Cli­mate gover­nance un­der the Trudeau gov­ern­ment

En­vi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abil­ity shouldn’t be ex­pected from Lib­eral party

The McGill Daily - - Contents - Ryan Shah, third year, po­lit­i­cal sci­ence & in­ter­na­tional devel­op­ment, Ryan Shah Com­men­tary Writer

Ne­olib­er­al­ism is a sys­tem of eco­nomic gover­nance that em­braces free trade, dereg­u­la­tion and the de­con­struc­tion of the wel­fare state and has be­come an in­trin­sic as­pect of west­ern po­lit­i­cal culture. In Canada, though our pol­i­tics and poli­cies are di­verse, all of our ma­jor po­lit­i­cal par­ties gen­er­ally agree that pol­i­tics must be main­tained within the con­fines of global ne­olib­eral dis­course. Many com­men­ta­tors have chided ne­olib­er­al­ism, and the par­ties that prac­tice it, for its per­pet­u­a­tion of in­equal­ity and vi­o­lence. Whether or not you agree with this as­sess­ment, one thing is abun­dantly clear: the Lib­er­als un­der Trudeau have been strangely im­mune to this cri­tique. The Lib­eral gov­ern­ment revels in a cen­trist, ne­olib­eral ap­proach to gover­nance that, de­spite its veil of pro­gres­sivism, em­braces lib­er­al­ized mar­ket so­lu­tions such as the sell­ing off of pub­lic as­sets and us­ing pri­vate in­vest­ment to fund in­fras­truc­ture devel­op­ment. The prob­lem­atic na­ture of this dou­ble-edged brand of pol­i­tics is nowhere more ap­par­ent than in the en­vi­ron­men­tal pol­icy be­ing ad­vanced by the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment. De­spite the in­creas­ingly grim cli­mate con­sen­sus, ne­olib­er­als have dou­bled down on en­vi­ron­men­tal dereg­u­la­tion as the only le­git­i­mate so­lu­tion to slow growth. Al­though Trudeau speaks the lan­guage of sus­tain­abil­ity, boldly as­sert­ing that “you can­not sep­a­rate what is good for the en­vi­ron­ment and what is good for the econ­omy,” Lib­eral pol­icy is do­ing pre­cisely that. The re­cent ap­proval of the Kinder Morgan pipe­line, and the gov­ern­ment’s adop­tion of Harper’s pro-key­stone XL stance demon­strate that the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment is in­ter­ested in en­hanc­ing Canada’s re­liance on fos­sil fu­els. Though Trudeau right­fully as­serts that you can­not sep­a­rate what is good for the en­vi­ron­ment and good for the econ­omy, fur­ther in­vest­ing in the oil sands, to the tremen­dous detri­ment of the en­vi­ron­ment, is a pa­tent ex­am­ple of such a sepa­ra­tion. De­spite the pro-en­vi­ron­ment rhetoric of the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment, it must be made clear: the Lib­eral Party is not a party of sus­tain­abil­ity.

The Lib­eral gov­ern­ment was voted in on the dual prom­ise of eco­nomic re­vi­tal­iza­tion and con­fronting the grave re­al­ity of cli­mate change. De­spite a false nar­ra­tive of em­brac­ing sus­tain­abil­ity, the gov­ern­ment has only pledged a measly $200 mil­lion an­nu­ally for de­vel­op­ing and adopt­ing re­new­able en­ergy which, is a drop in the bucket com­pared to in- vest­ment in­dus­try wide. The Lib­eral gov­ern­ment, un­able to en­act pol­icy that would have a sys­temic im­pact on the sus­tain­abil­ity of the Cana­dian econ­omy, has been forced to walk an equiv­o­cat­ing line be­tween ne­olib­eral-minded eco­nom­ics and sound en­vi­ron­men­tal pol­icy. Em­blem­atic of this equiv­o­ca­tion is the gov­ern­ment’s re­cent de­ci­sion to nix En­bridge’s North­ern Gate­way pipe­line, de­spite the ap­proval of the pro­posed Kinder Morgan Pipe­line. The re­jec­tion of the North­ern Gate­way Pipe­line should not be in­ter­preted as care­ful en­viro-eco­nomic prag­ma­tism but rather as a rhetor­i­cal de­vice that sal­vages their cred­i­bil­ity as a party of sus­tain­abil­ity. Though eco­log­i­cally-minded Cana­di­ans have been quick to demon­strate their dis­ap­proval of this de­ci­sion, Ip­sos re­ports that the wider Cana­dian pop­u­lace has re­sponded pos­i­tively to the de­ci­sion.

