Canadian Politics (Federal), Environment, Published Articles, U.S. Politics

A reprieve for Dakota land defenders, a warning for Canada

Jeremy Appel
Originally published in the Monitor (Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives)

While many Canadians “checked in” on Facebook to Standing Rock Reservation near Cannonball, North Dakota, to express solidarity with the Great Sioux’s protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline, some of their compatriots went down to join the anti-pipeline struggle in what has become its epicentre.

The battle pits the Sioux band, who have set up a protest camp, and its supporters against a militarized Morton County sheriff’s department and the National Guard. The latter have used mass arrests and force in an effort to crush the movement fighting Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners’ planned $3.8-billion, 1,900-km pipeline that snakes across four states from western North Dakota to Illinois, threatening Indigenous heritage sites and the drinking water below.

On December 4, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denied the company approval to drill under the Missouri River, forcing it to find another route, but the decision is subject to appeal and can be reversed by the incoming Trump administration.

“We’ve been able to greatly rattle the inevitability narrative that big oil continues to weave into the minds of the public,” Clayton Thomas-Muller, the environmental justice group 350.org’s Keep It in the Ground campaigner, told the Monitor from Standing Rock in the wake of the U.S. army’s announcement.

In response to the potentially historic decision, Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II issued a statement expressing special gratitude to “all of the other tribal nations and jurisdictions who stood in solidarity with us,” promising to return the favour “if and when your people are in need.”

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s late-November approval of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, which will pump Alberta tarsands oil to the coastal town of Burnaby, B.C., for shipping to Asia, and Enbridge’s Line 3 from Alberta to Wisconsin, means the Standing Rock Sioux will soon have the opportunity to reciprocate in Western Canada.

“Justin Trudeau needs to understand that we’ve faced tougher foes than him and we have removed them from power,” Thomas-Muller, a member of the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation, said. “His administration will bend to the will of the Indigenous rights and climate justice social movements. I guarantee it.”

If it gets built, the Trans Mountain expansion will increase an existing pipeline’s capacity to 890,000 barrels from 300,000, casting doubt over the government’s climate change commitments and vows to improve relations with First Nations.

“Even though it’s down in the United States, our struggle as First Nations is the same everywhere,” said Snookie Catholique of the Dene Nation. The former CBC journalist and Northwest Territories language commissioner had just returned from her second trip to Standing Rock in mid-November when she spoke to the Monitor. “We’re all fighting to protect Mother Earth and for a better, cleaner environment, so that my grandchildren will have the experience I had as a child.”

Thomas-Muller said stewardship of the environment is an essential component of the Indigenous rights movement. “Our livelihoods, our cosmology and our worldview are fundamentally tied to the relationship that we have with the sacredness of place,” he said. “Environmentalism is, for us, a human rights issue.”

***

Kevin Settee, president of the University of Winnipeg Student Association and a member of Fisher River Cree Nation, also made the trip down to Standing Rock with two comrades in late August. He said part of the reason he went was to send a message to people back home “not to let the United States border divide them and stop them from going south [to support social movements].” Thomas-Muller concurred, calling it a “false border.”

Settee said he sought to learn organization tactics from the demonstrators that he could apply to environmentalist and Indigenous movements back home. “Why is what they’re doing so powerful?” he pondered.

Settee and his allies were some of the first people from Winnipeg to make it down to the protest. When crossing the border, at around 2 a.m., they told the guards they were going to a powwow, fearing that if they told them they were going to Standing Rock they would get turned away.

“Some people said they dealt with border guards who were supportive, giving them thumbs up,” he said, noting that he doesn’t know anyone who was turned back, but many were searched extensively.

At Standing Rock, Settee said he witnessed police intimidation—erecting cement barricades and checkpoints, for example—but also the use of psychological tactics meant to demoralize the demonstrators. “It’s the most peaceful place you’ll ever be in your life…but the Morton Country sheriffs issued a press release saying that we had guns and pipe bombs and that there were shots fired,” a claim Settee emphatically denied.

Protestors faced both state troopers and private DAPL security, Catholique told me, and it was often difficult to distinguish one from another. She said “a few bullets were fired” at a demonstration she attended on her initial trip over the Labour Day weekend, which she suspects came from both the police and security.

