October Vote Marks the Start of the Deciding Climate Battle, Not the End

October Vote Marks the Start of the Deciding Climate Battle, Not the End

While many Canadians are looking to the October 21st federal election for solutions to global climate disruption, the climate plans from the four major parties offer none.

Any genuine solution will require reining in an economic system that demands eternal growth in a finite ecosystem, mitigating or adapting to multiplying environmental and social disasters, and drastically reducing consumption. Deadline: yesterday!

Since either Liberals or Conservatives are odds-on favourites to get the most votes, our second-best post-election hope is for a minority government, maximally influenced by eco-conscious Members of Parliament (MPs).

But, unfortunately, those running our economy meet not in legislatures, but in boardrooms, from which they wield profit-driven economic power to increase climate disruption and block solutions.

Our best hope, therefore, is for tens of thousands of people to fight for solutions against the boardrooms by joining the Green New Deal (GND) movement, the youth-led “Fridays for the Future” school strikes, and Extinction Rebellion actions. During the election, we should use the increased attention paid to politics to build this movement.

An evaluation of the party platforms below shows why the election, by itself, can solve nothing. But evaluating these platforms is best done in the context of discussion of what is necessary to save a future our children will not curse us for.

Priorities for a Just Transition Plan

We can’t prefigure all the goals, priorities, and timing of the process urged in this article to magically produce the needed plan (or plans) for a just transition. We can, however, consider a number of possibly essential strands of the weave, and compare party platforms to them.

Here are eight extremely tentative groupings of goals:

  1. Expedited, democratic, science-based transition to a post-carbon energy system:
    • No new fossil fuel infrastructure; ban fracking;
    •  Nationalize all energy; phase out fossil fuels in sync with sustainable alternatives and “just transition” for workers/communities;
    • At industry expense, clean up derelict mines, methane-leaking orphan wells, etc.;
    • Democratize publicly-owned energy locally as much as possible;
    • Downsize/replace cement production.
  2. Rapid transition to an equitable society based on democratic economic planning:
    • Proportional representation in all elections;
    • Expanded public participation in governance;
    • Just transition programs for workers/communities impacted by eco-policies and for “frontline communities” suffering from oppression and eco-vandalism;
    • Universal decent housing, clean water, and quality food;
    • Universal well-compensated, safe jobs and/or decent income assistance;
    • End to all forms of racism, xenophobia, sexism, and anti-LGBTQ2 prejudice; 
    • Choice and comprehensive reproductive rights for all women;
    • Expanded health, education, and other social services cut back by austerity;
    • Full union rights to organize, bargain, and strike;
    • Free healthcare, including pharma, dental, mental health, vision, and hearing;
    • Free universal childcare;
    • Free education through post-secondary levels; cancel student debt.
  3. Conserve energy and maximize decarbonization:
    • Public education on reducing consumption/waste;
    • Create eco-cities: building retro-fits, district energy, expanded transit/inter-urban transport, cycling infrastructure, urban farming, wild spaces, etc.;
    • Low- or non-emission vehicle networks;
    • Revamp agriculture and animal husbandry.
    • Minimize marine tourism/shipping and air travel/shipping;
    • Minimize military infrastructure.
  4. Indigenous peoples:
    • Fully implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP);
    • Terminate policies exploiting First Nations, destroying their cultures, and threatening extinguishment of title to lands and waters.
    • Upgrade infrastructure in indigenous territories, with priority on clean drinking water and high-quality education.
    • Implement the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada and of the Report on Missing and Murdered Women and Girls;
    • Respect indigenous expertise; partner with First Nations on sustainable practices and other systemic decision-making.
  5. Immigrants/refugees, xenophobia, and racism:
    • Plan for a sizeable influx of climate refugees re: housing, jobs, education, social services, transit and social integration into communities;
    • End the ‘Safe’ Third-Country Agreement with the U.S.;
    • Promote “no to fascism, no to xenophobia” education and action campaigns;
    • For temporary foreign workers, guarantee prevailing wages/benefits and health/safety standards, decent housing, a contracted term of employment, and the right to apply for permanent residency.
  6. Roll back all police-state surveillance and repressive measures.
  7. Protect/rehabilitate key natural habitats threatened/damaged by climate disruption or other environmental vandalism:
  8. International relations:
    • Rapidly decrease Canadian emissions below Paris Accord pledge;
    • Honour and increase “climate finance” funding pledges to developing countries;
    • Cooperatively reverse climate feedback loops and spreading disease vectors;
    • Stop exporting emissions e.g. diluted bitumen and coal;
    • Halt foreign exploitation by Canadian business and government agencies;
    • Negotiate fair, mutually beneficial trade deals;
    • Halt all arms exports to oppressive regimes;
    • Exit the Lima Group; cease regime-change operations, e.g. Venezuela;
    • Stop backing US/NATO foreign interventions; recall troops from Eastern Europe;
    • Terminate military expenditures unrelated to defense; establish a civilian, domestic, disaster-relief force.