It would per­haps be un­fair, or at least mis­guided, to place the blame for en­vi­ron­men­tal mis­man­age­ment en­tirely on the shoul­der of the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment. They are, af­ter all, be­holden to an elec­torate that is chiefly in­ter­ested in eco­nomic se­cu­rity and growth. Though the vot­ers un­der­stand dereg­u­la­tory pol­icy as es­sen­tial for eco­nomic growth, the fa­vor­able re­cep­tion of the pipe­line de­spite its en­vi­ron­men­tal con­se­quences should be un­der­stood in the larger con­text of en­vi­ron­men­tal poli­cies within the con­fines of ne­olib­er­al­ism. This sit­u­a­tion typ­i­fies the broad po­lit­i­cal strength of at­ti­tudes against en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tion in times of eco­nomic down­turn. The ex­treme un­pop­u­lar­ity of the Al­berta NDP’S re­cent car­bon tax is a fur­ther ex­am­ple of this. The Al­berta NDP gov­ern­ment has re­cently im­ple­mented a mod­est car­bon tax to in­cen­tivize car­bon neu­tral con­sump­tion and pro­duc­tion.

The Lib­eral gov­ern­ment’s prag­matic, un­prin­ci­pled ap­proach to pol­icy, most vis­i­ble in their han­dling of the Kinder Morgan and North­ern Gate­way pipe­lines, is one that ne­glects the deeply dis­turb­ing re­al­i­ties of cli­mate change. The Kinder Morgan Pipe­line but­tresses Cana­dian re­liance on fos­sil fu­els – the core goal of the pipe­line is, ob­vi­ously, to make the oil sands a more lu­cra­tive project. Though most de­fenses of the pipe­line have framed it as a nec­es­sary short-term evil to im­prove the Al­berta job mar­ket, it is an ad­di­tional long-term bar­rier to the devel­op­ment of green jobs as it makes the oil sands a more at­trac­tive and prof­itable ven­ture. Though it would ob­vi­ously be mis­lead­ing to deny the growth-based im­pe­tus for giv­ing Kinder Morgan the green light, it would be equally mis­lead­ing to deny that there ex­ist other pol­icy op­tions that the gov­ern­ment could have im­ple­mented to jump­start job cre­ation in ar­eas hit by weak oil prices.

The Lib­eral gov­ern­ment is now di­rectly re­spon­si­ble for the con­tin­ued vi­o­lent ex­pro­pri­a­tion of land from Canada’s Indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties.. Though the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment has been keen to point out their will­ing­ness to con­fer with Indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties over which pipe­lines tra­verse their treaty-pro­tected land, they have been less forth­com­ing with the fact that over two thirds of the im­pacted Indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties have op­posed the ap­proval of the Kinder Morgan pipe­line – this has ob­vi­ously not been taken into con­sid­er­a­tion by the gov­ern­ment. De­cid­ing on poli­cies that im­pact the liveli­hood and sovereignty of Indige­nous peo­ples with­out tak­ing guid­ance from them is not only a dis­as­ter in it­self, but it re­bukes the United Na­tions Dec­la­ra­tion on the Rights of Indige­nous Peo­ple to which the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment has as­serted their com­mit­ment.

De­spite this, one might opt to em­brace the Lib­eral’s luke­warm com­mit­ment to en­vi­ron­men­tal­ism and laud their ef­forts for mak­ing the best of a bad sit­u­a­tion. The Lib­eral gov­ern­ment has, af­ter all, com­mit­ted it­self to in­stat­ing a car­bon tax which would hy­po­thet­i­cally help wean our coun­try of its fos­sil fuel de­pen­dence which is re­spon­si­ble for the egre­gious degra­da­tion of the planet. If the lessons of the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment’s han­dling of pipe­lines and the Al­berta NDP’S re­cent ex­pe­ri­ence with car­bon tax­a­tion are to be in­struc­tive, it is ev­i­dent that the car­bon tax regime pro­duced by the Lib­er­als will be one that is a prod­uct of po­lit­i­cal con­ve­nience. Un­less the Lib­er­als are will­ing to make sys­temic changes to the econ­omy to fa­cil­i­tate sub­stan­tive changes in our pat­terns of re­source con­sump­tion, the car­bon tax that the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment pro­duces will likely be a wa­tered down com­pro­mise that ne­glects the cli­mate re­al­ity of the 21st cen­tury. Though green ac­tivists have stead­fastly op­posed the Lib­eral’s first politi­cized en­vi­ron­men­tal de­ci­sion, it is ev­i­dent that the logic of ne­olib­er­al­ism which dom­i­nates na­tional dis­course po­lit­i­cal econ­omy will quite uni­formly fa­vor the econ­omy. If 2016 should be any in­di­ca­tion, Trudeau and his Lib­eral gov­ern­ment will con­tinue their at­tempt to hap­haz­ardly jam en­vi­ron­men­tal pol­icy into the ne­olib­eral frame­work in a wholly coun­ter­pro­duc­tive way. De­spite the prom­ise of a greener, fairer econ­omy that they were elected on, it seems ev­i­dent that this gov­ern­ment will con­tinue to de­fer sub­stan­tive cli­mate change pol­icy and in­stead em­brace po­lit­i­cally con­ve­nient mar­ket out­comes. Put sim­ply, if you are a Cana­dian who cares about the en­vi­ron­ment, the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment is not your friend.

De­spite the proen­vi­ron­ment rhetoric of the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment it must be made clear: the Lib­eral party is not a party of sus­tain­abil­ity.

So­nia Ionescu | The Mcgill Daily

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