Alberta Politics
Green Party of Canada Leader Elizabeth May and newly elected Green MP Paul Manly (Photo: Facebook).

Albertans, in their ‘bitumen bubble,’ may have missed the significance of West Coast Green goings on

Posted on May 09, 2019, 12:12 am
8 mins

We Albertans have been living in a bit if a bubble – a bitumen bubble.

As a consequence, we may not all have noticed what’s been happening on Canada’s West Coast.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

So the potential significance of the victory in a federal by-election Monday by Paul Manly of the Green Party of Canada in British Columbia’s Nanaimo-Ladysmith riding may not yet be fully appreciated here in Wild Rose Country.

But then, what normal Albertan pays attention to political happenings on Vancouver Island when we’re obsessed with our pipedreams of a pipeline?

We might want to start paying attention, though, because for a variety of reasons the election of Canada’s second Green Party MP may well be a harbinger of things to come. Those things aren’t necessarily going to be good news from the perspective of a province that’s just elected a government committed to undoing all significant limits on petroleum production, carbon outputs, and environmental regulation generally.

Former NDP leader Thomas Mulcair (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

I know, I know, the United Conservative Party of Premier Jason Kenney pretends to be working on a climate change plan of its own. But the reality, it’s pretty obvious, is a Trump-like strategy of undoing all of the inadequate measures taken by the previous NDP government as quickly as possible and then using a variety of excuses to stave off doing anything effective for as long as possible – or at least as long as profitable.

As has been argued here before, you can have climate change denial without denying climate change. That’s what happens when you deny you’re denying climate change while blocking or stalling all effective measures to do anything about it and encouraging distrust of the entire concept. This is exactly what the UCP has been, and continues to be, engaged in.

This may suit the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and like allies of the Kenney Government, but by God it doesn’t suit the residents of British Columbia’s Coast – as a select group of them were able to make clear on Monday. And whether most Albertans like it or not, they may have something to say about whether we get that pipeline.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Of course several factors led to the outcome of the Nanaimo-Ladysmith by-election:

  • Genuine environmental concern widespread on the West Coast, including deeply entrenched opposition to the passage of Alberta bitumen through the inland marine waters around Vancouver Island.
  • The apparent collapse of the Liberal vote in the riding, possibly the result of disillusionment over Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s SNC-Lavalin troubles, his increasingly perceived weakness on the environment file, or both.
  • The pathetic state of the federal NDP and Jagmeet Singh’s unconvincing portrayal of a federal leader.
  • The personal popularity of Mr. Manly – whose father James represented Cowichan-Malahat-The Islands in Parliament for three terms – who was foolishly dumped by the NDP during the leadership of the former Liberal Thomas Mulcair for his principled defence of the rights of the Palestinian people.
  • The hard work in Parliament and fondness by Canadians for Green Party Leader Elizabeth May.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

It’s hard to say, of course, what the most significant factors were in these circumstances, or whether conditions will prevail in a federal election in which the slight majority of Canadians who hold progressive views may be inclined to vote strategically to prevent the election of another Conservative government led by Andrew Scheer with Stephen Harper pulling his strings from Alberta.

But it’s no longer hard to imagine the planets coming into alignment for a Green Tsunami on the West Coast as voters there, disillusioned by unkept Liberal and B.C. NDP environmental promises shift their support to Ms. May’s Green Party.

That could result in a Conservative victory. Or it could leave the Greens, as Canada’s new party of conscience, holding the balance of power in Parliament, a role the NDP thought they had put behind them under Jack Layton and sacrificed completely under Mr. Mulcair’s pivot to neoliberal austerity.

Alberta Environment Minister Jason Nixon (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

In the short term, that is bad news for Alberta pipeline advocates, including the ones in Rachel Notey’s NDP and the Alberta Federation of Labour, as Mr. Trudeau moves toward the green part of the political spectrum to avoid his government’s annihilation.

