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After yet another extreme weather event – apparently the most expensive in our country’s history – Canadians are faced with a momentous decision. We can either elect leaders willing to shepherd the major transformations necessary to ensure climate change is minimized, even if such action initially proves uncomfortable; or we can continue to elect old-guard politicians who cheerily dawdle at the edge of apocalypse as global warming tightens its pestilent grip.

The good news is that because we live in a democracy, the choice is ours. The bad news is that our species is often prone to choosing paralysis over adaptation, even when it relates to our very survival.

A massive storm devastated southern British Columbia this week, obliterating the highway that connects Vancouver and the Lower Mainland with the rest of Canada, flooding numerous communities and much of the province’s breadbasket, while destroying thousands of homes and critical infrastructure.

This follows mere months after the province was ravaged by a wildfire season that, until late August rains, was unprecedented in scope. 600 British Columbians died from the concurrent heat wave, and the town of Lytton was reduced to ash. The community of Merritt, now under flood evacuation, had been on fire evacuation alert just four months earlier.

This will increasingly become the future for many Canadians if we don’t act quickly.

Although humanity was able to successfully respond to the ozone hole crisis of the 1980s after tremendous damage had already been inflicted, we unfortunately enjoy no such luxury in regards to climate change. For while the ozone layer is already repairing itself and is expected to return to normal within a century of the worldwide ban on chlorofluorocarbons, some aspects of climate change could prove irreversible for thousands of years, such as the loss of polar ice sheets and acidification of the oceans’ deeper regions.

And while humanity leaped into action on ozone repair within just two decades, we’ve known about climate change for more than a century and yet have done depressingly little, despite the grim consequences of inaction.

To put it simply: we’ve run out of time, and further delays will prove increasingly deadly. Tentative tip-toeing by our political leaders will not be insufficient – Canada must rapidly revolutionize how we use energy. In particular, the way we design our cities is crucial.

But here’s the puzzling dilemma. Most people understand what climate change is, accept that it’s an incontrovertible fact, and appreciate it requires a swift response. And yet, here in Canada, we continue to elect politicians that do shockingly little, despite talking a good game.

Timid actions will not be sufficient. Here in North America, we are some of the largest carbon emitters on the planet. Because of an abundance of land, we have embraced sprawl and inefficiency, building communities spread out over great distances. As an example from our southern neighbour: the cities of Atlanta (USA) and Barcelona (Spain) sustain roughly the same population size, yet Atlanta covers almost 12 times as much land as its Spanish peer. Moving across such large distances, almost entirely by private automobile, is incredibly energy intensive, causing Atlanta residents to emit more than 10 times the carbon from transport than Barcelonians.

Even worse are carbon emissions from buildings, still heated primarily with natural gas here in Canada. We’re loathe to switch to renewable energy sources, even when such options are available. For example, in Toronto, residents can heat their homes with electricity generated from the nearby Pickering nuclear power plant, but most instead use natural gas due to the lower cost. Government could intervene, but the previous Ontario provincial government was turfed by voters partly due to rising energy costs, and thus we’ve trained our elected officials across the political spectrum to prioritize convenience over climate.

How much of a shock would aggressive climate action be for the average Canadian? Initially, it could be a lot. Municipalities would need to pivot away from the house-yard-garage characteristic of suburban sprawl, and instead toward townhouses, multiplexes and mid-rise buildings. Our cities would need to be more compact, mixing living and working uses within every neighbourhood. We would have incentivize a reduction of the number of private vehicles on the road – as well as reverse the trend of ever-expanding car size – in favour of transit, bicycling and walking.

For anyone who’s ever lived in European or Asian cities, such changes should be intuitive and perhaps even welcome. But for those who are only familiar with the sprawl of North America, such an overhaul to their way of life may cause considerable opposition.

We know climate change is real. We know preventing it will require sacrifice. We know that we will need politicians to lead us through the major changes inevitably ahead.

But thus far we’ve elected the same political parties that have to be dragged into climate action – and even then it’s often insincere and piecemeal.

To be fair to Canadian voters, we have been offered disappointingly few climate leaders to choose among at the voting booth, thanks partly to our electoral system that loathes competition. Parties enjoy a veritable monopoly over large swathes of the political spectrum, and the resulting lack of competition puts little pressure on them to adopt policy solutions for problems such as climate change, especially if they would be the first to stick their neck out.

