By: Vancouver Sun
Premier Christy Clark is impressive talking the talk on the international stage. At the Paris summit she’s been poised and persuasive pumping up British Columbia — and her government, of course — as climate leaders. That’s on the basis of undeniable success in curbing greenhouse gas emissions with a carbon tax initiated by her predecessor, Gordon Campbell.
Most analysts now agree Campbell’s policy has been effective. Nor did it dampen economic growth as doom-criers predicted. Indeed, from 2008 to 2013 average annual growth in provincial GDP outperformed Canada’s by better than 35 per cent. Over the same period, B.C.’s fossil fuel consumption declined considerably more than Canada’s. This repudiates the opposition New Democrats’ objection to the tax while allaying fears that pricing carbon emissions is a job killer. The Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions now concludes there’s no evidence that taxing carbon is related to jobs.
On the other hand, our premier appears less impressive in walking the walk. Her vision of economic prosperity depends heavily on fossil fuel exports. One of her election pledges was to freeze the tax she now trumpets. A new terminal on the Fraser River is to export up to eight million tonnes of thermal coal annually. Environmental critics claim it contradicts both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s attempts to rebrand Canada as a climate change leader and Premier Clark’s interest in weaning Asia from coal-fired industry. Expanding exports of natural gas, undeniably cleaner burning than coal but still a fossil fuel, remains the linchpin of her promise of future prosperity. Even that draws criticism. Some argue the LNG train has already left the station in a world awash in cheap natural gas. Others point to fugitive emissions leaking from B.C.’s gas fields and argue the province’s actual carbon dioxide releases could be 25 per cent higher than reported.
If all this suggests a premier who wants to have her cake at the emissions reduction banquet in Paris while eating it at the carbon exports feast in B.C., that’s probably not surprising. Politics are politics and the premier is a consummate politician. However, here’s a little cake on the carbon emissions menu we’d like to see her serve back here where the limelight shines less brightly. First, fix the Metro transit mess that the provincial government’s meddling has created and for which the province holds all the cards — legislative, regulatory and revenue generation. If we are going to get people out of their cars — about 100,000 additional motor vehicles registered in Metro every five years — we need to offer a quality regional public transit alternative. That requires coherent policy and senior government leadership. Second, can we please move beyond the reactionary model by which transit operators must scramble to respond to what rapid growth dictates. Instead let’s develop a proactive long-range strategic vision that anticipates and builds out today the infrastructure that population growth, climate change and our responses to them will impose tomorrow.
Talk is cheap. Premier Clark is a demonstrated master of talk. But if she is genuinely serious about addressing climate change, curbing emissions and building upon the foresight that the carbon tax represents, we need less talk and strong leadership. Talk alone won’t forge the municipal, regional, provincial and federal partnerships that make it possible. One place for the premier to start is not in Paris but here in Metro which half the people of B.C. call home.
By: Vancouver Sun