Prime Minister Trudeau and Minister McKenna at COP21, November 2015. Photo: Environment and Climate Change Canada.

Ottawa Tries to Get Everyone Singing Carbon Kumbaya

James Glave
Nov 25, 2016 · 3 min read

Climate policy is a messy game of political horse trading, with no easy path to victory. To build buy-in on its ambitious low-carbon transition plan, the federal government needs to hand out enough infrastructure favours to keep all the provinces on the bus, without losing its base out the back door.

Ottawa’s recent nod to British Columbia’s Northwest LNG plant pleased Premier Clark (check) and the proponent, but ticked off pretty much everyone else.

Meanwhile, a Kinder Morgan bitumen pipeline expansion green light looks increasingly likely — you know, “with conditions.” This would delight Premier Notley (check) but multiple B.C. environmental groups, mayors, and First Nations are mobilizing a concerned public for all-out war.

Should that project get the go-ahead, don’t expect an Ocean Protection Plan over here — or a re-opened Coast Guard Base over there — to reassure opponents. An Insights West poll commissioned by Dogwood Initiative and released earlier this week suggests 60 percent of British Columbians oppose “increasing the number of oil tankers in BC’s coastal waters,” which is code for a pipeline expansion. The opposition numbers are even higher for federal Liberal voters.

Instead, brace yourselves for direct action, civil disobedience, mass arrests… the whole nine yards.

All that said, it’s hard for a guy like me not to feel encouraged by the overarching signals coming out of government in advance of the Pan Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change, coming next month.

Let’s recap. Within the past month or so, Ottawa:

  • Pledged to impose a federal carbon price, starting in 2018, on any province that does not by then have one in place. (Nova Scotia recently announced it will go with cap and trade.)
  • Accelerated the planned phase out of coal power. With limited exceptions, Canada’s coal plants will spool down by 2030, well ahead of the schedule set by the Harper government.
  • Released a long term climate strategy in Morocco that sketches out a near-total decarbonization of the economy.
  • Committed to power all of its operations with 100 per cent renewable energy by 2025.
  • Announced, as of today, a new clean fuel standard that will reduce carbon 30 Mt by 2030, which is like taking seven million cars off the road for a year.

Taken together, these actions constitute one of the most aggressive climate-action agendas of any federal government in the world today. Really.

The Ottawa crew appears sincere that deep, systemic change is really our only option to remain competitive in the global low carbon economy, and it’s clearly positioning the Framework as our road map. Even industry is on board.

The eNGOs out West want a strong climate plan, but they also really don’t want that pipeline expansion approved, and the additional oil tanker traffic it would bring — at least, that is, until global oil demand craters and economics strand the project. In their minds, the circle just doesn’t square. But without that approval, the whole shebang might well end up dead in the water at next month’s First Ministers Meeting.

A Kinder Morgan green light could well be one of the playing cards that is perilously holding the tower together. The British Columbia-based influencers above, and the movement they give a face to, will not yield an inch on it. (To be clear, I’m not saying they should, just that they won’t.)

The previous government really put us in this spot of incredible division. It’s nasty and messy AF, and your guess is as good as mine on what happens next. Can someone tell me what’s in it for Saskatchewan? I’m just happy we’re in Canada, which is at this moment, warts and all, a beacon of climate leadership for the world, while everything goes Condition Orange just over the fence.

Let’s hope the light stays lit.

Note: Post updated November 25 to clarify the Insights West polling question and note its sponsoring organization.

James Glave

Written by

I support companies, organizations, and governments that are growing the global low-carbon economy.