Here in Ontario, with a provincial election approaching, the Progressive Conservatives have announced they intend to build new highways and subsidize the price of gas – inducing more residents into driving – after having already ripped up Ontario’s cap-and-trade program (once the envy of North America), discontinued rebates for electric vehicles, and delayed the Hamilton light-rail transit approval by two years. The Ontario Liberals, not to be outdone, have committed to paying drivers $300 for winter tires; and in the last provincial election, they too pledged to build more and wider highways, conflating road expansion with economic growth. The NDP didn’t have clean hands either, as their 2018 platform involved expanding the car manufacturing sector, rather than transitioning to more sustainable, future-oriented industries.

Even in Ontario’s urban capital, the Toronto Parking Authority currently has goals to increase the number of people driving to generate more municipal revenue. And don’t get me started on the “relief” subway line (since renamed the Ontario Line) that has only now finally been approved after 110 years of political dithering, causing Toronto’s roads to become clogged with cars in recent decades

But ultimately, voters are responsible for putting climate laggards into power, and have mostly done so each election.

Complicating matters is that a region with one of the highest per capita carbon emissions and least sustainable lifestyles also happens to be strategically vital for winning elections: the suburban “905” ring surrounding Toronto, comprising almost nine percent of the entire country’s federal ridings, and a much larger proportion in Ontario provincial elections. Politicians, determined to win re-election, fear that being too “radical” will send voters in places such as the 905 into the embrace of other parties, hence the relatively timid climate policies thus far.

It is residents like these that will need to voluntarily elect politicians to lead them through a tumultuous transformation if Canada has any hope of meeting its climate goals. But thus far, signs aren’t that promising.

To be fair to 905 voters, two months ago they overwhelmingly opted for the federal Liberals, a party that embraced a political risk by implementing carbon pricing, and declared reasonably aggressive climate targets during the recent election.

But just three years ago, these same voters helped dump the Ontario Liberals from power after they implemented a cap-and-trade program, and replaced them with a provincial Progressive Conservative government that boasted about moving backwards on climate action. And one could argue that re-electing federal Liberals is hardly climate bravery, given that Canada’s emissions have actually increased since Justin Trudeau became prime minister, his government purchased the Trans Mountain oilsands export pipeline, and that setting distant targets for 2050 illustrates a lack of urgency.

Do the detached house-occupying, natural gas-burning, SUV-driving residents of the 905 have the courage to elect climate leaders? Or will they continue to vote for politicians who represent minimal lifestyle changes, regardless of the long-term repercussions? This may ultimately decide whether Canada is able to elect governments willing to guide us through the turbulence ahead, or instead those offering reassuring lies that everything’s okay and little need change.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

When Justin Trudeau became Canada’s 23rd prime minister in 2015, he received a significant amount of international praise and media coverage.

The New York Times Magazine paid homage to his late father and declared it was “Trudeau’s Canada, Again.” CNN suggested “Justin Trudeau, ‘the anti-Trump,’ shows Canada’s progressive, diverse face.” At the United Nations, then-Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev said, “I love him. I admire him. He is a wonderful young leader of this planet.” An article about Trudeau in Rolling Stone included this header, “Is he the free world’s best hope?”

These assessments all turned out to be complete nonsense.

Trudeau has been a weak and ineffective leader. He’s lost when it comes to the fine art of public relations and strategic communications. He has a vapid approach to everything from politics to daily life. He understands almost nothing about economics and financial management. He’s turned off more than two-thirds of all Canadian voters in the past two elections, and one truly wonders how much faith and confidence the remaining one-third has in him.

Still, a gushing profile in Vogue’s December 2015 edition, where Trudeau was depicted as the “New Young Face of Canadian Politics” who “celebrates openness and transparency” actually contained a few small kernels of truth. In particular, contributing editor John Power’s analysis in the last two paragraphs was a harbinger of things to come,

During his campaign, Trudeau pledged to invest in schools, health care, and infrastructure, even if that meant running deficits, and—in a profound reversal of Conservative policy—to make Canada a big player in environmental causes, especially climate change. This has already proved a tricky balancing act. Even as he expressed disappointment that President Obama rejected the Keystone XL pipeline (which would have carried oil from the Alberta tar sands), Trudeau was setting up a conference with provincial and territorial leaders to create national emission-reduction standards.

Trudeau insists that the important thing in the modern world is to be optimistic about change, which is a fact of life, and not succumb to negativity. “There’s a sense that maybe we’ve reached the end of progress, that maybe it’s the new normal that the quality of life is going to go down for the next generation. Well, I refuse to accept that,” he says, fixing me with his deep gaze. “And I refuse to allow that to happen.”

