There is a useful editorial in the Calgary Herald (signed by columnist Licia Corbella) that I want to use as a “hook” to discuss three policy areas that will, I suspect, be difficult for Conservatives: Energy, the Environment and First Nations.
“News that Petronas has cancelled its plan to build a $36-billion liquefied natural gas development in British Columbia should shake Canadian politicians and citizens out of their anti-energy stupor,” Ms Corbella opines. “On Tuesday, Malaysia’s Petronas announced its Pacific NorthWest LNG project would not proceed. It’s one of many energy projects that are stalled or being walked away from by industry in Canada, with corporations caught up in labyrinths of needless government red tape that has turned seemingly every large capital project into Kafkaesque nightmares for legitimate businesses … [and, she adds] … Not surprisingly, those companies are finding friendlier, faster and less costly places to do business.“
Canadians are, indeed, and in very, very large numbers, in an “anti-energy stupor.” I’m afraid, however, that the shake-up announced by Petronas will not anger or frighten them … it will make many of them very happy, especially those who e.g. supported the Greens and New Democrats in BC’s recent election.
Why are Canadians anti-energy? Why are they anti-natural gas which might actually help in the fight against climate change because, Ms Corbella says in another column, quoting Professor Wenran Jiang, who is the director of the Canada-China Energy & Environment Forum at the Institute of Asian Research at the University of British Columbia, who says that “if Canada could assist China in reducing its enormous carbon footprint by helping it meet its stated goals of reducing its reliance on coal by switching over to natural gas, then that would have an appreciable impact on the world’s CO2 emissions … [because] … [Professor] Jiang says China emits 26 per cent of the world’s CO2. About 70 per cent of China’s energy mix comes from coal-fired plants, resulting in more than 80 per cent of its CO2 emissions. In early July, 13 Chinese government agencies issued an edict to increase its use of natural gas from six per cent today to 10 per cent by 2020 and 15 per cent by 2030, which will lower China’s CO2 emissions considerably as well as smog-creating air pollution when compared to coal. According to Wood Mackenzie, a global resource consultancy, natural gas demand in China will, as a result of this goal, swell from 210 billion cubic metres in 2016 to 360 billion by 2020.“
Canadians oppose almost all energy development because there has been a massive, mainly US funded, and very successful anti-energy propaganda campaign that has been going on for years … and it’s been working. One of the main backers of this campaign is the Tides Foundation which also helped fund the 2015 anti-Conservative campaign which, ultimately, may have moved as many as 25 seats from the CPC to the LPC. The Tides Foundation says that it is “dedicated to a healthy environment, social equity, and economic prosperity for all Canadians .. [and] … it aims to “collaborate with both donors and social change leaders, build bridges between and among sectors, and help to steer more philanthropy into innovative work that can address tough social and environmental challenges.” Those “tough social and environmental challenges” appear, to me, to be, mainly, keeping Western Canadian energy (oil and natural gas) in the ground and defeating conservative political parties. The Tides Foundation appears to pour money (mostly US money) into political (social) groups, environmental activist groups and First Nations that oppose e.g. pipelines.
I am not challenging the Tides Foundation‘s legitimacy: I’m sure it is honest (legal) and above board, and it has a perfect right to oppose energy exploitation and conservative policies and parties and to want to promote a cleaner, healthier environment. In fact, I am going to suggest that we, Conservatives, should learn from the Tides Foundation.
Our, Conservative, Energy policy ought to be clear and easy for us to agree: our aim should be to sell Canadian products ~ ideas, arts, entertainment, business services, manufactured good, food and resources, including oil and natural gas ~ to the world at the best, world market prices. For oil and gas that means getting both to “tidewater,” to seaports on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. Equally, we should want to be less and less dependent on foreign energy.
While most Conservatives ought to be united behind a clear, simple energy policy, we can safely predict that two groups of Canadians ~ two large groups ~ will be opposed:
- First, those who believe that Canada’s best contribution to ameliorating the problems posed by climate change would be to keep Western Canadian oil and natural gas in the ground; and
- Second, those who believe that First Nations are the best, natural stewards of the land and water; I call that sub-group the romantics; and those who believe, based on court rulings, that First Nations have considerable legal rights ~ beyond merely being properly and adequately consulted ~ over any development that might impact on the lands that they claim as there own; I call that sub-group the legalists.
My guess is that those groups constitute an absolute majority of Canadians and, to the extent that the Liberals and NDP can make common cause with them, they are a serious obstacle to Conservative political success in 2019.
Conservatives need to present attractive and sensible policies on both the Environment and on First Nations.
There is more to the environment than climate change but anti-Conservative elements have made Canadian Conservatives international whipping boys for climate change denial. In my opinion, the Conservative Party of Canada needs to acknowledge that:
- Climate change is real ~ that seems, to me, to be undeniable by any except a lunatic fringe;
- Mankind, especially “industrial man” is responsible for some of the climate change; and
- Pumping carbon into the atmosphere at ever increasing rates is not helpful.
