On Sept. 18, after a week of choking on smoke from U.S. climate fires, Vancouver recorded the worst air quality of any major city in the world.

Three days later, B.C. Premier John Horgan, riding high in the polls from his NDP government's adroit handling of the COVID-19 crisis, announced an early election, mentioning “climate” just once, briefly.

In 2019, the Globe and Mail opined that the NDP had done little to alter the previous Liberal government's environmental path. That may overstate the case. A Liberal victory would be the worst outcome for a future that is both socially just and environmentally sustainable. Yes, the Liberals introduced North America's first carbon tax in 2008, the product of then-premier Gordon Campbell's ever-shifting enthusiasms, but it was modest in scale and not a springboard for further climate action.

More typically, Liberal policy cut back environmental protections and promoted export-oriented, carbon-heavy industrial mega-projects like the Site C dam and fracking-based LNG. As for social justice, as former Liberal cabinet minister George Abbott has just revealed, Campbell's ideologically driven tax cuts right after the 2001 election decimated social services for the most vulnerable and helped kindle the current opioid crisis.

In opposition, the NDP criticized tax breaks for LNG and then promised to use “every tool in the toolbox” to stop the Trans Mountain pipeline from the Albertan bitumen sands. In 2017, the NDP formed a working alliance with the BC Greens and released the CleanBC strategy, with the most ambitious climate action plan of any Canadian province (admittedly an easy bar to jump).

So you'd think that for voters who want no return to the BC Liberals' corporate-oriented politics, voting NDP would be a no-brainer, especially since BC Green votes don't translate into many seats in our antiquated first-past-the-post electoral system.

But it's not so simple. Many previous pro-environment NDP voters are thinking twice, and it's not just young people or those working at NGOs.

The Narwhal's comparison of the NDP's 2017 campaign promises with its performance in office helps explain why.

It's, at best, a mixed record.

Out of the B.C. provincial election may come a greener, younger, more climate-savvy legislative body. It's a long shot, but better than none at all, writes Robert Hackett.

There has been modest progress on banning fish farms from wild salmon migration routes and updating environmental assessment legislation. Grizzly bear trophy hunting has been banned, and big corporate and union donations removed from politics.

But the government has not yet passed promised legislation to protect endangered species. Environmentalists feel betrayed by the weak followup to the 2014 Mount Polley copper mine disaster and the mostly business-as-usual management of old-growth forests (chop, chop, export). The latest news? Approval for turning parts of an old-growth forest near Prince George into wood pellets for overseas biofuel markets — nobody's idea of renewable energy!

Incorporating the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples into B.C. legislation was courageous, although B.C. government collusion in the militarized RCMP invasion to ram a pipeline through Wet'suwet'en territories shows that colonialism is far from dead.

It's the interlinked energy and climate files where public policy has the greatest impact on how B.C. deals with the unfolding climate catastrophe, one that will make COVID-19 look like a summer cold.

The anti-pipeline “toolbox” came down to a single long-shot reference case on jurisdiction over bitumen transport, one that the premier seemed anxious to get off his desk. The government opted not to subject Trans Mountain to a “made in B.C.” environmental assessment, even though a Supreme Court decision authorized it to do so in 2016.

However reluctantly, Horgan green-lighted the Site C dam, an expensive legacy from the previous Liberal government.

Site C's core purpose, argues policy analyst Ben Parfitt, is to provide electricity for the LNG industry, the pipe dream of former Liberal premier Christy Clark. But the Horgan government has offered even bigger tax breaks than Clark did — never mind the environmental impacts of fracking and the dubious long-term benefits to B.C.'s economy. The government-appointed scientific review panel indicated a “profound absence of knowledge” about relevant impacts, but the NDP leadership accepted the Liberals' branding of LNG as a “bridge fuel” to a lower emissions future — a notion that recent scientific evidence on methane emissions from fracking has further undermined. And the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers quietly helped ensure that public health impacts were beyond the panel's mandate.