Catholique vouched for the peaceful nature of the protests, but said the tension emerged as the standoff wore on. On her first trip, the Lakota Sioux were in charge. “They were the ones who were really putting it out there that this was a peaceful protest. We do not want to lose any lives. We do not want to get into any kind of conflict that is going to linger after everybody leaves.”

She continued, “This time around, the Red Warrior camp tried to take control. They were the ones who were really being aggressive and that was not the original goal.”

Catholique attributed the movement’s prominence, particularly compared with other anti-pipeline struggles, to social media. “It’s at the forefront of media now, but it wasn’t when I was there in September. Our airwaves were being scrambled.” When demonstrators “got online for their livefeeds from camp, then it really took off.”

***

In late October, two University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) medical students, Nicole Schafenacker and Katriona Auerbach, were arrested at the demonstration, according to the CBC, which prompted UNBC President Daniel Weeks to issue a statement defending their right “to take a position, to exercise their rights to free speech, to peacefully assemble, and to develop and foster informed opinions across a wide range of subject areas.”

The students were charged with conspiracy to endanger by fire or explosion, engaging in a riot and maintaining a public nuisance, as were dozens of other protestors who were arrested after a police barricade was set on fire. As of November 3 they were back home in Prince George, B.C., but will have to return to North Dakota unless the charges are dropped.

U.S. Green Party leader Jill Stein and Democracy Now host Amy Goodman were also arrested for protesting the DAPL on separate occasions. The rioting charges against Goodman were dropped, while the criminal trespass and criminal mischief charges against Stein had yet to be resolved when the Monitor went to print.

The Sioux had gone to court in September to block the pipeline’s construction, represented by the environmentalist law firm Earthjustice. Their request was rejected on October 11, although the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals acknowledged that their ruling “is not the final word.”

Outgoing U.S. president Barack Obama had been mildly critical of the project, saying it ought to be built along a different route, “to accommodate sacred lands of Native Americans.” Senator and recent Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders had written an open letter to the president the week before, calling on Obama to reject the project, as he had done with the Keystone XL pipeline.

But the surprise election of race-baiting climate change denier Donald Trump, who now wants to proceed with Keystone XL and is able to reverse the decision to reroute the DAPL, underscores the anti-pipeline movement’s urgency, said Settee. “The government is going to be pushing these pipelines through as fast as possible.”

Trump until recently owned between $15,000 and $50,000 in stock with Energy Transfer Partners and between $100,000 and $250,000 in Phillips 66, which owns a quarter of the DAPL. A spokesperson for the new U.S. president told the media in early December that Trump had sold his entire stake in the former company, but would not comment on the latter.

“The more people that we have that organized, that are trained, that are on the frontlines,” Settee said, “the better chance we have for a sustainable future.”

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Environment, Global Affairs, U.S. Politics

Last thoughts on Election 2016

It wasn’t supposed to turn out this way.

The political neophyte businessman Donald Trump, who kicked off his campaign by descending from a golden escalator at one of his luxury hotels to call illegal Mexican immigrants “rapists” and criminals has defeated former secretary of state, New York senator and first lady Hillary Clinton to become the 45th U.S. president.

Though Clinton won the popular vote 60,828,358 to 60,261,924, which comes to half a percentage point, it was not spread evenly enough amongst the states to give her an advantage in the Electoral College, which Trump won handily with 290 votes to Clinton’s 232. 

Clinton had a compelling narrative set up for her victory: the first female president who set herself apart from her ex-president husband, who she stood behind through all his sex scandals, by starting her own career in politics. But it was all for naught.

What the hell happened?

As has been written many times by now, Trump successfully tapped into the anger and resentment of the rural white working class who felt the benefits of the economic globalization championed by Hillary’s husband during his presidency had passed them by.

Trump gave outlet to their frustrations, blaming their woes not only on unfair trade deals, which is quite reasonable, but fear of the Other – illegal immigrants, Muslims, the Chinese and a “global economic elite” that often sounded like a metonym for “Jews.”

By contrast, Clinton didn’t inspire enough enthusiasm to motivate the Latinos and African-Americans who voted in droves for Obama to come out for her on Election Day. Their lot hadn’t improved significantly under the first black president, so, many of them reasoned, what would another Clinton do for them?

