One step forward, two steps back

In politics, it’s important to remember: Things can change quickly, but they seldom do. Let’s hope Prime Minister Trudeau’s meeting with Premier Christy Clark and the other provincial premiers to develop a long-overdue plan to lower Canada’s lower greenhouse gas emissions is one of those exceptions to the rule. Trudeau, like previous Liberal Prime Ministers, has been talking the talk, but many doubt he’ll walk the walk.

The opposition to ambitious Canadian climate action is coalescing. Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall is at the extreme, posing as Harper-Lite and saying he won’t sign any deal that includes carbon pricing. But Christy Clark isn’t far behind, contorting herself into a pretzel as she tries to keep her climate leader crown prominently displayed in every photo-op while simultaneously backtracking on almost every meaningful climate policy her predecessor Gordon Campbell implemented.

It’s hard to believe it’s been nine years since legend has it Gordon Campbell flew off for to Hawaii for his Christmas vacation, read Tim Flannery’s book, The Weather Makers and got climate religion.

Under Gordon Campbell’s leadership, things changed fast. Within a few months B.C. enacted a Carbon Tax with annual increases, a Cap and Trade Act to impose hard emissions caps on large polluters, and legislation mandating a 33% reduction in polluting carbon emission by 2020. Campbell’s government set up the Pacific Carbon Trust to act as a catalyst for emission-reducing projects and deliver a carbon-neutral provincial government. B.C. established a Clean Energy Act that declared the province must produce 93 percent of its energy through green projects. He also created the powerful Climate Action Secretariat that reported directly to him.

It worked. Despite the 2008 recession British Columbia’s economy continued to grow, but our climate policies actually bent the curve and provincial emissions began to fall.  Between 2007 and 2012, British Columbia’s carbon pollution dropped by 6 per cent.

And then along came Christy Clark. While basking in the global spotlight of Gordon Campbell’s climate leadership, Clark has frozen, abandoned or gutted all of Campbell’s significant climate policies. Clark froze the Carbon Tax, repealed the Cap and Trade Act (designed to impose hard emissions caps on large polluters), disbanded the Pacific Carbon Trust, and announced she is backing away from the 2020 legislated reduction target of 33%.

While she talks about climate leadership, her actions are those of a laggard. She appears to be willing to sacrifice anything to jump start her ill-fated pet project, liquefied natural gas (LNG). Clark gutted electricity regulations mandating clean power to fast-track LNG.  Back in 2007 these regulations caused BC Hydro to cancel contracts that would have led to the construction of two coal plants and abandon plans for a natural gas plant at Duke Point on Vancouver Island. Although she promised B.C. LNG would be the “cleanest in the world” Clark exempted proposed LNG projects, deeming that the natural gas burned to produce the energy to power the massive freezers needed to liquefy their gas was “clean energy.” These coolers could be powered by renewable energy, but why should the LNG industry bother with the extra expense if the Clark government doesn’t require it?

Despite a growing body of science that disputes the claim, Clark continues to insist that LNG is“the world’s cleanest fossil fuel”, and has spent huge amounts of public funds to make the case that developing B.C.’s LNG industry “will be the single-most effective thing B.C. can do to combat climate change”.

The result of Clark’s climate backtracking? Not surprisingly, since 2011, British Columbia’s carbon pollution is once again rising, and this doesn’t count the massive spike in foreign carbon emissions fueled by fossil fuel exports through B.C. ports.

Mark Jaccard, renowned climate expert, Nobel laureate and professor at SFU’s School of Resource and Environmental Management highlighted Clark’s role. Jaccard says Clark must take “complete” responsibility for missing emissions targets. “Christy Clark came in in 2011 and immediately froze everything…We were in line to hit the 2012, then Christy Clark froze everything, stopped all the effort.”

It will be interesting to see how Premier Clark’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde climate act plays out at the First Ministers’ Conference. Can she continue to use Gordon Campbell’s climate policies as political cover to do nothing or backtracking?

Probably, unless the people of BC stand up and demand better. The NDP is internally conflicted about strong action on climate. Their policies are all over the map, so they are not well positioned to hold Clark to account for her climate hypocrisy. After sitting on the sidelines the BC NDP are now against Site C, they remain mum on LNG, and have been as cautious on the Kinder Morgan proposal.

Knowing public concern about climate is rising and that her climate hypocrisy makes her vulnerable, Premier Clark has resurrected one of Gordon Campbell’s tactics, to strike a blue-ribbon panel of leading citizens to develop a plan.

Back in 2007, then Premier Campbell, knowing that his suite of climate policies were not enough to meet the legislative 33% reduction target, created the blue-ribbon Climate Action Team to figure out ways to close the gap. Most of their recommendations were never implemented.

Clark struck a similar Climate Leadership Team that last Fall made 32 recommendations including an annual $10-per-ton increase to the carbon tax starting in 2018, and making B.C.’s electricity production 100 per cent renewable by 2025.

So while Premier Clark tries to play the role of climate leader, she has refused “to commit to any of the recommendations from the climate leadership team she appointed last summer.”

When asked point-blank if she would accept any of the team’s recommendations, Clark said, “We’ve received the recommendations. We haven’t sort of endorsed them…we need to really talk to people…so let’s consult, and then decide where we’re going to go next and when we want to get there.”

The BC government is now taking comments on those 32 recommendations; Dogwood Initiative won’t be submitting any. It’s not that we don’t think British Columbians putting forward their ideas is useful, we do. It’s just that the problem is not a lack of ideas; it’s Clark’s lack of political will.

“Climate science advances by leaps and bounds, but in some countries politics lags far behind,” author Tim Flannery writes in Atmosphere of Hope his latest follow up to The Weather Makers which so influenced Gordon Campbell. “Even in nations that lead in climate action, few politicians understand how dangerously and swiftly the burning of fossil fuels is altering our planet. Collectively, politicians are failing to act to maximize the chance of an acceptable outcome.”

It sounds like Flannery was sending a message directly to Christy and Justin. Let’s hope they listen.

So no matter what the talking points coming out of the First Minister’s meeting are, here is Dogwood’s message: The true test of a climate leader is—are your emissions going down?

The time for talk is over, it’s time for leadership, it’s time to take action. Posing as a climate leader isn’t enough, it’s time for Premier Clark to accept her blue-ribbon team’s recommendations and put forward “credible” policies to ensure the province meets its emissions targets.

If Clark fails to act, we can either send her Flannery’s latest book and hope history repeats itself and she becomes a climate convert, or we can build a mass people’s movement and force her and other politicians to act.

Would someone with an Amazon account please send her the book? Meanwhile, Dogwood will be busy working on the latter.

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