The Failure of the Climate Plans Being Offered

How, then, do the parties’ climate plans compare to these transition priorities? To begin, let’s look at what all parties miss.

First, no party displays an apt sense of urgency. They are stuck in the 2015 Paris Accord and the 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.

Paris emission pledges were insufficient then, and (especially Canada’s) are not even being met. The IPCC’s 12-year deadline was a compromise among scores of scientists who ignored tipping points, and its projections partially relied on un-invented carbon-capture technology. Many current scientific reports show mounting evidence of accelerating climate degradation and its impacts.

Yet, despite rising emissions, all four parties support new fossil fuel infrastructure, while proposing vague mitigation targets for 2050.

Second, all parties believe we can avert crisis as partners with capitalist enterprise, whose intrinsic demand for relentless profits and growth in our finite ecosystem has created the climate and social justice crises and persists in making them worse.

This faith in the capitalist status quo leads to ‘solutions’ like carbon taxes, which Liberals make central, and the Greens and NDP swallow whole. Even without the current exemptions to some corporations, this ‘solution’ brings unavoidably harsher impacts to low-income and rural consumers/drivers, and is discredited by the arithmetic that says a carbon levy high enough to cut emissions rapidly enough will never be politically acceptable.

Addiction to “the market” also means that all parties ignore the need for government to eliminate corporate obstruction, nationalize the fossil fuel industry, and expedite the transition to renewables. Nationalization is a century-old Canadian public policy solution, used by eight provincial governments in the hydro industry.

Third, no party voices the need to reduce our carbon footprints, individually and collectively, by significantly reducing consumption . This reduction need not be to the point of hardship, but that leaves a lot of room. Our class society dictates big differences between rich and poor, so, while we are also rectifying that injustice, we need a sliding-scale reduction in our consumption of luxuries, food, clothing, transportation, living spaces, leisure activities, power usage, and waste disposal.

Fourth, reconciliation with First Nations is ignored by the Conservatives, but it is espoused by the other parties with inconsistencies.

The Greens’ 20 steps don’t include UNDRIP, only a plan to partner with indigenous peoples to “ramp up” renewable energy projects on their territories. Their overall policy book includes a commitment to “implement” UNDRIP, but it is watered down by other wording recognizing the “right of Aboriginal peoples to be consulted about decisions and accommodated in those decisions that impact their resources and their future.” Free, prior, and informed consent is not mentioned.

The Liberals’ verbal commitments have limited effects on their practice. They “adopted” UNDRIP in government, but then ignored First Nation opposition to the Trans Mountain dilbit pipeline (twice) and the (fracked-gas) LNG Canada project. 

The New Democrats commit to make “First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples…full and equal partners” in confronting the climate crisis and to “fully implement” UNDRIP. But leader, Jagmeet Singh, who definitely opposes the Trans Mountain pipeline, has stumbled around his support for the LNG Canada project. He wants to show he was on the right side, when militarized police occupied Wet’suwet’en territory and arrested land defenders blocking the Coastal GasLink pipeline (intended to feed Kitimat’s LNG Canada plant). But he also wants unions not to see him as opposing the jobs the project promises. So, he’s chosen a Trudeau-esque tactic: totally against fracking but refusing to oppose LNG Canada (80-90% of the plant’s feedstock will be fracked gas).

Fifth, no party mentions the rising tide of climate refugees already coming our way. While all parties express some openness to immigrants, none has outlined the needed plan to integrate, house, and employ the predictable increase of people seeking refuge in Canada. Indeed, the Conservatives have advocated making entry more difficult for asylum-seekers. And Trudeau semi-secretly amended refugee policy to do the same.

Nor has any party framed an education-and-activism campaign to counter growing xenophobia and the far-right groups that are feeding it.

Sixth, no party calls for reining in repressive police activities—like the assault on Wet’suwet’en land-defenders, and the ongoing surveillance targeting climate justice activists (and others). Though he apologized (for saying it out loud), then-Liberal-Energy-Minister Jim Carr did not promise to not implement his threat to use police and even troops against climate justice protesters. Nor have policymakers disavowed a leaked 2015 internal RCMP document naming “violent anti-petroleum extremists” and “violent aboriginal extremists” as posing a criminal threat.