In swings states that Trump won– Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida, for example – Clinton won drastically in the cities but was shellacked, or “shlonged” as Trump would say, in rural areas.

It’s worth noting that Trump actually increased his share of the black and Latino vote about two percentage points each compared to Mitt Romney in 2012.

Trump won outright amongst white men and women. The latter is considerably shocking, given the multiple allegations of sexual harassment against him and the “grab ’em by the pussy” recording that came out prior to them.

Like Rob Ford in Toronto’s 2010 election and the Brexiters in this year’s referendum in the U.K., Trump seized upon the chasm that opened between a core of city-dwelling “elites” and the peripheral rest of the country, motivating many disenchanted people to go out and vote for a brash outsider who promised to improve their lot, defying pollsters in the process.

Clinton came to embody everything that Trump said he opposed – a corrupt elite so entrenched in its own sense of entitlement that it was blind to the plight of the country’s downtrodden, those left behind by the closure of factories and mines.

In this regard, it didn’t matter that Trump is an elite by any measurement. After all, he started his business career with a “small loan of a million dollars” from his millionaire father.

While Clinton spoke of specific policy proposals tailor-made to appeal to a large cross section of the educated public, Trump spoke in platitudes that appealed to rural America, who were dismissed by Clinton as a “basket of deplorables.”

True, few if any Trump supporters would have voted for her in any event, but it’s generally a bad idea to insult your opponent’s supporters, as Romney learned in 2012.

When faced with a choice between the status quo that Clinton represented and “making America great again,” many Americans opted for the latter. One can strongly disagree with this decision, as I do, but it’s perfectly understandable, especially for those who feel excluded from the modern political economy.

Wikileaks and the FBI

At times, it seemed like Wikileaks and its leader Julian Assange was in the tank for Trump, leaking speeches, documents and private e-mails that cast the Democratic nominee and her inner circle in a negative light. Assange strongly denies that this was intended to help Trump, insisting that he simply publishes whatever secret documents are given to him in the name of radical transparency.

Perhaps the most damaging release was a paid speech Clinton gave to the National Multi-Housing Council where she admitted to having a “private” and “public” positions on issues like trade. For instance, Clinton told an audience of Italian bankers that she was fully in favour of “open trade and open borders,” despite her publicly stated opposition to the Trans Pacific Partnership she helped negotiate as secretary of state, putting the sincerity of her other token progressive positions – $15 minimum wage, opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline and increasing taxes on the wealthy, to name a few – into question.

To blame Wikileaks, or the Russians for allegedly hacking the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) server and passing the information on to Assange is to shoot the messenger.

These leaks, whatever their source, fueled Clinton’s image as a manipulative member of the ruling class concerned with nothing but her own advancement.

And the e-mails she sent from a private account as secretary of state – those “damn e-mails” as Bernie Sanders foolishly dismissed them in a Democratic primary debate – came back to haunt her in the campaign’s latter days, as FBI Director James Comey, a Republican Obama appointee, announced they were being re-investigated and then a week later said nothing noteworthy was found.

Still, the damage was done. The Clintons were correctly viewed as part of a crooked aristocracy to whom the rules need not apply.

Interestingly, the FBI, who formally accused Wikileaks of hacking the DNC and interfering in the election, was also involved in leveling the playing field for Trump.

Would Bernie have fared better?

Hypotheticals are always difficult, but it’s quite clear that Sanders tapped into the same populist rage as Trump. This is why he was able to give Clinton a far tougher primary challenge than anticipated.

Whereas Trump channeled this mass angst towards immigrants and minorities, Sanders’s focus was primarily economic, with a little bit of racial justice thrown into the mix under pressure from Black Lives Matter activists.

As we know thanks to Wikileaks, the DNC conspired against Sanders from day one. He was regarded, particularly by former chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, as a mere obstacle on Clinton’s inevitable path to the presidency and not a serious challenge. Wasserman Schultz was forced to resign her position as a result of the revelation, being replaced by yet another Clinton surrogate, Donna Brazile.

Had Sanders been the nominee, I suspect Trump would have gone into full red-baiting mode. It’s doubtful that the white rural voters who voted overwhelmingly for the KKK’s candidate of choice would vote for a Jewish socialist senator from Vermont.

It seems, unfortunately, that it was Trump’s time.

What will a Trump presidency actually look like? 