This, in a nutshell, explains Trudeau’s leadership. The only thing this PM has left at his disposal is the environment. That’s been his pet project since day one, and he can’t (and won’t) stop talking about it. Since his public image has been badly shattered and properly ridiculed the past six years, his “sunny ways” and eternal optimism now more closely resemble never-ending flights of fantasy.

Trudeau’s statement about carbon pricing at the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland emphatically proves this.

“We recognize right now that only about 20 per cent of global emissions are covered by a price on pollution,” he said in a speech. “We should be ambitious and say as of right here today that we want to triple that to 60 per cent of global emissions should be covered by a price on pollution in 2030. What a strong carbon price does, when it’s properly designed, is actually drive those price signals to the private sector, transform the economy and support citizens in encouraging them to make better choices.”

Trudeau didn’t stop there. “We know there are many different approaches that every country is going to have to take to reduce emissions, to decarbonize their economy, to get to net zero (emissions by 2050),” he later said at a news conference. “Carbon pricing is one of the most effective and cheapest ways to get there. It’s an extremely powerful tool that incentivizes businesses and consumers to make smarter choices.”

Trudeau’s assessment of the benefits of carbon pricing are complete fantasy.

Carbon pricing, as you may have guessed, is a less controversial way of suggesting the implementation of a carbon tax. Briefly, it’s not a free market-oriented strategy, but rather a regressive Pigouvian tax which affects overall market outcomes through social costs rather than pure private costs. Governments can then use carbon pricing as a means of regular interference with the ebbs and flows of the free market. It’s nothing more than a subtle shift of taxes from one source to the other.

When have you ever heard, read or experienced a new tax proposal or pricing method that can be, to use Trudeau’s description, “cheap and effective?” Never, because they don’t exist! Additional tax policies like a global price on carbon can only truly benefit one entity, the state. Individuals and businesses face the prospect of steady increases in everything from the gas pumps to income tax rates.

Most world leaders recognize the folly of Trudeau’s position on carbon pricing. U.S. President Joe Biden certainly hasn’t suggested it as part of his plan at COP26. The left-leaning Democrat has expressed an interest in tackling climate change, but he’s not foolish enough to back a new carbon tax scheme that would hurt Americans in their wallets. It would be political suicide for his party and movement, and cause permanent economic damage to his country.

That’s why the international community pays very little attention to Trudeau. In six short years, they’ve learned he has nothing to offer his own country and the world. He may want to be an environmental saviour at COP26, but they realize he’s nothing more than comic relief. Unfortunately, Canadians won’t be able to get him off the domestic and international stage for a while longer.

Michael Taube, a long-time newspaper columnist and political commentator, was a speechwriter for former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

The clear majority of Albertans want the principle of equalization removed from the constitution.

Well, maybe not a clear majority. Slightly under 62 per cent of the around 38 per cent of eligible Albertans who voted in the recent municipal election voted that equalization should be dumped.

And Premier Jason Kenney suggests the referendum wasn’t really about killing the principle of  equalization. For one thing, no single province can amend the constitution so the vote was a moot point.

Kenney says the referendum was really a lever to start negotiations with Ottawa about a “fair deal” for Alberta. It was about the big picture of how Alberta has been hard done by because the province’s oil and gas economic engine is being hampered by Ottawa’s plans to reduce Canada’s carbon emissions.

The referendum question didn’t really get into all that subtext. It just said: “Should Section 36(2) of the Constitution Act, 1982 – Parliament and the government of Canada’s commitment to the principle of making equalization payments – be removed from the Constitution?”

Voters who looked it up would know that the offending section says the government of Canada is committed to making payments to the provinces so they can all provide comparable levels of public services at reasonably comparable levels of taxation.

Some voters actually are aggrieved that their tax dollars get transferred to other other regions of the country. According to the provincial government, Albertans’ wealth is being transferred to provinces like Quebec where the provincial government is trying to strangle the Alberta oil and gas economy by opposing pipelines.

The premier suggests the majority referendum vote forces Ottawa to come to the table and discuss a much broader set of issues. He plans to rail against tanker bans and the long defunct Northern Gateway Pipeline and the inability of Ottawa to bring Joe Biden to his knees over Keystone XL.

He may toss in a few other nagging irritants between the two levels of government while he’s at it. The federal child care program isn’t finding favour with the UCP for instance.

Kenney spent more time during his remarks on the referendum on stymied pipelines and federal environmental legislation than the principle of equalization. It’s pretty tough to argue that Canadians living in have-not provinces don’t deserve the same services of those in wealthy provinces.

