Stephen Harper

Why Wasn't Climate a Defining Canadian Election Issue?

This article originally appeared on Climate Access.

Those who work on climate change were both chuffed and chagrined by its role in Canada’s federal election campaign, which peaked last week with the victory of Liberal leader Justin Trudeau and defeat of Conservative incumbent Stephen Harper.

The environment” — a catch-all concept that often encompasses concern about climate change — consistently ranked close to economy and healthcare on voters' list of top priorities. Oilsands and climate change issues took up nearly a quarter of the first leaders debate, commanding more than twice the airtime they did in 2011. Several media outlets ran editorials calling on all parties to take a strong stance on reducing GHG emissions or put a price on carbon.

To quote professor and commentator George Hoberg, “energy and environmental issues have become central to Canadian electoral politics.”

Despite all of this, climate change didn’t have a significant impact on the election’s outcome. Fundamentally this was a campaign about values where action on global warming was bundled into a broader set of aspirations and ideas that Canadians said yes to on October 19th. 

The Case for Hope after Harper

This article originally appeared on Alternatives Journal.

What is it about activists that they can’t even be optimistic for one day after a whole decade?” 

The disgust and disappointment on my 16 year olds face is somewhat heartbreaking as he pours cereal the morning after the Canadian election and surfs the comments on my Facebook page. I can only shake my head sadly and agree with him. 

Wouldn’t it be great to be fueled by hope instead of fear as the late Jack Layton urged us in his letter to the nation? For just a minute could we not take a deep breath and focus on all the things that we know will now change?

My sons have never known a Canada that was not under Stephen Harper's thumb. For the last decade they have listened to their parents shock and outrage over the weakening of our environmental laws, the lack of transparency, the erosion of democracy, the muzzling of scientists, the attack on environmental groups, the disregard for Canada’s constitution.

Along the way we tried to keep hope alive. We painted a picture for them of a Canada that valued evidence based policy. A Canada that led on the world stage to create critical international agreements like the Montreal Protocol. We talked about how lucky we are to live in a democracy and how important it was for us to participate, to organize and to vote. 

Together we watched the election results come in from coast to coast and I watched the hope and optimism on my sons face as he listened to Justin Trudeau’s acceptance speech. “Sunny ways!” We all yelled, half-hysterical and grinning ear to ear. “To the end of the Harper Era!” We cheered as we raised a glass in jubilant toast. 

Our exuberance made the next mornings conversation all that more painful. “Is he really no different?” “Why can’t people ever be hopeful?”

Why not indeed. 

Stephen Harper's Greatest Hits (in Gifs)

Boy oh boy, what a decade! Amiright?

I mean, think about it: back in 2006 when the Conservatives under Stephen Harper hit the political stage with a minority government the world was still all worked up over Brokeback Mountain.

Destiny’s Child was still a thing. So was the anthrax scare.

Needless to say, a lot has happened since those good ol’ bad ol’ days and things are bound to change around here, what with all the “Real Change” that’s being bandied about by our new top dog.

But before we’re off to the Liberal races, let’s take a fun moment to look back at how we laughed and how we cried with Stephen Harper.

Is the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline Finally Dead?

Jody Wilson-Raybould, Justin Trudeau and Art Sterritt walk on the boardwalk in Hartley Bay, B.C.

In August 2014, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau made the trek to the tiny Gitga’at community of Hartley Bay, located along Enbridge’s proposed oil tanker route in northwestern B.C.

There, in the village of 200 people accessible only by air and water, he met with community elders and Art Sterritt, executive director of the Coastal First Nations.

He came to Gitga’at because he wanted to make sure he was making the right decision in terms of Northern Gateway and being there certainly confirmed that,” Sterritt told DeSmog Canada on Tuesday.

My confidence level went up immensely when Justin … visited Gitga’at.”

Two months before that visit, in May 2014, Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa that if he became prime minister “the Northern Gateway Pipeline will not happen.”

With Monday’s majority win by Trudeau, Sterritt — who retired three weeks ago from his role with Coastal First Nations — says he is “elated” and “Northern Gateway is now dead.”

Harperism and the Decline of Altruism in Canada

Over the past year we have seen a growing body of public opinion critiquing varied aspects of what is now termed ‘Harperism,’ for many a vexing and disturbing approach to Canadian governance.

My own criticism of the syndrome is increasingly annoying to my wife. ‘Your anger about Harperism seems to have deep emotional roots; it’s bigger than just — you need to dig deeper to discover its real cause.’