Anyone’s guess is as good as mine, but Trump released a list of policy proposals for his first 100 days in office that is mostly frightening.

It does not bode well that that the Republicans now have control of the White House, both Houses of Congress and soon the judiciary. They’re already intent upon working with Trump to roll back Obama’s modest environmental, health care and taxation regulations.

His reported cabinet choices reads like a rogue’s gallery of right-wing ideologues: former speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, Breitbart’s Steve Bannon, George W. Bush’s UN ambassador John Bolton, Mr. 9/11 Rudy Guiliani and Sarah Palin, whose stupidity needs no introduction, are just a few.

I suspect and hope that some of Trump’s more outrageous proposals – banning Muslims, deporting 11 million illegal immigrants, prosecuting Clinton and bringing back “a hell of a lot worse than water boarding” – were just to get the rural masses riled up and set him apart from the other candidates.

If true, Trump will govern like any other modern Republican president, which is bad but could conceivably be worse.

He’s already toned down his rhetoric considerably, giving an uncharacteristically gracious acceptance speech and mysteriously removing his proposed Muslim ban from his website before restoring it.

One of his signature proposals, building a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border, seems particularly unlikely, given his repeated insistence that Mexico will pay for it. That appears to be a trap door – if the wall doesn’t get built he can blame it on the Mexicans and move on.

And as a businessman, he must be aware of the economic havoc his plan to deport 11 million illegal immigrants, many of whom work low-wage jobs U.S. citizens won’t do, would wreak.

Still, his environmental policies – scrapping the Paris climate agreement, building pipelines and categorically rejecting any form of carbon pricing – are cause for immense concern, because they’re entirely plausible from an economistic standpoint.

An erratic foreign policy

In terms of foreign relations, the big question is whether he will make good on his promise to thaw out relations with Russia, one issue where he ran as an unambiguous dove.

Intimately connected is the fate of NATO, whose other members Trump has insisted must pay up to continue as part of the alliance that was founded to counter Russian foreign policy. NATO requests that its members spend 2 per cent of GDP on defence. Canada, for instance, spends half that.

The former, mending ties with Russia, seems much more doable than the latter and could assist in solving the Syria’s bloody civil war, where Russia and Iran support the government and the U.S. and its allies back rebel forces.

Of course, Trump’s vow to renege on Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, a promise likely made under the pressure of the powerful right-wing pro-Israel lobby, would have the opposite effect on Syria.

Combined with his dismissal of man-made climate change, it’s especially scary that the incoming U.S. commander-in-chief, with control over a vast nuclear arsenal, has such a contradictory array of global policies.

The Democrats: What’s next?

This election, as horrible a result it was for Democrats, was a vindication of the party’s progressive wing.

Notably, there’s currently a push to make Rep. Keith Ellison (Minn.), the first Muslim congressman and a key Sanders supporter, the new DNC chair.

But for much of the party establishment and its apologists, blame falls on everything and everyone but themselves for the electoral upset: racism, sexism, the media, Wikileaks, the Russians, the FBI and Green leader Jill Stein for having the temerity to run to the left of the anointed one.

To New York Times columnist and economist Paul Krugman, a Clinton devotee who did all he could to sandbag Sanders during the primaries, it’s inconceivable that Clinton lost because she was a weak candidate who ran a poor campaign.

“The Democratic Party has mastered lying to itself and its core constituencies,” wrote New York Daily News columnist Shaun King. He added:

It claims a progressive identity, but is as moderate and lukewarm as it has ever been on so many issues that matter to everyday people. It claims to be tough on Wall Street, financial corruption and white collar crime, but is awash in donations from lobbyists and executives in the industry. Democrats claim to be the party of working people, but so often seem to be deeply out of touch with their problems and needs.

This is precisely the form of elite corruption and hypocrisy that Sanders and Trump railed against.

Sanders will likely be too old to run again in 2020, but someone will undoubtedly take up the mantle of democratic socialism in the Democratic Party. It’s just a matter of whether the current DNC establishment and its allies will allow them to win.

The Democrats elected some young progressive women of colour to the Senate: Kamala Harris (Calif.), Catherine Cortez Masto (Nev.), Tammy Duckworth (Ill.) and Mazie Hirono (Hawaii). Any of them, and others like popular Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren or Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, could become the first female president.