Seventh, disgracefully, all parties are silent about Canadian diplomats and troops advancing the ‘security’ goals of international banks and (often petro-) corporations. None of them opposes collaboration with Donald Trump and the Lima Group to inflict inhumane, illegal sanctions and regime change on Venezuela or to depl0y troops to Eastern Europe to bolster the far-right Ukrainian government.

A Closer Look at the Environmental Platforms of the Major Parties

While all the parties’ climate plans are woefully inadequate it is worth looking at each of them in more depth to understand the particular shortcomings of each as the election campaign ramps up and they try to sell us on their green credibility.

The Conservatives:

In “A Real Plan to Protect Our Environment,” the Conservatives actually make a breakthrough by acknowledging human-caused climate warming. But “0il,” “gas,” and “fossil fuels,” never appear in the document, and “carbon” is rare.

There are no suggested policy changes regarding fossil fuel production/ignition or any other causes of climate disruption. Absent also, is mention of socio-economic/political inequities or of First Nations’ struggles.

After denouncing carbon taxes, the “real plan” highlights its own carbon-pricing proposal: a mild, possibly negative incentive for large emitters of Greenhouse Gases (GHGs). Industry-specific emissions standards would be set, and a company exceeding them would have to invest a certain amount per excess tonne in government-approved technology geared to both reduce emissions and increase profits.

Conservative international environmental goals would be maximizing export of domestically developed green technology and Canadian products that are greener than what they might replace in other countries’ economies.

There are predictable tax breaks for retrofitting homes, as well as for industries that export green technology, reduce emissions in other countries, or “can be shown to be among the least carbon-intensive” globally. Further incentivizing green technology would be a $250 million fund, providing 20 percent of start-up capital to entrepreneurs.

First Nations’ involvement would be for their knowledge of environmental changes that affect the “management” of air, land, water and wildlife and for “mitigation and adaptation” measures around forestry, mining, and protected conservation areas.

The Greens:

First among the “20 steps” of its Mission: Possible (M:P) climate plan is the Green Party’s intent to declare a climate emergency. This goal was easily achieved through the Liberals’ House of Commons motion in June. Determining the goal’s value was also easy, as Liberals voted “aye,” and then the next day voted to re-approve the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion (TMX).

The second M:P point calls for an “inner cabinet” of all parties to tackle the climate crisis, patterned on Canada’s and Britain’s 1940s “war cabinets.” In those cabinets, all parties opposed the Axis enemies. Under the Green Party proposal we would have an “inner cabinet” composed of a government that talks green but walks profit, a corporatist official opposition that doesn’t even talk green, and two lesser opposition parties with pro-profit-but-green-populist sentiments.

Among the 20 steps, however, are quite respectable emission-reducing intentions to:

  • eliminate all subsidies to fossil fuels;
  • double the 2030 Paris Accord target from 30 percent to 60 percent below 2005 levels and meet the net zero 2050 target;
  • ban fracking;
  • integrate the cross-country electric grid with all power comes from renewables;
  • restore Harper-slashed funding for government and academic environmental studies;
  • expand VIA Rail with connections to light rail and electric buses;
  • switch to bio-diesel (primarily based on vegetable fats) for small production operations, as well as farming, agricultural, fishing and forestry equipment;
  • cancel purchase of the F-35 fighter jets and buy water bombers; and
  • employ thousands to retrofit every Canadian building by 2030.

And, almost two months after the release of M:P, the Greens have addressed “just transition,” which was only mentioned in passing in the original document. Never big supporters of unions and workers’ rights, the party centres the policy on apprenticeships and retraining for “industrial trade workers” to: 

  • clean up orphaned oil wells, transforming some into geothermal energy conduits;
  • retro-fit all Canadian buildings;
  • partner with indigenous peoples on renewable energy development; and
  • adopt and apply all 10 recommendations of the 2018 Task Force on Just Transition for Canadian Coal Power Workers and Communities.

But M:P also includes questionable “steps” to “maintain” carbon pricing (with no mention of corporate exemptions) and to extend bitumen production past 2050 to serve as unburned petro-chemical industry “feedstock.”

Also problematic is the “step” to stop all oil imports, which party leader Elizabeth May denies will require new pipelines or increased production. She says North Atlantic oil rigs (when not shut down for spills) would supply the east, while Alberta fuels western needs (with expensive new equipment to convert bitumen to crude oil, gasoline, diesel, etc.). This completely sidesteps the massive GHG emissions entailed, as well as the continuing environmental destruction of Northern Alberta First Nations’ lands, waters and health.

