‘It’s a New Day’: Why Environmentalists Need to Change Their Strategy Under Trudeau Government

Ottawa climate protest

Nine and a half years. That’s how long Stephen Harper was prime minister of Canada — a long haul for environmentalists, who were all but shut out of Ottawa and often antagonized by the federal government.

Now that Justin Trudeau and the Liberals have taken the helm, advocates have high hopes for a course correction on the environment and energy files. But after nearly a decade of working under hostile conditions, environmentalists need to make a course correction of their own if they want to effectively influence public policy, experts say.   

If I was running a large ENGO and my file was climate, it’s a new day,” said Allan Northcott, vice-president of Max Bell Foundation, which runs the Public Policy Training Institute to train non-profit leaders in how to effectively advocate for policy changes.

The opportunity is different, so it’s going to require a different plan, a different strategy.”

Canada’s Implementation of UN Declaration on Indigenous Rights Raises Questions About Oilsands, Resource Extraction

After years of refusal by the Conservative government, Canada is preparing to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) — a decision that could herald the beginning of a new era in relations between First Nations and the federal government.

In a mandate letter addressed to Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Carolyn Bennett, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau requested the minister “renew the relationship between Canada and Indigenous Peoples.”

The first item on Bennett’s long list of to-dos is to implement the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, starting first with the implementation of the UN declaration.

Implementing the declaration is a big deal for Canada, one of only four countries to not only abstain from voting on the declaration, but to actually vote against it. (The other three are the U.S., which has signaled its intention to revise its position, and New Zealand and Australia, both of which reversed their positions in 2009.)

The declaration, first adopted by the UN in 2007 after 25 years of consultation and deliberation, is meant to “constitute the minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of the indigenous peoples of the world.”

Canada Subsidizes the Fossil Fuel Industry by $2.7 Billion Every Year. Where Does That Money Go?

Canada’s fossil fuel industries are the recipients of $2.7 billion US ($3.6 billion CDN)  in handouts each year, despite a promise from all G20 nations, including Canada, to eliminate subsidies in 2009.

About $1.6 billion US of those subsidies came from the federal government with the rest distributed by the provinces, according to a new report from Oil Change International.

The report finds G20 countries spend about $452 billion US each year to prop up their oil, gas and coal industries.

The Liberals promised to “fulfill Canada’s G20 commitment to phase out subsidies for the fossil fuel industry,” in their election platform. The party singled out the Canadian Exploration Expenses tax deduction as too generous to industry, saying the tax break should only kick in if companies are completely unsuccessful in their resource exploration.

The saving will be redirected to investments in new and clean technologies,” the party platform says.

But the Canadian Exploration Expenses tax deduction isn’t the only place where companies can take advantage of a generous subsidy system.

So were else is the money coming from and going to?

Is it the Beginning of the End for the Alberta Oilsands?

A new report from Oil Change International challenges industry’s common assumption that the continued production of oilsands crude is inevitable.

The report, Lockdown: The End of Growth in the Tar Sands, argues industry projections — to expand oilsands production from a current 2.1 million barrels per day to as much as 5.8 million barrels per day by 2035 — rely on high prices, public licence and a growing pipeline infrastructure, all of which are endangered in a carbon-constrained world.

As the report’s authors find, growing opposition to oil production — especially in the oilsands, which is among the most carbon intensive oil in the world — has significantly altered public perception of pipelines, a change amplified by the cross-continental battles against the Enbridge Northern Gateway, Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain, TransCanada Energy East and TransCanada Keystone XL pipelines.

According to the report’s authors, production growth in the oilsands hinges on the construction of these contentious pipelines because the existing pipeline system is currently at 89 per cent capacity.

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.”

Half of Albertans Think Oilsands are Large Enough, Majority Want Stronger Climate Policies, According to New Poll

A poll of more than 1,800 Albertans conducted by EKOS Research Associates shows more than half the population wants the province to take stronger climate action by introducing policies that limit carbon emissions.

The poll, commissioned by the Pembina Institute, also found 50 per cent of Albertans are in support of a broad price on carbon that would apply to both consumers and producers. Support for a price on carbon jumped by another 10 to 20 per cent if the money generated from the tax were to go towards carbon reducing technologies or projects.

Results also show a large portion of Albertans (66 per cent) want to diversify the province’s economy rather than up the competitiveness of the oil and gas industry (29 per cent). Forty-eight per cent of Albertans who took the poll said they feel the oilsands are large enough or should be downsized.

It’s encouraging to see such strong support among Albertans for action on climate change,” Simon Dyer, Alberta regional director for the Pembina Institute, said.

This poll shows that the public is open to many of the solutions being considered, such as an economy-wide price on carbon pollution, or phasing out coal power and replacing it with renewables.”

Celebrities and the Oilsands: Help or Hindrance?

By now, it’s an almost entirely predictable routine: a celebrity takes a tour of the Alberta oilsands for a day or two and quickly harnesses apocalyptic rhetoric in press conferences to detail the experience. Chagrined industry spokespeople lash out. News coverage dissipates after a few days. Rinse and repeat. Thus far, Neve Campbell, Leonardo DiCaprio, Darren Aronofsky, Desmond Tutu and James Cameron have partaken in the ritual.

Now, at long last, we can add Bill Nye to the already stacked roster, thanks to his recent two-day stint in the area for a climate change documentary he’s working on.

Producing all this oil that’s producing all this carbon dioxide, that’s not good from a global stand point,” the Science Guy said in an interview with the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, which was tweeted by the likes of Bill McKibben and 350.org.

Nye’s statement is very true. Alberta’s oilsands represent fossil fuel development on an unprecedented and highly visible scale. Canada won’t meet its 2020 emissions reduction targets as a result of the growing sector (by that year, the oilsands are expected to churn more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually than all the passenger transport in the country).

But do celebrity visits help push the dialogue out of gridlock?

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.

Vote for a Better, Cleaner Canada: David Suzuki

This is a guest post by David Suzuki.

No matter what anyone says during this long federal election campaign, climate change is the biggest threat to Canadians’ health, security and economy. The scientific evidence is incontrovertible, the research wide-ranging and overwhelming.

Wastefully burning fossil fuels at such a rapid rate is jeopardizing the planet’s life-support systems — harming human health, destroying landscapes and habitat, causing widespread extreme weather events and contributing less to the economy and job-creation than clean energy development. Not only that, our rate of using and exporting these fuels means reserves will be depleted before long. In the meantime, as easily accessible sources run out, fossil fuels have become more difficult, dangerous, expensive and environmentally damaging to exploit.

Canada has a long history of extracting and exporting raw resources to fuel its economy. But that’s no longer a sensible long-term plan, especially with non-renewable resources. It’s incomprehensible that a country with such a diverse, educated, innovative and caring population can’t get beyond this outdated way of doing things. The recent oil price plunge illustrates the folly of putting all our eggs in one fossil fuel basket.

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.


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