If the Democrats can take back the Senate in 2018, there’s the potential for even more young progressives to get elected and stand up to Trump.

But the mass movement that propelled Sanders in the primary needs to continue causing trouble for the establishment and exerting pressure on progressive members of Congress to ensure they stay on the right track.

Yes, Trump’s presidency does have the possibility to be a catastrophe of historical proportions, but it also serves as an opportunity for progressives to unite and offer meaningful, fundamental change of the sort Clinton didn’t offer.

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Canadian Politics (Federal), Environment, Global Affairs, Labour

What’s the deal with CETA?

Belgium has agreed to support the European Union’s Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with Canada, removing a major roadblock to the contentious deal’s implementation. The deal, however, must still be approved by the 27 other EU governments, who may raise objections to its entrenchment of corporate power over the state.

Last Friday, Canadian International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland angrily stormed out of a meeting with her Belgian counterparts, as the agreement appeared to have collapsed under Walloon dissent, the product of an increasingly global anti-trade sentiment.

Belgium is essentially split in two – a Dutch-speaking Flemish region, Flanders, in the north and French-speaking Wallonia in the south. (There’s also a small German-speaking region in the east.) Flanders and Wallonia must both consent to the deal in order for it to move forward. Today the Walloon government, no doubt under immense pressure from the rest of the EU, agreed to support CETA.

Once the deal is signed, which is expected to occur on Sunday, the European parliament and its constituent nations must ratify it, which could take between two and four years.

So what is CETA? Why was Wallonia opposed and why are Canada and Europe so adamant about its passage?

CETA defined

Like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) did with Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, CETA seeks to reduce trade barriers between Canada and the EU. In other words, it would make it easier for Canadian and European businesses to trade with each other by reducing tariffs on foreign goods, which are designed to put domestic industries at an advantage.

“CETA covers all aspects of our broad trading relationship with the EU, including goods, services, investment, government procurement and regulatory cooperation,” according to Global Affairs Canada, so it is very far-reaching, providing Canada with access to a $20-trillion market.

Overall, the Canadian government says 98 per cent of tariffs on goods traded between Canada and Europe will be eliminated.

It will make it easier for Canada to sell maple syrup to Europe, for example, by eliminating the 8 per cent tariff imposed on that product, while making it easier for Germany, Canada’s second-biggest trade partner and largest economy in the bloc, to sell their cars to Canadians by eliminating Canada’s 6.1 per cent tariff on European-made cars.

The question is how will this effect auto manufacturers in Oshawa and Windsor when the Canadian market is flooded with less expensive German cars? There are anti-dumping rules as part of the agreement that created the World Trade Organization, which is still in effect, meaning Germany, in this case, cannot sell its cars below market value. But as the wealthier and more populous nation, Germany has an inherent competitive advantage, able to produce more cars cheaper than Ontario’s struggling auto sector.

The Canadian government’s summary of the pact has vague provisions near the end about “seeking high levels of labour protection” and “commitments to foster environmental governments,” but does not elaborate significantly on how they’ll be achieved.

The U.S. is in the process of negotiating its own CETA-style deal with the EU, known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). There’s also the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which would similarly reduce trade barriers between its signatories, including the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico and Japan.

Interestingly, the United Kingdom, which voted to leave the EU earlier this year, is part of CETA, as negotiations began prior to the Brexit vote.

CETA can be read in full here.

What does Wallonia have against CETA?

Most controversial, and where it departs most significantly from past trade agreements, is the deal’s investor state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism, whereby companies are empowered to sue governments for reducing their profits, which critics say will reduce governments’ ability to impose regulation and was the linchpin of Wallonia’s rejection.

As a condition for Wallonia’s approval, an adjustment was made to have the European Court of Justice approve any ISDS application, which still doesn’t address the issue of shifting power away from elected representatives, for all their flaws, to unelected corporations. It just uses the unelected European judiciary as a middleman.

The problem with this aspect of CETA, writes copyright lawyer Michael Geist, is that the deal has extended its reach by forcing “changes to domestic regulations and the creation of dispute settlement mechanisms that may prioritize corporate concerns over local rules.”

Wallonia has been hit hard by unemployment – 11 per cent, which according to the Financial Times is nearly double that in neighbouring Flanders – so there is little appetite for giving multinational corporations more power to move away.