Well, I have. A key aid to my political exploration has been E. O. Wilson’s 2012 book, The Social Conquest of the Earth. The dust jacket commentary refers to it as the ‘summa work’ of his legendary career as an ecologist. Wilson is the living heir to Darwin, and a Professor Emeritus at Harvard.

He aids my political critique of Harperism in his rational analysis of eusociality — the most advanced level of social organization. Eusociality manifests as our collective ability as Homo sapiens, brought about by the evolutionary process of group selection, to empathize, to be compassionate, and perhaps most important, to be altruistic.

After reading Wilson, I was able to define my angst: I think the current Conservative government is presiding over a diminution, even a dismantling of eusociality in its many unique Canadian contexts. Simply put, we are diminishing state-wide altruism.

“War on Science” Top of Mind for Candidates and Public at Science and Technology Debate

A one-of-a-kind debate in Victoria this week brought science and technology to the minds of federal candidates who all, despite their differences, agreed vociferously on one thing: Canada needs to be freed from the “war on science.”

Big Oil’s Man in the Senate

Alberta Conservative Senator Doug Black worries that Canadians are illiterate when it comes to energy and he’s on a mission to educate them.

If we don’t address the issues facing us now,” he warns, “the prosperity my generation enjoyed will not be enjoyed by the next generation.”

Black is a rarity in the Senate, one of only three senators who were elected by voters in Alberta and then appointed to the Senate by Stephen Harper. Given the discredit that august body has fallen into, though, he may not hold that seat for long.

During the first half of 2015, Black travelled from coast to coast in his quest to educate Canadians about “the development of our energy resources and to discuss ways in which Canada can responsibly maximize its energy resources to benefit all Canadians.”

But it’s an odd crusade. Instead of meeting Canadians where they mostly congregate, in malls, union halls, church basements and community centres, he’s meeting them in posh hotels like the Vancouver Four Seasons, Toronto’s One King West, Edmonton Westin, Montreal Hyatt Regency and Ottawa’s Shaw Centre.

Prime Minister Harper’s Inaction on Climate Killed the Keystone XL Oilsands Pipeline

Stephen Harper climate change

With U.S. President Barack Obama expected to deny a permit to the Keystone XL pipeline this fall, Canada’s oil industry is looking for someone to blame.

The National Post’s Claudia Cattaneo wrote last week that “many Canadians … would see Obama’s fatal stab as a betrayal by a close friend and ally” and that others “would see it as the product of failure by Stephen Harper’s Conservative government to come up with a climate change plan.”

The latter is the more logical conclusion. Obama has made his decision-making criteria clear: he won’t approve the pipeline if it exacerbates the problem of carbon pollution.

Even the U.S. State Department’s very conservative analysis states the Keystone XL pipeline would “substantially increase oilsands expansion and related emissions.” The Environmental Protection Agency has agreed.

While Canada’s energy reviews take into account “upstream benefits” — such as jobs created in the oilsands sector as a result of pipelines — they don’t even consider the upstream environmental impacts created by the expansion of the oilsands.

For all the bluster and finger-pointing, there’s no covering up the fact that Canada’s record on climate change is one of broken promises.

Stephen Harper Forgets Stephen Harper’s Pledge to End Fossil Fuels

If the recent frufrah over NDP candidate Linda McQuaig’s comment that “a lot of the oilsands oil may have to stay in the ground” is indicative of anything, it’s that Canada’s election cycle is in full spin. May all reasonableness and sensible dialogue and accountability be damned.

Perhaps that’s the blunt and singular reason behind the Conservative Party and Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s outrage at McQuaig’s entirely non-contentious assertion that, because of our international commitments to curtail global climate change, Canada won’t exploit the entirety of its oil reserves.

Harper accused the NDP of having a “not-so hidden agenda,” saying the party “is consistently against the development of our resources and our economy.”

That’s why they…would wreck this economy if they ever got in, and why they must never get into power in this country.”

But Harper’s reaction seems conspicuously overwrought given the Prime Minister’s own pledge, along with the other G7 nations, to phase out the use of fossil fuels by 2100.

At the time of signing — a whole two months ago — Harper said the plan would “require a transformation in our energy sectors.”

Will the War on Science Become an Election Issue?

Death of Evidence Rally

The number of anti-science decisions the federal government has made in recent years is staggering: axing the long-form census, trying to shut down the Experimental Lakes Area, sending media relations personnel to accompany scientists at international conferences.

There are so many mindboggling instances, in fact, that the non-profit organization Evidence for Democracy has decided to create an interactive website to chronicle them all.

Even for those of us who are following the issue closely, it’s still hard to keep track of it all,” says executive director Katie Gibbs.


Subscribe to Stephen Harper