By David Yager
For the first time in Canada’s short and dull history, the future of the world depends upon how we vote in upcoming election.
This is an enormous responsibility. Choose your vote carefully.
How can a country with only 0.5% of the population and no meaningful military become this important? Climate change. Green Party leader Elizabeth May explained it when interviewed by the CBC on September 10th. Asked why she was in politics May replied, “Because I have to save the whole world and we’re running out of time.”
Should she succeed, the collateral damage of May’s crusade is well understood by anyone reading this column.
Because Elizabeth May’s platform is to significantly shrink Canada’s oil industry, thereby putting hundreds of thousands of out of work and creating the greatest economic disruption in Canadian history.
Joined by the NDP, this is surely the first federal election in which national party leaders are campaigning not on the number of jobs they will create, but how many they pledge to destroy.
Why? Because that’s where the votes are. And that’s what elections are all about; attracting the most possible votes.
We all know Canada alone cannot actually save the world. Even if Canadian oil disappeared entirely it would remove less oil from world markets that the recent bomb attacks in Saudi Arabia. Consumers will get it elsewhere. Canada produces about the same amount of oil as has come off the market in recent years due to political disruptions in Iraq, Libya, Nigeria, Venezuela and Iran.
This isn’t about climate change, science, economics, or even common sense. This about votes, climate alarmist votes. And outside of WCSB, many voters don’t care one whit about Alberta, the oil industry, or the enormous number of people that depend upon it for their livelihood.
They don’t even care about the rest of the world. If they did, they would do something else. Many Canadians are terrified after years of inundation by climate alarmists. What they really want is to sleep better at night.
This is the most impossibly complex public policy conundrum in history. Hate oil, hate oil companies, support climate virtue signaling, then proceed with life without fully considering what living in Canada would really be like without fossil fuels.
The technical term is cleavage politics. Find your tribe of supporters and give them what they want. In 2019 climate change is an important election issue. The political parties campaigning on Canada saving mankind through economic self-immolation know they won’t win a single seat in Alberta and only a handful in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Exploit the fear and promise the impossible.
And climate alarmism it is. “The world is in flames” was the common message in the summer of 2019. Amazon. Russia. Indonesia. Africa. There is no stronger visual evidence of the ravages of climate change than forest fires. We’ve been told repeatedly last year’s fire season in BC was the worst it has ever been and will surely get worse without immediate and decisive action.
But there is rarely any context. There’s a big fire. There shouldn’t be. It is awful and becoming more frequent. Using a biblical metaphor, it is hell on Earth. Stop using fossil fuels and this problem will go away.
With an eye on the upcoming federal election, Environment minister Catherine McKenna posted on Twitter this summer that “our planet is burning” and how conservatives don’t care. There is no middle ground on climate change any longer, hence the term “cleavage”. Either you agree it is the greatest problem mankind has ever faced or you don’t care about the future of your children or your planet.
Except when it comes to forest fires, the narrative isn’t true. If that matters any more. With an election pending, facts should be important. Hopefully, common sense will prevail. Don’t count on it.
In May, The Vancouver Sun published an article titled, “B.C.’s bad fire seasons ‘a new norm of unprecedented wildfires’.” It continued, “With another hot, dry summer ahead, B.C. is poised for a third consecutive record-breaking fire season after 2017 and 2018 rewrote the record books…”
Except it never happened. Indeed, 2017 and 2018 were bad with over 1.3 million hectares incinerated both years. According to data for 2019, to September 13 the total hectares burned was only 21,135, the fourth lowest since 2008. BC Wildfire Service records reveal for the eight years from 2009 to 2016, the worst year was one-third of 2018 and the nine-year average was only 165,000 hectares. In a province of 94.5 million hectares, mostly forested, this about 0.0017% by area.
For the record, the biggest fire in the BC archives is the Wisp fire along the Chinchaga River on the Alberta/BC border in 1950. That fire alone was 1.4 million hectares.
In September some media reported BC had a cool, wet summer so the anticipated forest fire disaster never occurred. But don’t worry. Next year it will back to the “new normal”.
So the rest of the world got the media’s attention instead. In August it was reported endlessly that the Brazilian rainforest, the “lungs” of the world, was going up in flames. At the G7 meeting in Paris the situation was so dire the attending countries pledged tens of millions for fire control, with Canada leading the pack with $15 million. The fires in Brazil and other countries were, of course, the worst ever because of climate change.