This is why the Walloons also demanded the ability to re-establish tariffs if a specific agricultural market will be negatively impacted by the deal. They have one year after signing the deal to determine which markets these are.

Walloon Prime Minister Paul Magnette, a social democrat, is now reportedly “extremely happy” with CETA.

Why are the Canadian and European governments so eager?

According to the Globe and Mail, Freeland called CETA “the most progressive trade deal negotiated,” which may not be saying much. While the deal certainly pays lip service to environmental and socioeconomic sustainability, there is little in terms of enforcement.

The same article cites a joint Canadian-EU study from 2011 that says CETA “would boost Canada’s income by up to $12 billion a year,” which “is the equivalent of adding an average of $1,000 to Canadian household incomes,” yet it doesn’t indicate how this wealth will be distributed.

European President Jean-Claude Juncker echoed Freeland when he called the pact “the best and most-progressive agreement we have ever, as a European Union, negotiated,” emphasizing its “new approach to investment that is transparent and … impartial.”

The Globe concedes the agreement is “a mixed bag for Canadian consumers,” with cheaper cars and cheese, “which could take a bite out of the market shares of dairy in Ontario and Quebec,” and more expensive drugs for the average Canadian, due to a two-year extension on European pharmaceutical patents.

Canadian and European leaders are eager to pass CETA because, to put it simply, it’s good for business.  This is precisely why the Canada Business Council, along with its European counterpart, demanded the “swift approval and implementation of CETA to boost trade and investment and create jobs.”

As a result of this rapidity, “The announcement of the completion of CETA was … the first time people in Canada and Europe were allowed to see the official text of the agreement,” reads a statement from the left-leaning Council of Canadians. “The deal was signed without any public consultation.”

In other words, this purportedly transparent deal was negotiated above Canadians’ and Europeans’ heads, primarily to benefit big business. The negotiators will no doubt take credit if some jobs trickle down to the working class.

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Canadian Politics (Federal), Canadian Politics (Provincial), Environment

Trudeau’s climate plan: necessary but insufficient

Canada’s federal government introduced a national carbon pricing plan on Monday as a prelude to signing the international Paris climate accord.

The plan, which goes into effect in 2018, begins with a $10 per tonne tax on carbon emissions in provinces that won’t yet have a pricing system in place. The price increases $10 a tonne each year, ending at $50 in 2022.

The nation’s four largest provinces already have some form of carbon pricing in effect – Alberta and B.C. with direct carbon taxes, and Ontario and Quebec with a more complex cap-and-trade system in conjunction with California – so the financial impact of Prime Minister Trudeau’s plan on most Canadians will be negligible.

Sounds like great news for environmentalists, right? The reality, as you may have anticipated, is more complicated, given the stakes at hand.

Greens unimpressed

Though receptive to the idea of a national carbon pricing initiative, Green Party leader Elizabeth May says that is just a starting point.

“I commend the Trudeau administration for being first to implement a national carbon pricing plan, but $10/tonne is too low to be taken seriously,” May said in a statement. “I remain perplexed as to why this administration refuses to update our climate targets to meet our Paris Agreement commitments.”

The Saanich-Gulf Islands MP was especially critical of maintaining ex-prime minister Stephen Harper’s emissions targets, calling them “among the weakest in the industrialized world.” Harper pledged to cut emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

Dale Marshall of Environmental Defence Canada shares this sentiment.

“Trudeau’s planned pan-Canadian price on carbon emissions is welcome, but the planned price starts too low and takes too long to take a bite out of Canada’s emissions,” he said in a statement.

“To be effective, the federal carbon price needs to rise at the same rate beyond 2022. Polluters, not Canadians, must pay the costs of carbon emissions. Those costs will be paid one way or another, either through a price on carbon or through health impacts from air pollution and the impacts of more severe floods, droughts, and forest fires.”

Marshall also called on the government to stop promoting “high-energy carbon projects,” namely the recently-approved Pacific Northwest LNG pipeline.

Clare Demerse, Clean Energy Canada’s federal policy adviser, concurs. She told the Toronto Star that although the carbon pricing initiative is “significant,” it is ultimately “not enough … to close the gap” between the administration’s words and deeds on climate change.