It is possible to quibble about the formula used to work out equalization transfers as being unfair to Alberta. But Kenney was a minister in the Conservative government that instituted the current equalization formula, so that’s a no-go zone.

No matter how few Albertans may have voted in the referendum or how confused the intent of the entire exercise may have been, Kenney at last has a win in a year of many painful losses. Fresh negative polls hint that his tenure as premier is hanging by a thread. His own party is anxious to test the waters at a leadership review in the spring.

While Covid numbers have finally begun to decline, the abysmal overall case count, hospitalization and death toll in Alberta are a grim legacy for the UCP regime.

Canada’s decades old commitment to equalization is in no danger from Alberta’s flurry at the ballot box. For any change, Kenney would need seven provinces on side. Only Saskatchewan is likely to rally to Alberta’s side on this one.

It’s also unlikely that the federal Liberals are going to walk back their environmental priorities and carbon-cutting policies to unfetter Alberta’s fossil fuel industry.

But for a brief time, the referendum win allows Kenney to change the channel and get back to his comfort zone. Railing at Ottawa is a time-tested strategy to buoy the fortunes of Alberta politicians.

When dealing with Ottawa, Kenney will use the vote to sum up Alberta’s current political sentiment as “we’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore.”

And for domestic consumption, the premier can site the referendum as proving he can still deliver the vote.

But more Albertans actually cast a ballot in provincial elections. And choosing a provincial government is more clear cut than messing with the Canadian Constitution.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

The good news is the election speculation can finally end. The bad news, well the bad news is all around us.

Western North America is on fire, or if not on actual fire, suffering from severe drought. Greece is on fire. Catastrophic floods are occurring everywhere from Europe to China. There was a “heat dome” that settled over B.C. And elsewhere, when it has been hot this summer, it has been very hot indeed.

Just this week, the Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN body studying climate science, put out its latest report which confirmed what is increasingly obvious: climate change is already here.

So, in some ways, now is the perfect time for an election. The IPCC lays out a coherent, and pretty dire, case for where we’re at.

“It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land,” the report says according to a Bloomberg report.

Bloomberg sums up the report succinctly:

The past decade was most likely hotter than any period in the last 125,000 years, when sea levels were as much as 10 metres higher. Combustion and deforestation have also raised carbon dioxide in the atmosphere higher than it’s been in two million years, according to the report, and agriculture and fossil fuels have contributed to methane and nitrous oxide concentration higher than any point in at least 800,000 years.

This is pretty grim stuff, but it is not sounding our ultimate doom. Not yet, at least. There is still time to put the brakes on some of the worst case scenarios. The earth’s temperature has, so far, only risen about 1.1°C from the 19th Century average. In the next 20 years, that will rise to 1.5°C without taking serious action.

And so far, none of the signatories of the Paris Accord have done enough to prevent warming from crossing the 2°C mark, beyond which the effects on the climate get much worse.

“This report must sound a death knell for coal and fossil fuels before they destroy our planet,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said.

That’s certainly a dire statement, but it also means there is still time to make a difference.

So here we are at the start of a federal election — which reports suggest will kick off this Sunday — wherein we could perhaps maybe see some kind of solution proposed.

The current likeliest outcome is Justin Trudeau and the Liberals win again with a solid shot at a majority government. Which, if you listened just to their rhetoric particularly about climate change, you might think is a good thing. But it is probably worse that not good, but actively bad.

The trouble with the Liberal Party, this one especially, is how the way it talks about itself becomes all consuming, to the point they might actually believe their own bullshit.

Listen to your own voice enough talk about the serious and important work you’re doing to combat rising global temperatures — hey, there’s a carbon tax now! — and you start to really think that that’s enough. That good will and saying the right words is enough. This is a government, after all, where the prime minister and then-environment minister Catherine McKenna both marched in climate protests that were…protesting their own government.

(You can see a similar mindset at work when Trudeau took a knee at anti-police brutality protests, which again were protesting his own government, all the while he was surrounded by RCMP officers.)

Look no further than current environment minister, Jonathan Wilkinson, who was asked on CBC how that might change the government’s approach to doing things because of the seriousness of the IPCC’s findings. His answer leaves much to be desired.

“Canada needs to ensure that in the context of that transition, it’s extracting full value for its resources and using that money to push forward in terms of reducing emissions,” Wilkinson told CBC. “What we’re doing is saying it’s got to be part of the transition, but part of the transition is being able to raise the revenues that enable you to actually make the investments that are required to go there.”