This wasn’t true either. On September 5 the BBC Reality Check team ran a story titled, “Are forest fires as bad as they seem?” It started, “As South American countries meet in Columbia to discuss the fires in the Amazon basin, other parts of the world have also been ablaze. Vast tracts of forest in Russia, Asia and Africa have been burning. The extend of the fires has sparked outrage around the world.”
Searching through satellite data from four areas – Brazil, Siberia, Indonesia and Central Africa – the BBC concluded, “…that although fires this year have wrought significant damage to the environment, they have been worse in the past.”
The number of fires in Brazil in 2019 was found to be lower than for most years from 2002 to 2010. The area burned this year was substantially lower than in 13 of the last 17.
In 2019 more forest burned in Russia than in 2018. At the time, 2018 was called the worst ever. Except data shows there have been other years with a lot of fires, particularly 2003 when the area affected was vastly larger.
In Indonesia the number of fires in 2019 was lower than 12 of the past 18 years. In six of those years the number was significantly higher than this summer.
In Africa there was no evidence that this year was materially worse than the previous 15.
In June a motion to declare Canada was experiencing a “climate emergency” passed in the House of Commons, supported by all parties but the Conservatives. This followed the news report in April that Canada was heating twice as fast as any other country on earth.
But Canada was not alone as the fastest heating country on the planet. Similar front page headlines appeared in Sweden (2019), Singapore (2019), South Africa (2019), Europe (2019), China (2018), Alaska (2018), Adirondacks (2018), Austria (2017), Australia (2015), Russia (2014), Finland (2014), Britain (2013), Switzerland (2012) and Spain (2010).
I’m not “climate scientist” and therefore the alarmists (not scientists either) will claim I am not qualified to comment. But it is not intuitive that all these news reports can be mathematically or scientifically correct.
But as we all know, in the turbocharged and emotional climate change debate of the 21st century, facts don’t matter. The subject itself so confusing our fellow Canadians don’t know what to do. Recent polling by Angus Reid revealed 69%, “…say climate change should be a top priority for whichever party forms government after the October vote.” At the same, 58% believed oil and gas development should also be a major objective.
In the hunt for votes you can’t please everyone. Since the prairies contain so many carbon tax opponents, the Greens and NDP have decided to chase green votes elsewhere. The regional nature of Canadian cleavage politics means politicians can campaign aggressively against the oil and gas industry in many regions without jeopardizing electoral success. Their quest for support will take place in the lower mainland of BC, Vancouver Island, and among urban residents of Ontario and Quebec. These voters can support aggressive climate policies at the expense of oil without losing their own jobs or risking short-term financial discomfort.
As noted, the Green Party is prepared to sacrifice Canada’s oil industry to save the planet. The party blesses the national climate emergency declaration stating, “Accept, at every level of government, that climate is not an environmental issue. It is the gravest security threat the world has ever seen.”
Feel free to be worried. Elizabeth May knows the Greens will not form government. But in the case of a minority government, she has already speculated about auditioning the winner to negotiate the terms by which the Greens will help that party sustain power. The Green program includes ending unrefined oil exports, phasing out bitumen production by 2035, cancelling the Trans Mountain expansion, banning fracking (and by default LNG exports), and making the internal combustion engine for cars and light trucks illegal by 2040.
In the first televised election debate, May criticized approvals for the Trans Mountain Expansion and LNG Canada, the only good news the ‘patch has had recently. By prohibiting fracking and cancelling TMX, this would terminate both and kill tens of thousands of jobs immediately. But they’re not Green supporters, so who cares?
The Greens promise the creation of thousands of new jobs in renewables, mass transit and insulating homes and buildings. This has been tried and failed in too many jurisdictions around the world to list here.
The NDP is running on much the same platform. Leader Jagmeet Singh links social justice and climate change. This is quite common in the climate alarmist mantra espoused by the LEAP Manifesto and America’s Green New Deal.
Singh’s plan calls for billions in government spending on green transportation infrastructure and assistance for provinces and cities to make public transport free. There would be subsidies for electric vehicles, free charging stations at federal buildings, and cash for residential EV charging stations. The NDP once supported LNG exports but now that it is competing with the Greens for votes, the party is saying something different.