Notably, the social justice dimension of a comprehensive climate plan is limited to another below-the-list afterthought to “strengthen our social safety net by establishing universal pharmacare and guaranteed livable income by 2030 … restore fairness to the tax system … and address our national housing affordability crisis.”

However, the party’s overall election platform, Vision Green, lists “commitments” to 

  • a sustainable jobs plan,
  • abolishing post-secondary tuition,
  • supporting local food and food security,
  • “defending” public health care,
  • implementing a National Seniors Strategy,
  • eliminating poverty and challenging inequality,
  • “fixing” (?) our electoral system, and
  • banning toxic, single-use plastics.

The Liberals:

Because the Liberals have governed for the past four years, we needn’t rely on textual analysis of their platform. We can review their record.

Justin Trudeau’s Liberals have practiced vaudevillian politics: play to audience desires, but keep’em guessing with bafflegab and conflicting policies.

They thrilled climate activists in Paris by urging a Paris target of 1.5°C rather than 2°C. But then Trudeau left Harper’s low emission-reduction targets unchanged (and is on track to miss even them). He also betrayed his campaign pledge to re-start the National Energy Board (NEB) assessment of the Trans Mountain Expansion Project (TMX).

In 2016 and again last June, Trudeau junked his “communities give permission” vote-getter and rubber-stamped industry-captured-NEB recommendations to approve TMX — unsurprising after his campaign mantra about financing a ‘green’ future with carbon-intensive oil exports.

The Liberals “adopted” UNDRIP, decided to “interpret” the requirement that First Nations give “free, prior, and informed consent” to development projects infringing on their traditional territories in a manner that contradicts the self-evident meaning of UNDRIP and reaffirms the colonial status quo.

Trudeau’s main ‘green future’ tactic has been arm-wrestling with provinces over deficient carbon-tax plans. Underwhelming as they are ecologically, they do provide a nice diversionary battle with right-wing, anti-tax premiers, allowing Trudeau to claim eco-heroism.

Yet another shrugged-off campaign pledge was terminating government subsidies to fossil fuels. Canadian subsidies are reportedly $3.3 billion annually (not all federal). But an International Monetary Fund (IMF) report says including the costs of fossil fuels’ unregulated climate and health impacts brings the total to $43 billion. Not part of either calculation are the $4.5 billion paid for Trans Mountain Canada or the TMX-related $10-15 billion earmarked for immediate insurance expenses and future construction costs. (Another paltry $275 million went to the obviously cash-strapped LNG Canada project.)

The Liberals are also making it tougher for climate refugees seeking asylum by closing a loophole in the Safe Third Country Agreement that permitted sanctuary seekers to seek asylum via “irregular” border crossings.

On the positive side of the Liberals’ climate/social justice leger is the accelerated phase-out of coal-powered electricity across Canada before 2030. This includes a $35 million just transition program for 3-4,000 workers and 50 communities, which has not been used as a template for fossil fuel industry workers.

The Liberals have also received praise and criticism for the “Clean Fuel Standard,” supposedly starting to come into force in 2022. Suppliers are to incrementally reduce the carbon intensity of liquid fossil fuels used in transportation, industry, and buildings, mainly by diluting them with biofuels.

Eco-opponents say biofuel’s demand for cropland is already destroying vast forests (including though fires like those in the Amazon) with related loss of oxygen production and carbon sinks. Other impacts include evicting indigenous peoples, ravaging bio-diversity, and actually increasing carbon emissions. As climate disruption increases drought globally, loss of biofuel acreage will have to intensify food shortages.

The New Democrats:

Aside from the crucial omissions noted above, the NDP climate plan and its overall election platform do get many things right, although their use of “zero-emission vehicle (ZEV)” is false. Producing electric vehicles (EVs) and charging stations entails noteworthy emissions, and electricity in most Canadian charging stations will, for many years, come from fossil fuels.

The party’s positive policies are led by workers’ just transition out of high-emission jobs, and the essential link to needed social justice improvements, particularly in relation to reconciliation with First Nations.