In the longer term, it could be even worse for pipeline promoters if the Greens end up in the position to keep Liberal heads above the rising political tide.

We shall see. In the meantime, Premier Kenney will be working hard, as he promised, to make Alberta look as bad as possible in the eyes of the citizens of other provinces.

On Tuesday, for example, the UCP pulled the plug on the NDP’s plans to create a series of parks and protection areas in the Bighorn Region of the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains.

Environment Minister Jason Nixon, a big supporter of the ATV users who have been laying waste to the environmentally fragile area, claimed the problem was the consultation process used by the NDP. Of course, the real problem was the Notley Government consulted widely, not just the ATV crowd, which demands carte blanche to destroy whatever they want without limits or controls.

In the eyes of West Coast environmentalists, this may not be as serious an issue as the continued uncontrolled carbon emissions from the Athabasca oilsands, but it will do nicely in the rest of Canada as a powerful symbol of the environmental irresponsibility of the Kenney Government.

9 Comments to: Albertans, in their ‘bitumen bubble,’ may have missed the significance of West Coast Green goings on

  1. MoS

    May 9th, 2019

    Dave, I’m a longtime fan going back many years. I’m also a coastal British Columbian. I’ve travelled the Salish Sea with pods of orca and, like many of us, those majestic creatures eclipse any sense of connection we have with any “eastern” province, including Alberta. This may devolve into a clash between two provinces at odds. We already feel a deeper affinity to northern California, Oregon and Washington than we ever will to Alberta. Those are states with our sense of the environment and, on economic importance, they make the Tar Sands appear minuscule.

    If Alberta plays the separatist card, it should know it will still be landlocked. I’ve been here 40 years and I’m convinced we would reject overtures from Alberta – out of hand – and we would align instead coastally. They’ve got the biggest companies in the world. You’ve got what, a massive stranded asset and hundreds of millions of unfunded clean up costs?

  2. Jerrymacgp

    May 9th, 2019

    “… That’s what happens when you deny you’re denying climate change while blocking or stalling all effective measures to do anything about it and encouraging distrust of the entire concept. This is exactly what the UCP has been, and continues to be, engaged in…. “ And, in fact, it is also what the federal Conservatives and Andrew Scheer are doing, which is probably why they’re stalling the release of their official “climate plan” until June—as per their latest comment on this—perhaps thinking its inadequacies won’t get much attention so close to summer BBQ season. One additional lesson from the Nanaimo-Ladysmith by-election, though, is that over 70% of the votes cast were for parties that accept the urgency of addressing climate change and putting a price on carbon—the Greens, the NDP, and the Liberals—despite their differences in terms of detail and implementation. If this pattern carries across the country it’s the ScheerCons that will be in trouble in October.

    Your linked piece from 2017 did miss one additional form of “non-denial denial” vis-à-vis climate change that is often cited by conservatives: Canada is too small a player to make any difference, on a global level, so we shouldn’t have to make any sacrifices to address the issue. Of course, as a G-7 country, we are a major economic player in the world, and if we don’t do anything about climate change, how can we ask less robust economies to do anything?

  3. Ron

    May 9th, 2019

    View from BC:
    Kenny is a much more defeatable foe than the socially-conscious but irresponsible green-washer Notley.

  4. Paul

    May 9th, 2019

    As a matter of principle, I generally try to find something I disagree with in your accounts, but must admit I’m hard pressed to do so in this one. (Maybe you could let up a bit, and allow us to lay a glove on you from time to time.)

  5. Sub-Boreal

    May 9th, 2019

    It’s also worth comparing the quite different results in this week’s byelection with those in the January contest in the overlapping (but smaller) provincial constituency.

    Compared to the previous general elections in those ridings, the provincial Green vote collapsed even more dramatically than did the federal NDP’s on Monday. (So far, nobody seems to have done the necessary poll-by-poll comparisons.) To some extent, the provincial boundaries are more NDP-friendly, but that factor only takes us part-way. What’s probably just as important are the very different stakes in the two contests.