So, you see, the federal government bought an pipeline, and is finishing its construction, to make sure that we’re able to suck as much oil — of higher-than-average carbon intensity! — out of the ground, so that we can make enough money to counter the cost climate change.

While it is a truly incredible answer, but it is quite honest. The government will never do what is necessary to actually reduce this country’s carbon emissions enough to meet the requirements of our own commitments. Never mind trying to exceed them.

There is far too much money to be made by oil companies for them to get in the way of that.

I would say something like, ‘This presents us with a stark choice in the coming weeks for election day.’ But I’d be full of shit.

There is little chance of a stark choice being offered, because we don’t have the sort of political culture that offers stark choices.

Instead we get variations on a theme. The best hope this election for a more serious climate policy might be the NDP under leader Jagmeet Singh. But pinning hopes on the modern NDP is a fool’s errand. Their party is not one that is looking for a radical departure from the status quo, but instead a party that is focused on wooing Liberal voters to pick up enough seats to wield slightly more influence in the House of Commons.

That sort of focus is not going to lead to the sort of boldness required.

The Conservatives are of no hope on the climate file, and the Greens simply have no hope of anything given the state they are in.

So, once more, we will fight an election on a bunch of piddling issues, with tiny solutions being sold as big promises.

All the while more carbon enters the atmosphere, and the globe grows ever hotter. At some point something will have to be done, but by the time this country is mobilized to truly do something serious, it will be too late.

We have our shot, but don’t worry, we won’t take it.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

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The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

This content is restricted to subscribers

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

This content is restricted to subscribers

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

The Conservatives have an environmental problem.

The reason for it starts with their voter base. It was illustrated very clearly by the Angus Reid Institute, in a poll released in early May. Simply put, CPC voters are isolated when it comes to climate change and the causes of climate change.

90% of the other main parties’ voters believe climate change is a fact and is mostly caused by human activities – not so for the CPC voters.

This is a tricky spot for Erin O’Toole to be in. We saw it play out at the CPC Convention, when a mere few days after he presented his climate plan with bells and whistles, Conservative delegates at the party’s policy convention voted to reject adding that the party believes “climate change is real” and is “willing to act” to the CPC policy book.

“The debate is over”, stated O’Toole, in an attempt to ignore the fact that his own party is very much debating it to this day. Not so fast. In fact, this week, Conservative MPs unanimously voted to promote the oil and gas industries and opposed obstacles to its expansion. Another nail in the CPC’s credibility on the environment.

The motion, introduced by Edmonton Conservative MP Ziad Aboultaif, is extensive. While there are things that are hard to quibble with in it: yes, we still need gas to heat homes and schools; of course, Canadian resources create Canadian jobs; yes, tax revenue from the fossil fuel industry contributes to the national treasury; but taken as a whole, it feels mostly like the systemic defense of the ways of the past.

There are a few gems in there, too. Replacing oil and gas with more environmentally sustainable options is not technologically or economically feasible, apparently. The Conservatives should inform Ford to pull the plug on the launch of their F-150 Lightning Electric Truck

And the climax: “tax and regulatory barriers limiting the responsible growth of Canada’s oil and gas industry should be removed.” Really, now?

How does that jive with O’Toole’s environmental plan, which promised to meet the greenhouse gas reduction targets adopted by Canada? “Canada cannot ignore the reality of climate change,” the environmental platform states. So why do Conservatives keep acting like Canada should?

O’Toole’s plan also proposed to introduce a carbon pricing scheme – don’t call it a tax, surely – that would directly reward consumers with a form of “Gas Miles Rewards” paid in return for their consumption. The more you burn, the more rewards you get!

Equiterre’s director of government relations, (and former colleague) Marc-André Viau, said it best: “Calling for the weakening of environmental regulations to encourage the expansion of the oil and gas sector is the equivalent of living in a world of unicorns.”

Either you believe in climate change, or you don’t. Either you act accordingly, or you don’t. These types of CPC rearguard actions might be red meat for the CPC base, but it doesn’t fly with the rest of the voting universe. It undermines any green-friendly proposals that seek to bring them in, as they lack credibility.

Worse, it leaves the Liberal government off-the-hook with their own unicorns, starting with the nationalization of a pipeline and large subsidies to the oil and gas sector, while failing to do what’s needed for Canada to meet its greenhouse gas reduction targets. Liberals can get away with this because they just need to point to their right: “I’m with stupid.” The climate crisis cannot and will not be solved within this political dynamic.

Photo Credit: CBC News

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.