Green shift returns and goes global

Context for what may come in December and beyond on the BC and Canadian environmental front

We will soon learn what Premier Christy Clark and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have in mind for Canada’s renewed effort to influence climate change.

As they prepare to join the 40,000 people jetting to Paris for the next big United Nations summit to deal with human impact on the world’s weather, here is some context for what is to come in December and beyond.

Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion served as environment minister under former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin. Then, as Liberal leader, Dion’s proposed “green shift” carbon tax was pivotal only in ending his leadership. With a majority government this time, he promises the entire federal cabinet will be involved.

Dion gave a revealing interview to The Globe and Mail last week about his experience in government.

“The old system was to give the file of the environment to the minister of the environment and say, ‘deal with it, be the hero of the environment groups, but don’t bother us because we have jobs to create and an economy to grow.’” Dion said. “That will not work.”

It certainly didn’t work, which is not surprising since Dion is admitting the Liberals considered the environment ministry a mere public relations tool. This was the period when Canada signed on to the Kyoto Protocol, then pretended to care about it as the United States rejected it in a unanimous vote of Congress.

We now understand more about those environmental groups, most funded by U.S. billionaires to target the Canadian oil and gas industry while the U.S. booms. Their tactics were on display in the defeat of the Keystone XL oil pipeline to the U.S., with arguments that even President Barack Obama acknowledged were exaggerated.

Dion’s ill-fated “green shift” wasn’t just about greenhouse gases. He intended to impose a national carbon tax and use the proceeds to eliminate child poverty.

This concept is back, on a global scale. If you’ve been to the movies lately, you may have seen a slick animated commercial sponsored by the UN, featuring animals running the world from the seats of the General Assembly. “We have a plan,” trumpets the elegant llama at the podium, not only to fix climate change but to eliminate poverty as well.

One problem with Kyoto was that it left emerging economies like China and India untouched. And while Canada endures false allegations of subsidizing fossil fuels, actual subsidies are huge in petro-states like Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Algeria and Indonesia, where gasoline sells on average at a third of Canadian prices.

China and India’s carbon emissions have about tripled since the Kyoto public relations gesture in 1997. That growth is one reason why Canada’s share of global emissions has now fallen to below two per cent.

Here in B.C., Clark intends to unveil her “Climate 2.0” plan before heading to Paris. We’ll see if it includes another increase in B.C.’s vaunted carbon tax, which now translates to about seven cents on a litre of gasoline.

Even without carbon taxes, about a third of the pump price Canadians pay is federal, provincial and local tax. In Metro Vancouver, it’s closer to 40 per cent. In Venezuela, a big winner in the Keystone XL decision, gas sells for around two cents a litre.

The B.C. government admits its post-carbon tax reduction in greenhouse gas emissions was largely due to the global recession of 2008-09. Now with crude oil at historic low prices, B.C.’s carbon tax is a weak signal lost in the noise of a world-wide glut of oil and gas.

Tom Fletcher is legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. tfletcher@blackpress.ca