The Liberal platform is well understood. The relentless and periodically over-the-top utterings of federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna since 2015 have assured Canadians the Liberals can and will change the weather through their remarkable combination of carbon taxes and income-based cash rebates.
Regionally, many Canadians appear relatively comfortable financially. In the past five years the national unemployment has dropped from 6.9% to 5.7%. Quebec is doing very well with its unemployment rate falling from 7.7% in 2014 to 4.9% this summer. Ontario is enjoying similar results, 5.7% from 7.3%. Since 2014 the BC unemployment rate fell to 4.4% from 6.1%.
Alberta and Saskatchewan have not been so fortunate. In 2014 Alberta’s unemployment level was only 4.7%. This summer it was 7%. It was as high as 8.1% in 2016. Five years ago, Saskatchewan had the lowest unemployment rate in the country, 3.8%. This year it is 5.4%. At 7.6% in May, Calgary had the highest unemployment rate of any major city in Canada.
If you’re looking for climate policy votes outside of the prairies at the expense of oil, employment data is going in the right direction.
Urbanization is a major driver of cleavage politics. Nearly two-thirds of Canadians lived in 100 big towns and cities with 50,000 people or more in 2016. The three biggest cities in the country – Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal – are home to 35% of all Canadians. None of these three can be considered strong or loyal supporters of the oil industry or Alberta.
In the 19th century nearly 85% of Canadian lived in rural areas. This figure had fallen to only 18.9% by 2011. Although Canada’s economy is still heavily dependent on resources, over 80% of voters don’t live where they are extracted, grown or harvested. This explains why so many don’t understand where their food, energy or other products come from. Therefore, they can support policies attacking them without understanding the long-term consequences.
Which is why many politicians focus on urban voters. However, by area the 100 cities that house 65% of the population occupy only 1% of the land by area. Electric mass transit may be a great voter-getter in urban Canada, but it is of little value to the millions in the hinterland and the industries that operate there.
As this column is completed, opinion poll aggregator 338canada.com showed the Liberals and Conservatives in a statistical tie among decided voters. Quebec will loyally reward its native son for “protecting jobs” at SNC Lavalin by delivering close to one-third of the seats required for a Liberal majority government, 50 of 169. The CPC will win all but 5 of the 62 seats in the prairies, which is why the Greens and NDP will campaign elsewhere. Atlantic Canada and Ontario appear stubbornly Liberal at present, while BC is trending towards voting for Andrew Sheer.
The belle of the political climate ball – Elizabeth May – may be polling nationally at 10% of committed voter support, but right now that only translates into three seats, all in BC. Regardless, the oilpatch has worked itself into quite a lather contemplating a Liberal minority government propped up the Greens.
But for the Green Party, proportional representation to increase elected MPs based on the popular vote is a more important issue than the environment. The Liberals will never support that. They won a majority government in 2015 with 39.5% of the popular vote. Trudeau pledged in 2015 to consider proportional representation then got amnesia once in office. Add it to the list.
If the Liberals form a minority government, they are much more likely to be supported by the Bloc Quebecois than the Greens. Recent polls showed the Bloc winning 12 seats in Quebec.
With a month to go, it is far too soon to write off the possibility of Andrew Sheer and the CPC forming a majority government. Justin Trudeau will be running on his record. So will all his opponents.
Until election day, the oilpatch is going to have to endure more fantasy campaign promises about how the world’s fifth largest oil and gas producer on a barrel of oil equivalent basis is going to miraculously, quickly and painlessly do something else under the skilled direction of enlightened interventionist climate policy.
Meanwhile, the recent oil disruption in Saudi Arabia will return people to thinking about maintaining access to cheap oil, not getting rid of it.
And the bizarre politics of climate alarmism will continue, unencumbered by facts or history.
Barrack Obama is widely considered to be a committed environmentalist, particularly when compared to Donald Trump.
When Obama won the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008, in his acceptance speech he declared that future generations could look at his win that day and see that, “this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.”
Then, in his two terms in office, he presided over the greatest increase in US oil production in history. Before Obama officially stepped down in early 2017, he also approved US oil exports for the first time since the 1970s.
Do as I say, not as I do. This is politics, which is increasingly irrational. Do up your seat belt.
David Yager is an oil and gas writer, energy policy analyst and author of From Miracle to Menace – Alberta, A Carbon Story. More information on his book is available at www.miracletomenace.ca.