Listening to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announce his plans to prorogue Parliament and return with a new agenda for the country, it was clear that he expects to win the NDP over to support his government. Using phrases such as “build back better” and “green recovery” Trudeau signalled a progressive turn. And, like his 2015 election platform, an agenda that puts issues at the core of the NDP on the table.
This means that for the next few weeks, Jagmeet Singh and the NDP have a serious chance to impact Canadian politics for the better. To do this, they need to put Canada’s climate ambition squarely on the bargaining table.
For that, they need to broach two big, connected issues. The first is that both building back better from COVID-19 and tackling the climate crisis will require a massive economic transformation in Canada. To achieve this kind of made-in-Canada Green New Deal requires a dramatic shift away from fossil fuels and massive government investment. Both of which are caught up in the second issue — the Trans Mountain pipeline.
In the time since Trudeau bought Trans Mountain, the climate crisis has only worsened. We’ve seen record-breaking high temperatures stack on top of one another, extreme weather events become the norm and long-warned-of feedback loops speed up warming beyond what most scientists had predicted.
On the scientific side, we’ve seen numerous reports, the IPCC 1.5 C report most notably, tell us that while we have a chance to meet this crisis, doing so requires a rapid transition away from fossil fuels.
Basically, we’ve learned that even if the Trudeau government was able to do some creative carbon math to try and rationalize Trans Mountain when they bought it, that math has been quickly made irrelevant by a rapidly warming world.
And that’s only part of the problem. Since its purchase, the cost of Trans Mountain to the public has also skyrocketed. Earlier this year, then-finance minister Bill Morneau revealed that the cost of the pipeline had more than doubled from $5.4 billion to $12.6 billion. That was before COVID-19 brought inevitable delays and disruption to the project, and a potentially higher price tag.
This is a problem because, at the end of the day, Canada’s COVID-19 recovery plan is going to have to be a choice. Either our government will choose to prioritize people and our planet, investing in things such as green jobs, Indigenous rights, and public health and education. Or, Justin Trudeau will choose to do what we’ve seen him do countless times before, signal progressive action before backing policies that maintain the status quo.
Trans Mountain is a microcosm of this choice. Either we spend billions of dollars helping people and communities weather the storm of COVID-19 and the coming recession, or we spend that money on a climate-wrecking pipeline.
In the last election, the NDP said they would be the party that held Trudeau’s feet to the fire. And, giving credit where credit is due, they have done so throughout this pandemic, winning concessions from the government that have truly helped most working people.
But right now, the NDP have a massive opportunity to do more than just win a few concessions. By putting Trans Mountain on the negotiating table, and drawing a bright line between a truly Just Recovery and a plan that continues to serve the interests a wealthy elite, they can help shift Canada onto a path that gives us the greatest chance of not only tackling this global health crisis, but the social, economic and climate crises we face.
Of course, convincing Justin Trudeau to defund Trans Mountain won’t happen overnight. But if the NDP brings the pipeline into their negotiations with Trudeau, it will force a national conversation about Canada’s post-pandemic priorities.
"Trans Mountain is a microcosm of this choice. Either we spend billions of dollars helping people and communities weather the storm of COVID-19 and the coming recession, or we spend that money on a climate-wrecking pipeline."
This is critical, since as we saw back in February when the cost of Trans Mountain rose, support for the project plummeted. One might hypothesize that, in the midst of a global pandemic, the public may be even less supportive of throwing billions at a pipeline instead of spending that money keeping our children, teachers and front-line workers safe.
This kind of scrutiny will only be possible with a political reckoning. And this kind of reckoning is exactly what the NDP have a chance to create, with Justin Trudeau counting on their vote of confidence in September. With everyday people being crushed under the weight of the economic, climate and social health crises we face, we can't afford to let this opportunity slip by.