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Opinion  

The Goldilocks election

By Dermod Travis

It was a pretty safe bet going into election night that regardless of how the vote broke there were four words from Premier Christy Clark's 2013 victory speech which would be left unsaid this year: “Well, that was easy.”

Something else telling between Clark's two speeches?

In 2013, it fell on then-NDP leader Adrian Dix to deliver that oft-cited line by political runner-ups: “Elections belong to the voters, and the voters decided.”

This time it fell to Clark, as she acknowledged the verdict: “Voters always know best.”

Pending a massive shift among the absentee ballots, Clark's B.C. Liberal party may have scored its lowest share of the popular vote since 1991.

The NDP's vote has gone up by 1,414 so far, but they'll add to that with the final count. It remains to be seen whether they'll crack a 40 per cent share of the popular vote, though, a feat the party hasn't achieved since 2009.

The Green party doubled its vote count and its share of the vote.

The tallies give you a sense there was a slice of the electorate less than thrilled with the choices before them. Call them the Goldilocks voters.

Some found one party too hot, another party too cold and a few found one party just right.

For the non-hyper-partisans out there, the results may be ideal: rebuke Clark, give the NDP a chance to prove their mettle before possibly handing over the keys, and ensure a strong third-party voice in the legislature.

This was a campaign that didn't come with a single game changer, but rather a litany of issues and events that reached a tipping point for some voters. The ones that decide elections.

Memo for the Liberal party war room: the public cares.

Clark – who once said "we all say things to get elected" – decided to prove it for the Goldilocks' voters. 

When Clark ran into an actual voter who hadn't been previously pre-screened by campaign organizers, the resulting #IamLinda hashtag may have created more buzz on the campaign trail, but it wasn't the more telling moment.

That moment came during the leaders debate when Clark tried to deflect the moderator's question on various controversies and scandals surrounding her leadership.

The Liberals won just over 40 per cent of the popular vote and may want to consider that 'trust thing' as they conduct their election post-mortem.

Parties that won a slice of the Goldilocks vote would be well advised to heed the ending of the fairy tale: “Just then, Goldilocks woke up and saw the three bears. She screamed, "Help!"

– Dermod Travis is the executive director of IntegrityBC.



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Pipeline to political disaster?

By Doug Firby

Few issues in recent Canadian history have been as divisive as the debate over the construction of new oil pipelines. The uncertain results from the election in British Columbia only add fuel to a roaring fire.

The "blue" Liberal government of Premier Christy Clark won the most seats in the May 9 vote, but not a majority. Her party must now court the support of either the New Democratic or Green parties to achieve a mandate to govern.

Should the Liberals fail to reach an agreement, it's conceivable the NDP and Greens could combine to form government. For proponents of twinning Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain Pipeline, either scenario provides ample reason to lose sleep.

Clark, you may recall, played tough in her opposition to having a pipeline carry diluted Alberta bitumen across B.C. for shipment to Asian markets. A lot of watchers felt her theatrics were orchestrated so B.C. could extract the largest amount of compensation from its neighbour to the east.

As if to confirm those suspicions, and almost on cue, Clark announced the five conditions she had spelled out for provincial acceptance of the pipeline had been met. Signs pointed to a green light for the $7.4-billion project.

It was an audacious standoff, considering pipeline approvals rest in the hands of federal authorities, not provincial. But Clark knew that, regardless of the jurisdictional parsing, environmentalists and First Nations communities in B.C. are ready to fight to the finish to stop Trans Mountain.

The NDP and Greens aren't ready to roll over on the pipeline. Both parties are fiercely opposed to it, regardless of the boost it would add to both provincial and federal economies.

Clark now faces a very awkward dilemma. It seems almost certain that either opposition party will demand resistance to Trans Mountain as a condition for the co-operation needed for the Liberals to form government. If Clark doesn't play along, her party's days in government will be very short indeed.

Sensing that Clark needs a hand, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley spoke out this week, reminding B.C. politicians that pipeline approvals are federal business. She told reporters, "I fundamentally disagree with the view that one province or even one region can hold hostage the economy of another province or, in this case, the economy of our entire country."

In principle, Notley is absolutely correct. Unfortunately, it's not an argument that's likely to sway pipeline opponents.