I think that the Conservative Party needs to:
- Promise to follow where the best science leads and, concomitantly, promise to fund the best science in our universities. We do not need more and more government scientists; we need top rank researchers in our great public universities ~ and we need to listen to, understand and debate what they say; and
- Reduce carbon emissions. Stopping coal fired electrical power generation is a good first step which Conservatives should promise to continue. We should try to not buy electricity from coal fired plants in the USA. We should limit the use of oil (gasoline and diesel), at least, to “mobile” applications ~ aircraft, automobiles and railways; that means we should build more and more hydro-electric and nuclear plants. Building more nuclear plants involves solving the problem of nuclear waste storage which may put us on another collision course with both the “greens” and with some First Nations. But if we want abundant “clean” energy then nuclear seems the obvious answer and safe storage is a challenge for Canadian science.
But, I believe that a Conservative environmental policy needs to get beyond just climate change. There is no excuse for Canadian cities to dump their raw sewage into our rivers and harbours. We have a wonderful natural environment and we are a rich, modern, sophisticated country; we know how to and can afford to clean up our waters and forests and grasslands and cities.
There might even be a role for a carbon tax … IF the aim is to convince Canadians to use carbon in a more responsible manner then a tax which, like the HST and GST, is paid, 100%, by consumers, might work. It would be like a mix of the HST and the old-fashioned “sin taxes” which governments still use to discourage smoking and the consumption of alcohol. Taxes that are ~ visibly and measurable ~ added to the bill every time one buys groceries (all of which need to be transported, some over thousands and even tens of thousands of miles (think about New Zealand lamb and South African wines, for example) fills up the gas tank or turns on the home furnace, might work to change behaviours. Taxing oil producers is a silly policy, the oil companies will just pass the tax bill, 100% of it, ton the consumers but without showing Carlos the cleaner and Wendy the welder how much (s)he pays for the energy (s)he uses; that will not help to do anything useful ~ except to add some revenue to the government’s coffers.
Environmental policy will not be an easy one for Conservatives, but if, as the CPC must, it is to recapture 35+ suburban seats and gain 15+ in major urban centres, including in Atlantic Canada it must have a suite of environmental policies that are competitive with what the Liberals and NDP have on offer.
First Nations are an ever more difficult problem. The first problem is that the final S in First Nations is important. There is not one First Nation; we are not New Zealand or even Australia. The First Nations in Canada are many and varied with different languages, customs, traditions and aspirations. The Assembly of First Nations does not even represent them all. To get close to representing all of Canada’s first peoples one must also deal with the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and the Métis National Council. Together, those three groups represent almost 1.5 million Canadians (900,000+ in First Nations, 400,000+ Métis and nearly 90,000 Inuit) whose ancestors arrived here before the Norse arrived, about 1,000 years ago.
As with so many other issues there is not, no matter what many progressives want to believe, any “one-size-fits-all” policy towards the first peoples.
I believe that a Conservative policy towards First Nations must be grounded in law and principles. We need to recognize, as the Supreme Court of Canada has told us, over and over again, that we, as a nation, have, again and again, besmirched the “honour of the crown” in our dealing with First Nations and they have right to redress, recompense and fair treatment. We must, I think, promise no less … but no more, either. I believe that Conservatives must eschew a romanic view of First Nations ~ a fair reading of the history does not show us a world of “noble savages.” But we must also recognize that in the 18th century British statesmen decided, for the general good, that subjugated peoples should be treated with respect and their rights should be protected ~ this applied, especially, in North America where both the French speaking habitants and the First Nations were treated far better than was the general custom amongst continental European or Asian colonial powers. Like it or not we, all ~ descendants United Empire Loyalists and recent immigrants from, say the Philippines, alike ~ inherited, as part of being Canadian, the obligations which 18th century Britain accepted.
Different First Nations in different regions of the country have different problems, different grievances (some legitimate, some not), different demands (again only some are legitimate) and different aspirations. In my opinion a Conservative government should promise only to listen, respectfully and fairly, to each problem, to each grievance, to each demand and to each request and deal with them, on their legal, economic and social merits, one-by-one-by-one-after-another. At various points any government, Conservative, Liberal, or something else, will have to spend money, perhaps very, very large sums of money, to provide redress to many legitimate grievances. But, in my view, we must also demand fair dealings from First Nations: proper accountability from their elected leaders; non-violence and not using e.g. pipelines as blackmail to advance other issues.
I suspect that a Conservative energy policy will be easy enough to agree on and will be attractive to most Canadians IF it is accompanied with a solemn promise to negotiate with First nations in a fair, legal and respectful manner. I think that some First Nations leaders will be happy (enough) with that, with fair, respectful negotiations on an issue-by-issue, nation-by-nation basis.
I think that a coherent and popular environmental policy will be harder for Conservatives to agree and will never silence the (mainly US funded) anti-conservative, progressive and green fringe, but even so we need to try.