The government will need to invest more in green jobs and infrastructure, said Demerse, if it is to have a hope of meeting even the previous government’s paltry targets.

Still, Trudeau’s carbon pricing system is a definite improvement, as it was the NDP, not the governing Liberals, who campaigned on a specific national system – cap-and-trade – for reducing carbon emissions in last year’s election. The Liberals had promised some form of carbon pricing that would be agreed upon with the provinces.

Premiers divided

Speaking of the NDP and provinces, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley supports Trudeau’s plan, albeit under the contradictory condition that he agree to build more pipelines.

“The federal government needs to understand that Alberta — and Albertans, collectively and individually — have contributed over many years to the economic health of this country,” said Notley at an Edmonton press conference.

“For us to continue doing that, we need the federal government to now have our back. We need them to move on the matter of a pipeline to tidewater.”

Alberta is currently in dire straits financially, so in exchange for imposing its own provincial carbon tax, Notley promised to push hard to get a pipeline built and increase Alberta’s oil exports. These goals are naturally at odds.

Notley is in a tough position as the leader of a social democratic, environmentally conscious party in a traditionally conservative, oil-friendly province.

However, the plan’s most outspoken critic is the nation’s most popular climate change denier, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, who opposes any form of carbon taxation.

Wall called the plan “one of the largest national tax increases in Canadian history” and vowed to fight it with “all options” at his disposal.

He also characterized the federal government’s unilateral action as “disrespectful,” though some would say his inaction on climate change is disrespectful to future generations.

Newfoundland Premier Dwight Ball and Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil joined Wall in his criticism of the plan, while B.C., Quebec and Ontario – the nation’s three largest provinces – endorsed it.

Overall, it appears that Canada’s federal energy policy will be the cause of larger tensions regarding national unity, as was the case under Pierre Elliot Trudeau’s premiership. But the prime minister is unable to take the threat of climate change seriously without alienating energy-dependent provinces to some extent.

Ultimately, Trudeau must pick a side.

 

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Canadian Politics (Federal), Canadian Politics (Provincial), Environment, Published Articles

U of T president criticized for rejecting fossil fuel divestment

Jeremy Appel
Originally published at Humber News Online

University of Toronto President Meric Gertler came under fire Thursday after rejecting environmentalist calls for Canada’s largest university to divest wholesale from companies involved in fossil fuel extraction.

Instead, Gertler, a geographer by trade, pledged to divest from companies strictly “on a firm by firm basis,” according to the CBC.

The strategy would target only those who “blatantly disregard” environmental norms, the Globe and Mail reported.

He didn’t elaborate further on what criteria the university would use to determine which companies should be targeted for divestment.

Fossil fuels – primarily coal, natural gas and oil – are sources of energy formed from decayed plants and animals that are regarded as a major contributor to climate change.

Last December the Financial Post said U of T “has $32.4 million of its endowment fund invested in fossil fuel companies.”

“The fossil fuel industry has an enormous amount of control in the governance of our institutions across Canada, whether it’s the government or a public institution like our universities,” Katie Rae Perfitt, with the environmentalist organization 350.org, told Humber News.

For this reason, groups like 350.org and the Sierra Club have called on universities to lead by example and divest.

“Students are turning up the heat because we can’t wait for our institutions to take the action that we need. We have to push them to do it,” said Perfitt, who is the Canadian divestment organizer with 350.org.

She said Gertler is involved in “greenwashing” the school’s investment policies.

“They’re using really flimsy wording with no criteria to try and placate people and make themselves look good,” while doing nothing in practice, Perfitt said.

In response to Gertler’s decision, Toronto 350.org issued a statement pointing out that the president is rejecting advice from a committee he established.

The committee concluded in December after a year of research that “fossil fuel firms engaging in activities that blatantly disregard the 1.5-degree threshold (for limiting global warming) are engaging egregiously in socially injurious behaviour. The university should, in a targeted and principled manner, divest from its direct holdings in such firms,” specifically oil extraction, Arctic drilling and fracking.

U of T professor slams administration inaction

University of Toronto environmental historian Laurel MacDowell told Humber News she is “amazed that the leaders of the university seem not to be aware of how very serious climate change is.

“In 2015 leading scientists and economists publicly stated that in order to keep the rise in temperatures at 2 C, which is very important for our safety, 75 per cent of fossil fuels must remain in the ground. That means that the need to change the energy regime was and is upon us,” said MacDowell.