The irony in all this fuss is that Trudeau effectively gave succour to the opposition leading up to the last federal election when he promised his government would listen to the wishes of British Columbians. If he were really listening, the message is clear enough: on balance, most citizens of B.C. want the pipeline stopped.

Of course, in this case a federal government that bends to the will of one province betrays the wishes of another. Either way, somebody is going to hate you.

Doug Firby is president of Troy Media Digital Solutions and publisher of Troy Media.

– Troy Media



Weaver's predicament

By Ian Holliday

What will Andrew Weaver do?

That’s the big question that came out of the British Columbia provincial election Tuesday night. With three seats in the legislature, Weaver and his Green Party look to have the balance of power.

Much has been written about Weaver’s personal affinity for Christy Clark and the BC Liberals, and with Clark’s party retaining the largest share of seats in the legislature, it seems reasonable to expect the Greens will give her a chance to continue governing.

Such a course of action might not sit well with the voters who put the three Green MLAs-elect in office, however.

In the Angus Reid Institute’s final public survey on the election, twice as many Green supporters listed the New Democratic Party as their second choice (42%) as listed the Liberals (21%). And Green voters – like most B.C. residents – hold overwhelmingly negative views of Clark. More than eight-in-ten (83%) said their opinion of her was unfavourable, and six-in-ten (59%) said their view of her had worsened since the campaign began.

Fully nine-in-10 Green voters (93%) say Clark is “untrustworthy,” two-thirds (65%) say she’s incompetent, most (56%) say she lacks a vision for B.C., and nearly all of them (97%) say she stands for her political donors and big business, not ordinary British Columbians.

In fairness, Green supporters also voice a great deal of skepticism toward NDP leader John Horgan, though their distaste for him is less pronounced than it is for Clark.

Since the election, Weaver has said the main “deal-breaker” for the Greens would be an un-willingness to ban political donations from corporations and labour unions in the province. Past ARI polling has shown this to be a very popular position with the B.C. public (71% say such donations should be banned), and the NDP has promised to implement a ban if it forms government. The Liberals, however, have opposed such a change.

The Green leader would surely demand additional policy concessions from the Liberals in exchange for his party’s support on matters of confidence, but would he get enough of them on enough key issues to satisfy Green voters?

Green supporters are more likely to see eye-to-eye with the NDP than the Liberals on a host of policy issues, from housing, to pipelines, to taxation, to the future of Medical Services Plan premiums.

These are some fundamental issues on which Greens and Liberals are almost diametrically opposed. Would Clark’s government – which has based its last two campaigns on economic growth through resource projects – really agree to kill the twinning of the TransMountain pipeline in exchange for the Green Party’s support? And would Green voters – who oppose the pipeline by an almost two-to-one margin – be satisfied if this were the only major concession the party got?

Weaver is in an enviable position, no doubt. His party will wield considerably more power in British Columbia’s next government than any Green Party has ever held in Canada.

His position is also a pitiable one. The most workable political path for his party is also the one his partisans are least interested in supporting.

By Ian Holliday is a research associate with the Angus Reid Institute.





Long hours don’t work

By David Suzuki

In 1926, U.S. automaker Henry Ford reduced his employees’ workweek from six eight-hour days to five, with no pay cuts. It’s something workers and labour unions had been calling for, and it followed previous reductions in work schedules that had been as high as 84 to 100 hours over seven days a week.

Ford wasn’t responding to worker demands; he was being a businessman. He expected increased productivity and knew workers with more time and money would buy and use the products they were making. It was a way of spurring consumerism and productivity to increase profits — and it succeeded. 

Since standardization of the 40-hour workweek in the mid-20th century, everything has changed but the hours. If anything, many people are working even longer hours, especially in North America. This has severe repercussions for human health and well-being, as well as the environment. 

Until the Second World War, it was common for one person in a household, usually the oldest male, to do wage work full time. Now, women make up 42 per cent of Canada’s full-time workforce. Technology has made a lot of work redundant, with computers and robots doing many tasks previously performed by humans. People get money from bank machines, scan groceries at automated checkouts and book travel online. Many people now spend most or all of their workdays in front of a computer.

Well into the 21st century, we continue to work the same long hours as 20th century labourers, depleting ever more of Earth’s resources to produce more goods that we must keep working to buy, use and replace in a seemingly endless cycle of toil and consumerism. 