Overall, according to a Stand.earth report, Horgan has increased subsidies to fossil fuel industries by 79 per cent over the B.C. Liberal government's level, the province's $1 billion being second only to Alberta in generosity extended to corporate polluters.

The current NDP program makes no mention of fossil fuel subsidies — promising only to review oil and natural gas royalty credits.

What about investment in renewable energy? According to the Narwhal's overview, faced with a glut of energy in B.C., the government has “shut the door” on most new wind and solar projects and has not renewed contracts with independent, small-scale green and clean power projects.

So, the CleanBC climate action plan has praiseworthy goals, including reducing B.C.'s greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent by 2030 (from 2007 levels) and 80 per cent by 2050. But as Seth Klein points out in A Good War, those targets are not backed by budgetary allocations, are not actually being met and, unfortunately, are inadequate in light of the latest science. Above all, the LNG project alone will make the targets impossible to meet without devastating the rest of the economy.

Overall, this pattern is what Klein calls the “new climate denialism” — verbally accepting climate scientists' warnings while avoiding the public policy implications. There are some creditable initiatives, but they amount to using buckets to douse a forest fire. Where is the COVID-level sense of urgency? The apparent strategy: Pick low-hanging fruit to dangle before soft green voters, but don't tread on the toes of corporate carbon capital. Even if that precludes developing a just and sustainable economy.

What accounts for this pattern?

Climate action is difficult for any government because of the long time range, disruptive changes and indirect benefits.

But B.C. governments face the additional challenge of the disproportionate power of the petrobloc — major fossil fuel corporations and their allies in finance, the media, the government bureaucracy and elsewhere. They can withhold investment, hold hostage whole communities currently dependent on resource extraction jobs (no matter how temporary and unequally distributed) and constantly lobby B.C. public office holders (an average of 14 contacts per workday, according to a Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives study).

Policy elites' acceptance of neo-liberalism, the ideology of free-market fundamentalism, since the 1980s is another factor. In Canada, neo-liberalism comes marinated in oil and a wilful blindness to the dependence of fossil fuel industries on massive public subsidies. Except for the much-slandered Jeremy Corbyn, former leader of Britain's Labour Party, social democratic parties like the NDP have generally offered little robust resistance or few systemic alternatives to rapacious global capitalism. Many social democrats have internalized the inaccurate neo-liberal dogma that only the private sector can lead growth and create real jobs.

For its part, the civil society environmental movement has attracted thousands of young people, but it has not yet built a broad coalition, which must include a swath of working people and their unions needed to offset the petrobloc's power.

The BC NDP itself has both “green” and “brown” (resource extractivist) wings. Today, the “browns” are in charge, led by Horgan, key senior cabinet ministers and party insiders who are bullish on extractivist overdevelopment.

Yet for all that, the NDP is a big tent that brings together diverse progressive British Columbians, including labour, ecological and Indigenous activists. It has been more willing than other parties to use public policy to offset market failures — and climate change is the biggest ever. (Disclosure: I have been a member for much of the past 49 years.)

What is to be done?

Given the will, how could the BC NDP leadership restore its environmental credentials? It could suspend Site C, given massive cost overruns and recently discovered geological hazards.

Similarly, it could suspend support for LNG fracking pending a public health review, proper answers to the questions raised by the earlier scientific review and a reconsideration of its economic prospects.

It could give substance to CleanBC by translating its greenhouse gas reduction goals into budgetary allocations and legally binding benchmarks along the way. As part of a post-COVID recovery, the government could expand investment in green jobs that use the skills of construction and trades workers, and ensure that resource communities are involved in planning for the transition to a sustainable economy.

Part of the reason for the snap election might be the “brown” New Democrats' wish to govern without the BC Greens constraining their extractivist ambitions. Former critics of extractivism too often change their tune or fall silent once they become candidates or MLAs.