Complementing those tasks are pledges to:

  • cut Canadian emissions 38 percent below 2005 levels by 2030;
  • create 300,000 jobs in clean energy and in building retrofits;
  • establish a $3 billion “climate bank” to spur green jobs and “community-owned energy”;
  • protect union rights and benefits, including for part-time and contract workers;
  • legislate proportional representation; abolish the Senate; and lower the voting age to 16;
  • end poverty in a decade; enact a $15 minimum wage; hike Employment Insurance to 60% of income; and launch a basic income pilot project like Ontario’s;
  • expand urban transit (and eventually make it free) and multiply inter-urban buses and trains;
  • work with farmers to lower carbon/methane emissions, increase carbon sequestration, and improve food production, while fighting climate-disruption impacts of weather, pests, and invasive species;
  • pursue widespread tree-planting/reforestation;
  • create in ten years 500,000 units of “affordable,” energy-efficient, non-profit and co-op housing units; provide low-interest, 30-year loans to purchase starter homes;
  • provide universal medical care—including pharma, dental, visual, and mental health;
  •  “advance” women’s rights to equal pay; work to end domestic violence; provide abortion on demand and other reproductive healthcare services; help establish not-for-profit childcare (no cost mentioned);
  • “confront” racism, Islamophobia, and anti-semitism, especially in policing and in the courts;
  • boost foreign aid back up to .7% of Gross National Income; negotiate fair trade deals; ensure Canadian weapons don’t fuel conflict and human rights abuses.

Building a Movement for the Green New Deal and Beyond

It is significant that all parties are putting forth climate plans, acknowledging that business-as-usual capitalist economics and governance cannot prevent global ecological, economic, and social system crashes. But it is equally significant that no plan is even close to serious about outlining sufficient prevention, mitigation, and adaptation steps to transition us quickly to a safe future Nor have any of the parties, including the NDP and Greens, developed alliances with teen-aged and older activists fighting climate disruption in their communities and exploring transitional options in energy conservation, food production, and other areas.

That these vote-seeking party climate plans even exist is due to expanding popular awareness that planned solutions are needed — that denialism, mini-regulation, “market mechanisms,” and any-day-now faith in (profitable) technology are funneling us toward ecotastrophe.

In Canada and the U.S., such awareness has led many to “town hall” discussions of a Green New Deal. As both countries move towards federal elections, GND goals and how to implement them are the focus.

Envisioned to continue beyond the elections, the GND discussions share a major strength. They recognize the interconnectedness of the climate and environmental emergency, the social justice crisis of sharpening economic and political inequity, and First Nations’ battles for rights to, and within, their traditional territories.

These discussions also, however, share major problems. They assume eco-sanity and social justice can co-exist with a market system prioritizing profits and endless “growth.” And they focus on requesting policies from corporate-government decision-makers who, in defense of profits, will never grant them. 

These ‘problems’ express a gravely mistaken commitment to the system that produced and daily worsens the combined crises.

Implementing the needed transition measures rapidly will take planning that tosses out market-based, regulatory, and technological pseudo-solutions. To make such planning comprehensive and equitable we must ensure it is thoroughly inclusive and democratic. Entrusting this to denialist and climate-vandal corporations and governments — champions of poverty wages, soaring housing costs, social spending austerity, disappearing workers’ rights, permanent looting of developing countries’ natural resources, and increasing police-state practices — would be eco-suicidal. 

We need a huge mass movement — including re-radicalized unions — that goes beyond electoralism, litigation, and what Naomi Klein calls “blockadia”. While setting desired goals, we’ll also have to develop tactics and strategies, test them in practice, and revise as necessary. Growing our political power will include massive street rallies and occupations, coordinated strike actions, and social solidarity between neighbourhoods and cities and across borders. And then, by processes we can’t predict precisely, we’ll need to form governments.

Interweaving the complex goals and ways to win them will require large numbers of working people and our allies, of all genders, ethnicities, religions, and ages — especially youth. The current federal campaign periods in Canada and the U.S. should mark the beginning of this struggle, not the end. If, after the polls close, we once again cede the future to corporate politicians, we are doomed.

Elect a Minority Government! Then build the Green New Deal movement!

Events have forced climate disruption and/or social justice to be key election issues for most voters. Despite the defects in the party platforms, this article is not arguing against voting. Elections provide important snapshots of the political terrain, and it never hurts to have principled allies in Parliament (or Congress, obviously). The argument is against believing that voting is ALL we need to do. Widespread active-involvement democracy has to dramatically expand upon the pseudo-democracy that consists of taking a few minutes every few years to mark ballots.

The federal election cracks open an opportunity, and the Green New Deal initiatives significantly widen the doorway to the possibilities for a huge movement to hammer out and implement effective socio-ecological solutions. Young people are demanding—and taking — action! Let us join them.

Gene McGuckin is a retired, past-president of the Communications, Energy, and Paperworkers, Local 1129, at Norampac’s Burnaby Paperboard Recycling Mill, and he is a current member of the Vancouver Ecosocialists and of Burnaby Residents Opposing Kinder Morgan Expansion (BROKE).

Photo credit: Justin Tang/Canadian Press