The president’s expert committee used an even lower threshold of 1.5 C, suggesting even more urgency.

“Politicians seem to be having difficulty grasping this fact and responding to the problem. But you would think that academics, particularly at a university that has a large environmental studies program and many scientists researching environmental issues, would know better,” she said.

Gertler seems to be missing the point with his apparent conflation of pollution and climate change, MacDowell added.

“Pollution is a huge problem, but climate change is about the continuing production of fossil fuels for energy purposes. If the production ends the pollution will also end but the environmental focus is production not pollution,” she said.

A university spokesperson declined Humber News’s requests for comment “due to the volume of media requests.”

The University of Calgary, McGill University in Montreal, Dalhousie University in Halifax and the University of British Columbia have each rejected similar divestment initiatives.

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Canadian Politics (Federal), Environment, Global Affairs, Published Articles, U.S. Politics

Trudeau, Obama meet to talk climate, borders and trade

Jeremy Appel
Originally published at Humber News Online

The strength of the Canada-U.S. relationship was on display as U.S. President Barack Obama met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau prior to a glittering state dinner in Washington.

Environmental policy, border security and trade were the big three issues on the agenda for a meeting in the morning in the Oval Office.

“Canada and the U.S. will stand side by side to confront the pressing needs that face not only our two countries, but the entire planet,” Trudeau said at a joint news conference with Obama outside the White House afterwards.

Obama said the Trudeau government has “the right values, enormous energy, enormous commitment and passion to their work and perhaps most importantly, it’s clear that they are keenly interested in engaging Canadian citizens in the process of solving problems. And I think that is how democracies are supposed to work.”

This is the first state dinner for a Canadian prime minister since then-prime minister Jean Chretien visited president Bill Clinton in 1997.

Greg Inwood, a political science professor at Ryerson University, attributed this near-20-year hiatus to the relatively strained relationship between former prime minister Stephen Harper and Obama.

“There was an erosion of the relationship during the Harper years. It was a bit of a discomfort or disconnect between the two governments over the Keystone XL pipeline project,” Inwood told Humber News on Thursday morning.

Environmental goals announced

Trudeau and Obama announced a plan to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 40 to 45 per cent less than 2012 levels by 2025.

Environmental historian Laurel MacDowell told Humber News that any agreement concerning the environment would necessarily be limited in scope.

“Coming out of the Paris conference, it was agreed that every country would set their own goal. If they actually have some agreement about North America and that they’re going to cooperate on some projects,” she said.

“That’s progress to some extent,” said MacDowell. “But I don’t think it’ll be anything binding. It’ll just be saying what they intend to do.”

Canada still hasn’t met its carbon reduction targets from 1997’s Kyoto Protocol, MacDowell added.

Obama and Trudeau also announced they are seeking to limit carbon emissions from ice melting in the Arctic, but MacDowell said that it might be too late for significant action.

“The problem is I don’t think they’re going to completely stop the melting … because it’s happening so fast and as a result there will be a (further) release of methane.”

Pre-clearance will streamline border crossing

In terms of borders and trade, the two leaders are expected to announce a pre-clearance program for the U.S.-Canadian border.

Toronto’s downtown Billy Bishop airport, Montreal’s central train station and Quebec City’s Jean Lesage Airport will join nine other locations where travellers can go through U.S. customs prior to leaving Canada.

Emily Gilbert, director of the University of Toronto’s Canadian Studies program, said the goal is to ease congestion.

“The trend, especially since 9/11, is trying to pull back the border clearance so it’s not all happening at the line of the border, but at more distant sites,” said Gilbert.

For goods traded across the border, this means getting security clearance prior to leaving the factory, she added.

What happens in 2017?

Questions remain about the viability of any policies discussed in the twilight of Obama’s presidency with a general election looming in November.

“There is a big question looming over this visit as to how much can actually be accomplished,” said Gilbert, noting that the Republican-controlled Congress must approve any major agreement.

“Trudeau is shortly going to face a totally different administration, whether it’s Democrat or Republican, after the next U.S. election,” Inwood said.

“From Obama’s point of view I think it’s more about legacy building … so people can look back and say during his presidency he maintained strong relationships with key allies.”

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