An emerging generation of leaders who really get the climate emergency could help change that, backed by a grassroots membership demanding a greater say in making policy. Amongst members who don't want to be reduced to campaign fodder, and even amongst the heavily whipped caucus, there may be a critical mass of discontent with the party's “command and control” governance — including bureaucratic obstacles to horizontal communication between riding associations, and to members in some ridings who were blocked from challenging “establishment” favourites for nominations.

Finally, what are the options for the 30 per cent of B.C. voters who see climate change and environment as one of their top three issues but who don't want a return to regressive Liberal policies? The polls indicate an NDP landslide, so they may feel freer than in previous elections to vote for a candidate they like, rather than against a party they fear.

Progressive advocacy group Dogwood BC is encouraging voters to press candidates for a public commitment to end fossil fuel subsidies, even if it means standing against their own party. Out of that process may come a greener, younger, more climate-savvy legislative body. It's a long shot, but better than none at all. And it's no substitute for continuing to build progressive social movements in civil society.

Keep reading

The ’green’ versus ‘brown’ sectors of the NDP is interesting because it is a shift away from the traditional ‘progressive’ versus ‘union’ sectoring of the party. Recall the Leap Manifesto at the national convention a couple of years ago. I have donated $ to the party in the past because it represented my working interests and the opposite party, a Socred/conservative/neoliberal amalgamation threatened my interests as a worker. I am now retired and characterize myself as more in the environmental camp than the labour camp, but value both. I perceive the ‘threat’ continues and I fear that a split vote will hand an undeserved victory to the side I don’t want.

I've been a member/supporter of the NDP for the better part of 50 years ... and the Horgan government's record on the environment and Aboriginal rights has driven me to leave the party. I don't need to worry about a Liberal win in my riding so I'm supporting the Greens in the upcoming provincial election. If we can't have PR (thanks Horgan for your half-hearted effort on that one), at least we can vote strategically.

Likewise, Pamela, after many years of supporting the NDP I have become discouraged by their policies regarding LNG and Site C, so I've voted Green.

It is indeed tempting to vote with my conscience and go Green, but my riding (Vancouver Fairview) is a swing riding and the Libs have the popular ex-Vancouver councillor George Affleck running against George Heyman, NDP MLA and Environment Minister. The two Georges are close in the polls, so splitting the progressive side between the NDP and Greens will only mean Affleck will waltz up and cross the finish line.

I have voted strategically by mail for the NDP. They do deserve great credit for managing the pandemic. But to John Horgan's and George Heyman's chagrin, I am counting on the international markets to hinder Coastal GasLink with cheaper competition and lower demand, and most of all on the building international policy initiatives to lower demand further by banning the internal combustion engine and promote invest in renewables. And, of course, a lasting change in the post-pandemic consumer mindset.

Quite the opposite for me. The Greens had their chance to prove themselves, and they came up short. Further, an NDP majority could heavily depend on ridings where voters tend to be more environmental (as opposed to the prairies where they tend to be highly industrialized). Since they are a social democratic party, I am sticking with the NDP on this one.

I agree with you. I think with a majority it will be easier for the NDP to do what is necessary for the green economy and for the second, and maybe third, wave of Covid. The "neo liberal press" and friends can criticize but with courage the NDPs can do what is necessary.

"Yet for all that, the NDP is a big tent that brings together diverse progressive British Columbians, including labour, ecological and Indigenous activists. It has been more willing than other parties to use public policy to offset market failures "
This says it all. Better to work from inside this tent than to fragment the progressive vote and let the wolf-in-sheeps-clothing 'Liberals' back in.

Yes, in our household we split the votes, but it's time for electoral reform and/or the NDP and Greens to work together.

Alan, if you took a look at 338Canada, https://338canada.com/bc/, you'd see that the Liberals are not positioned to slide up the middle of a fragmented field. This election is not going to be about a possible split vote. It's going to be about the Greens winning zero seats or winning one, two, three, four, five or six. If you want to vote Green, do it, BECAUSE YOU CAN.