It’s time to pause and consider better ways to live.

Like shifting from fossil-fuelled lifestyles, with which our consumer-based workweeks are connected, it would have been easier to change had we done so gradually. In 1930, renowned economist John Maynard Keynes predicted people would be working 15-hour weeks within 100 years. We’re clearly not on track to achieve that. As we reach the combined tipping points of overpopulation, resource overexploitation, environmental degradation and climate change, we may no longer have the luxury of taking our time to make changes. 

Rather than reducing work hours to spur consumerism, as Henry Ford did, we must reduce both. We have to get beyond outdated notions and habits like planned obsolescence, excessive packaging and production of too many unnecessary goods. 

The U.K. think tank New Economics Foundation argues that a standard 21-hour workweek would address a number of interconnected problems: “overwork, unemployment, over-consumption, high carbon emissions, low well-being, entrenched inequalities, and the lack of time to live sustainably, to care for each other, and simply to enjoy life.” 

Economist David Rosnick, author of a 2013 Center for Economic and Policy Research study on work hours and climate change, argues that reducing average annual hours by just 0.5 per cent per year through shorter workweeks and increased vacation would “likely mitigate one-quarter to one-half, if not more, of any warming.”

Beyond helping break the cycle of constant consumption and allowing people to focus on things that matter — like friends, family and time in nature — a shorter workweek would also reduce rush-hour traffic and gridlock, which contribute to pollution and climate change. It could help reduce stress and the health problems that come from modern work practices, such as sitting for long hours at computers. 

A transition won’t necessarily be easy, but it’s time we stopped applying 20th century concepts and methods to 21st century life.

David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation



LNG's dark secrets

By David Suzuki

We’ve long known extracting oil and gas comes with negative consequences, and rapid expansion of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, increases the problems and adds new ones — excessive water use and contamination, earthquakes, destruction of habitat and agricultural lands and methane emissions among them. 

As fossil fuel reserves become depleted, extraction becomes more extreme and difficult. Oilsands mining, deepsea drilling and fracking are employed because easily accessible supplies are becoming increasingly scarce. The costs and consequences are even higher than with conventional sources and methods.

Fracking involves drilling deep into the earth, and injecting a high-pressure stream of water, sand and chemicals to break apart shale and release gas or oil. More than 80 per cent of B.C.’s natural gas is fracked, and as fracking increases, the percentage rises.

Of the many problems with the industry, methane emissions from fracked and conventional operations are among the most serious. Methane is at least 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a heat-trapping gas over the short term. Researchers estimate it’s responsible for 25 per cent of already observed climatic changes. One difference between methane and CO2: Methane remains in the atmosphere for a shorter time — around a decade, compared to many decades or centuries for CO2.

Methane’s relatively short lifespan means reducing the amount entering the atmosphere will have major and rapid results. Cutting methane emissions from the oil and gas sector is one of the cheapest, most effective ways to address climate change. The technology to do so already exists. It’s absurd that the industry is leaking the very resource it wants to sell.

The oil and gas industry is one of the major methane emitters. A field study by the David Suzuki Foundation and St. Francis Xavier University found methane pollution from B.C.’s oil and gas industry is at least 2.5 times higher than B.C. government estimates.

In 2015 and 2016, Foundation researchers joined St. Francis Xavier University’s Flux Lab under the supervision of David Risk, an expert in measurement, detection and repair of fugitive emissions. Using gas-detection instruments mounted on a “sniffer truck,” they travelled more than 8,000 kilometres in Northeastern B.C. They found methane emissions from B.C.’s Montney region alone are greater than what the provincial government has estimated for the entire industry.

The research, available in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, found Montney operations leak and intentionally release more than 111,800 tonnes of methane into the air annually — equivalent to burning more than 4.5 million tonnes of coal or putting more than two million cars on the road. 

This research shows that the oil and gas sector is the largest source of climate pollution in B.C., surpassing commercial transportation — and it contradicts claims that natural gas or LNG is a clean fuel or that it’s useful to help us transition from other fossil fuels. 

Given these results and other studies — including one in Alberta that found the amount of methane leaking from Alberta operations in one year could heat 200,000 homes — it’s time for all levels of government to get industrial methane emissions under control.

David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation



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