    In January, the survival of the provincial government was at stake. Had the NDP lost, its legislative grip would have been tenuous at best. This clearly focused the minds of those who might have been hesitating between NDP and Green.

    In the federal contest, the outcome had no such potential consequences, so any NDP supporters who had grievances with either the federal or provincial wings of the party could protest harmlessly. Certainly, as a long-time member who has been dismayed at how badly the Horgan government has lurched to the “brown” side, I would have had a hard time not wanting to bloody their noses with a Green protest vote on Monday.

    As an example of how badly the BC NDP has lost its way, you only have to read the new CCPA report on the egregious subsidies to the LNG industry – which dwarf the handouts that Christy Clark wanted to give. Marc Lee summarized the highlights of his work on Twitter this morning:

  6. Bedoich

    May 9th, 2019

    I sure hope you’re right. While I wasn’t totally on board with the NDP Bighorn plan (I found it’s development plan a little unrealistic) it was a substantial improvement. Jason Nixon……….I can think of a number of Hashtags I’d use to find him; Environment Minister wasn’t one of them. What an embarrassment.

  7. David

    May 9th, 2019

    I don’t think cancelling parks and protection areas will do anything to enhance Alberta’s reputation with the environmentally minded, but I suspect they have already come to the conclusion Kenney and the UCP will be terrible anyways. I also think they are right about that.

    I don’t think it matters much that many Conservatives go around these days claiming not to be climate change deniers (anymore?), when they still pretty much act as if they are. Their climate change policy (if they even really have one) can be summed up as, do nothing or as little as possible, so even if they do actually really believe in climate change, they do not seem to take it very seriously.

    However, it took 20 to 30 years for Kenney to get dragged kicking and screaming into partly accepting gay rights, so I would not be surprised if the UCP and Federal Conservatives spend the next 10 years or more fighting another losing battle against climate change initiatives. In the end though, it doesn’t matter much what Kenney thinks, the rest of the world outside of the Alberta bubble is moving on now.

    I think in the alternative universe the UCP lives in, the delays in pipelines are being caused by a few troublesome protestors, a few wayward judges or a less than competent Prime Minister. I don’t think they actually comprehend how many people outside of Alberta (and some in Alberta too) are genuinely concerned about climate change. I think the Green Party will continue to increasingly resonate with people in other parts of Canada, perhaps at the expense of support for the Federal Liberals and the NDP.

    It is possible in the short run vote splitting between the Greens and the NDP or Liberals will benefit the Federal Conservatives, but I do not think Scheer will be any more effective in their pipeline battles than the previous Federal Conservative Harper government was, maybe even less so. The world has changed, Conservatives and Alberta risk falling further behind by taking comfort and wallowing in the platitudes of the world of the past.

  8. Bob Raynard

    May 9th, 2019

    In addition to the by-election win last night, the Greens also formed the Official Opposition in the recent PEI election.

  9. Paul

    May 10th, 2019

    Although critiques of the UCP’s positions on climate (if one can call them that) resonate with me, I worry that the overrating prospects their ultimate defeat may offer false comfort. They do seem at times to fall victim to their own insularity, their provincialism. Andrew Nikiforuk published a sardonic piece that turned alt-right memes on their hand, observing, as he did, that the petroleum industry in Alberta were acting “triggered”, thin-skinned, the snowflakes of industry.

    On the other, although one cannot bargain with the laws of thermodynamics, this does not make their “defeat” inevitable — if, for example:
    * they can just drag us through the rapidly closing window for which climate-change mitigation (prevention/minimization) is a significant option, into a new landscape in which adaptation is the only game in town.
    * chaos proves to be an environment to which fascism is better adapted than are either democracy or progessivism.

    Here’s wishing they’re wrong on all counts.


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