Nice article, Bob.
You lay things out very clearly, although I’m not so sure about the projected NDP landslide. We’ve seen debates have a big impact in the past – the NDP majority in 1991 was nearly snatched away, after Wilson over-performed in the debate, draining mainly from NDP. In 2013, Dix’s underperformance was clearly a turning point, in a campaign the NDP should have won. Furstenau most certainly over-performed, and totally outshone the two bumbling men on stage. The greens have clearly positioned themselves to the left of the NDP. Very few Lib votes will bleed to them, I think, despite Wilkinson’s unsympathetic persona. On the other hand, in contrast to the past, the corporate media is, as far as I can see, not particularly hostile to the NDP (why should they be, given the record in office?), and the post-debate framings were crucial in 1991 and 2013.
I think the result could be close. A pity that first past the post is still in place….

Acknowledge the science, but ignore its implications. Boast about climate leadership, but push fossil fuel expansion and pipelines. In BC's case, LNG development, Site C, destruction of old growth, and extirpation of caribou. Sign int'l agreements, but fail to live up to them. Putting emissions targets out of reach.
The new denialism. Just as delusional as the old kind but more insidious. And far more dangerous.
"The New Climate Denialism: Time for an Intervention"

Trudeau, Notley, and Horgan are betting that the world will fail to take real action on climate change.
According to these "progressive" leaders, the path to renewable energy and a sustainable future runs through a massive spike in fossil-fuel combustion and emissions. Complete disconnect from the science.

Which is worse? Climate sabotage on the right, or betrayal by the "progressive" left?
The Liberals have proved far more effective than the Conservatives in delivering on Big Oil's and Corporate Canada's agenda. Trudeau & Co. have persuaded many Canadians that we can both act on climate and double down on fossil fuels. Trudeau and Notley moved the ball on the Trans Mountain pipeline down to the ten-yard line. Their signal achievement was to "push country-wide support for pipelines from 40 per cent to 70 per cent." Something Harper, Scheer, and Kenney could never dream of doing.

When Conservatives win elections, progressive options are still on the table. When Liberals and NDP govern on the right, they take progressive options off the table. Normalizing neoliberal policies. Shifting the window of public policy.
The pre-2015 AB NDP was a force for good in opposition. The only voice of sanity on climate and energy. AB Premier Rachel Notley eliminated that option.
Now we have zero oil industry critics in the AB Legislature. Banished to opposition benches, the shrivelled NDP caucus can say nothing about oilsands expansion, oil & gas pollution, and climate inaction — because they promoted Big Oil's agenda in office.
Once Notley endorsed Vivian Krause's wacky theories, it was no longer right-wing and no longer conspiracy theory. Notley took it mainstream.
In Alberta, we no longer have a mainstream party that champions science. The AB NDP took away our last hope for real action on climate in AB.

If you want a truly progressive candidate, refuse imposters. If you excuse broken promises and reward betrayal with your vote, expect more of the same.
To succeed in the long term, we must have the courage to say "NO!" — even if we must pay the price in the short-term. If we fail to hold our representatives accountable, the democratic system breaks down. That's on us — not on right-wing anti-democratic forces.

If the likes of Trudeau, Notley, and Horgan refuse to champion our cause, they leave us no choice but to find other champions.
When they abandon progressive energy/climate policy, they abandon progressives, not the other way around.
If we let them get away with it, we have no one to blame but ourselves.
If Canadians wish to encourage politicians to ignore their mandates and break their campaign promises, by all means, vote for "progressive" parties like the NDP and Liberals.
If you want to break them of the habit, park your vote elsewhere or stay home.
Democracy doesn't work unless voters hold politicians to account. A vote for the BC Liberals or NDP on October 24 is a vote for Big Oil, LNG, petro-politics, democratic erosion, climate disaster, science denial, and betrayal.

