motion which asks Members of Parliament “to recommit to the Paris climate-change accord by meeting the existing targets for cutting greenhouse-gas emissions and toughening them as is required to meet the accord’s stated objective of keeping global warming as close to 1.5 C as possible,” writes Mia Rabson of The National Observer.

The Liberal motion …brings Canada closer to a declaration of climate emergency following the U.K., Ireland and Switzerland. This is precisely the kind of climate leadership activists and environmentalists have been calling for since the Liberals came to power in 2015.

NDP goes much further than Paris targets

The NDP motion (full text found below) also seeks to reach the Paris targets but goes much further by calling for the cancellation of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and an end to fossil-fuel subsidies. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says “pipelines and fossil-fuel subsidies are not congruent with climate-change action.” However, he will not go so far as to oppose the LNG project in his NDP-led home province of British Columbia.

Greens would double the emission-reduction targets

Meanwhile, the Green Party is calling for a 60% cut in greenhouse gases based on 2005 levels, in effect doubling Canada’s 30% reduction promised in the Paris Accord. Elizabeth May is very emphatic that Canadians need to heed the warnings of the IPCC 1.5°C report and Canada’s own Canada’s Changing Climate report that shows we are warming twice faster than the global average.

Somewhere below two degrees is the tipping point to where we run into something (that) scientists call runaway global warming—a self-accelerating irreversible global warming that could lead to temperatures that call into question the survival of this biosphere.

In order to ensure that action follows rhetoric, the Greens would create a non-partisan ‘war cabinet’ modeled after Winston Churchill’s during WWII to tackle the existential threat of climate change.

Click here for the transcript of a recent E. May interview on The Current, CBC Radio. “And an increase of two degrees would be catastrophic,” says May. MORE