There is perhaps no better contemporary example of the confines of democracy under capitalism as demonstrated by the current “debate” over the tar sands and pipelines in Canada. Climate change is a massive crisis that has started to effect people around the world. Scientists are unanimous in proclaiming that greenhouse gas emissions need to be immediately slashed if we are to avoid total devastation to the environment and to people. Why is it then that the major party leaders are unanimous in denying that Canada needs to stop developing the tar sands and the pipeline infrastructure designed to expand this particularly destructive extraction method? Let’s take a quick look at the denial being promoted by Steve, Tommy and Justin:
The Tories: Steve said at a debate in early August, “the Federal government does not build pipelines.” This is true, but his government has been funneling money and lobbying power to the oil industry in order to ensure that these pipelines are built and the tar sands are expanded. It was revealed in August 2015, that in 2013 alone, the Harper regime spent $4.5 million USD on “public relations” initiatives about the tar sands (read propaganda). Some of this money was directed towards trying to undermine Indigenous sovereignty among First Nations resisting pipeline development. These programs were euphemistically labeled initiatives to “advance energy literacy among BC First Nation’s communities.” The Federal government spent millions to lobby against EU environmental legislation, promoting the tar sands and fracking to European politicians and capital. $24 million went towards advertising in the US and Asia to promote the completion of the Keystone XL. This spending is just the latest example of Harper blurring the line between the oil and gas monopolies and the Federal government. It is this relationship that has led to Canada being internationally recognized as a climate criminal.
The Dippers and the Grits: The NDP and the Liberals have a very similar approach to the tar sands and its pipeline infrastructure. Mulcair, who was a vocal proponent of Energy East not too long ago, is now saying: “it’s as big a mistake to be against something that’s never been studied thoroughly as it is to be in favour of something that’s never been studied thoroughly.” Mulcair has been unable to answer questions on whether or not he currently supports pipelines like Energy East or Kinder Morgan. Harper attacked this wishy-washy position early on in the campaign, after star NDP candidate Linda McQuaig created “controversy” by discussing the reality: “A lot of the oil sands oil may have to stay in the ground if we are going to meet our climate change targets.” Afterwards, Mulcair made it crystal clear that he supports “sustainable oil sands development.” The NDP is trying to say that oil companies can support the NDP and continue to make huge profits. Unfortunately, the “controversial” reality is that there is no such thing as sustainable oil sands development.
Justin and the Liberals have been saying more of the same. They say that they need to revitalize trust in the governmental approval processes. At the August debate he emphasized “trust” and said that green house gas emissions will have to be taken into consideration during a review. This fuzzy language gets fuzzier when you ask these parties about specifics. This is not merely an attempt to fence sit, but it is also a tactic promoted by corporate Canada. A Globe editorial from August 14th makes the case that the Conservatives’ vocal support for pipeline development has actually hurt the construction of these pipelines: “The environmental and regulatory review of a pipeline project by regulators such as the National Energy Board must be robust, and for it to earn public trust it must be perceived as independent. The result of the Harper government’s cheerleading has been the opposite of what was intended.” It is inferred that an NDP or Liberal government, that upheld the approval process as unquestionable and was quiet about its own opinions, would be more adept at getting pipelines built and greenwashing the tar sands.
The Radical Reality
Scientists agree that the tar sands cannot be expanded and even if they were to maintain their current output, it would mean incredible restrictions on other sectors of the economy and on the population. In 2008, a report from the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy, which was a Harper appointed body that he later had shut down, said “the only option to attain deep emission reductions is to reduce industrial output in some sectors, notably oilsands and mining.”
Mark Jaccard, an environmental economist at Simon Fraser University, recently signed a letter with 100 other scientists and academics calling for a moratorium on tar sands development. His findings show that even if current output was maintained at 2 million barrels a day, and Canada lived up to its obligation to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 70 percent by 2050, it would mean that Canada would have to end all coal power generation and convert two-thirds of vehicles to hybrids with any kind of large trucks needing to be run on biodiesel. Jaccard demonstrates that the only way that the tar sands could be expanded slightly is if the rest of us went to zero emissions. The pro-oil politicians aren’t telling us what we would have to do to expand the tar sands and still make our targets to ward off climate change because they have no serious intention to reduce emissions.
Even Elizabeth May, who is clear in her opposition to the four major pipelines, says the tar sands could be exploited sustainably, and this is part of Green Party policy. All the major parties support developing the tar sands, expanding foreign markets by creating dangerous new pipelines, and intensifying the poisoning and land theft of Indigenous peoples as a consequence.
Thankfully, the climate justice movement has been forcing this discussion into the spotlight. Harper and Mulcair have been confronted by courageous activists inside rallies demanding real answers on the tar sands and the pipelines. It is very important that youth and students continue to raise demands and shame the leaders that are destroying our present and future. So far the climate justice movement is setting a great example by forcing the leaders to publicly fumble with their policies that can’t address the reality of climate change.
What would a platform for climate justice look like?
Below is an excerpt from the Communist Party of Canada's "People's Alternative" Platform for the 2015 federal election.
· Adopt a People’s Energy Plan, including public ownership and democratic control of all energy and natural resource extraction, production and distribution.
· Freeze and reduce energy exports.
· Expand shared power flows among provinces through an East-West power and energy grid.
· Block new development of the Alberta tar sands, and close these operations within five years, with jobs guaranteed for workers in more sustainable industries at equivalent wages.
· Compensate the Aboriginal peoples and communities affected by the tar sands.
· No to the Enbridge, Kinder Morgan, Keystone XL, Line 9 and Energy East pipelines, and to oil and gas exploration and shipping on the west coast.
· Put a moratorium on the exploration and development of shale gas resources.
Global Environmental Justice – Act to Halt Climate Change
· Adopt emergency legislation to slash greenhouse gas emissions, and support reparations to countries affected by capitalist-driven climate change.
· Invest heavily to create jobs through renewable energy and conservation programs, and phase out coal-fired plants and terminate reliance on nuclear energy.
· Substantially expand urban mass transit, and eliminate bus and transit fares.
· Legislate stringent vehicle emission controls.
· Fund high-speed rail as a better alternative to highways and airlines.
· Ban “biofuels” derived from feed grains.
· Impose heavy fines and jail terms against polluters and destructive corporate practices, such as clear-cutting, in-ocean fish farming, and deep-sea draggers.
· Ban industrial development in parks.
This article is printed in Issue 19 of Rebel Youth which is now available! The issue deals has a focus on student struggles and the federal elections. Find out more and subscribe today!