Whether we go over the cliff at 100 kmh or 50 kmh, the result is the same.
As 350.org's Bill McKibben observes, winning slowly is the same as losing.

Right on, Geoffrey!

Excellent points, Geoffrey. This is one of the arguments that needs to be thoroughly and respectfully aired in a potential realignment of the Canadian green left, IMHO.

It's nice to see this flavour of climate denialism recognized for what it is. It would be interesting to make a list of all the different types and give them names. There must be at least five.

There are many initiatives that could play front-and-centre roles in fighting climate and fostering a sustainable provincial economy. These include major projects in wind, solar and geothermal power production. Wind (especially offshore) in the UK, Denmark, France, Germany and elsewhere in the EU is big enough to be backed by major corporate power brokers who have political influence. To moderate progressives, that might be acceptable because the benefits (jobs, lower emissions, economic stability, environmental accountability) outweigh discomfiture with the corporate agenda.

Another strategy would be to create zones powered directly by clean renewables in large quantities through BC Hydro suitable for heavy industry with the expressed purpose to fund significant R&D into zero emission steel made through electrolysis, recycle scrap metal using electric arc furnaces to make usable products like rebar and specialized alloys, and make low emission Portland cement for construction using electric induction kilns instead of combustion. Prince George and Prince Rupert (in the north) and Kamloops and the urban South Coast are ideally located and already have a significant industrial capacity. Zero emission steel will have a ready domestic market starting with public projects that include climate mitigation clauses in the specs, such as rail transit, construction and manufacturing, and export potential when the price is competitive. Again, jobs come along with economic stability and meeting the challenges of climate change.

The Community Forest Trust model is another idea that has yet to be explored in BC. The NDP (or any government, for that matter) has an "out" whenever a timber licence expires on public forest lands in regions close to towns. Why not establish a trial with local public management of forests through new forestry departments in regional districts, with accountability resting with elected local officials? The key guidelines should include: (1) environmental accountability (conservation of wetlands and riparian areas that exceed current standards, protection of the remaining old growth forests); (2) regenerative forestry practices in damaged areas with an emphasis on building the soil resource, R&D and silvicultural adaptation measures appropriate to a warming climate; (3) maintaining a continuous forest cover with an emphasis on selection thinning over clear cutting; and (4) release of public logs to create as much local value as possible, such as nearby mills producing dimension lumber at the bottom end for domestic residential construction, higher value products like laminated and mass timber products for expanded use of wood in large building construction in the middle, and cabinet and architectural millwork shops at the top end.

Community Trusts eradicate the boom-bust, strip & ship economy. They maintain fewer overall jobs, but they are permanent jobs over lifetimes that add up to more person-years of employment over time than the extractive paradigm and its painful mass layoffs. Moreover, it is entirely possible that the government step in to expropriate large sections of the private timber lands on Vancouver Island with the goal of establishing the Trust management structure with towns and districts up the east side of the Island. Under guidelines like the above, long-term ecological and working forest system rehabilitation will be assured and virtually guarantee a steady income from a sustainable harvest as well as permanently protected sensitive areas.

If it's true that corporate and union political donations have been eliminated, then a government owes nothing to anybody except the people it serves. In the above examples, everything is local, and the locals should have the power.

LNG and Site C seem so archaic by comparison.

Reply from Robert Hackett (entered here due to glitch): A great discussion thread - thanks everyone! Keep it up. I plan to make sure that a lot of folks in the NDP see it -- from those I've already heard from, we are reflecting the frustration of many still in the party. Meanwhile, I strongly recommend Seth Klein's book, A Good War: Mobilizing Canada for the Climate Emergency, which I drew upon in the article; pages 37-47 look at the NDP minority govt's climate record.

I used to support the BC NDP but after seeing their policies of the past few years that violate UNDRIP, escalate climate chaos, Site C, using the RCMP to prolong racism and violence against those who want a better world, it's obvious that they don't deserve any support.
I have voted Green the last 2 elections and will likely continue to.