The United We Roll convoy of trucks on its way from Alberta to Ottawa makes for good television coverage, but the deep sense of grievance and anger on display does beg questions. Here are some of them.
What about global warming?
Those in the convoy demand that Ottawa simply clear the way for the construction of oil and gas pipelines, and there is great impatience and frustration with anything that might impede that desire. Let’s step back and look at the big picture.
The world’s political leaders are trying to decide how to mitigate the potentially disastrous effects of global warming. The latest summit was held in December 2018 in Katowice, Poland just a few weeks after an alarming report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a group of the world’s best climate scientists. They warned that the necessary mitigation “would require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.” Described in another way, it means that global carbon dioxide emissions would have to fall by 45 per cent by 2030 and to reach a net of zero by 2050. The Trudeau government, implausibly many suggest, has promised that it will deliver on that target.
Yet the carbon industry, and like-minded politicians in federal and provincial Conservative parties, insist that environmental assessments of pipeline projects should not have to include any calculation of how they would add to greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), and thus to global warming.
In some quarters, there has been a not-so subtle shift in the past few years, away from denying that global warming is occurring. Instead, the argument is that Canada is such a small player that nothing we do would have much impact. But Canada is also one of the world’s largest per capita GHG emitters, and we have not managed to reduce our footprint in the manner of countries such as Germany and the U.K.
What do those on the convoy have to say about global warming? Is it real and caused by human activity? If so, does Canada have a responsibility to do something to mitigate it? What do the convoy participants have to suggest?
What about the carbon tax?
Justin Trudeau has argued that Canada can have pipelines, new tar sands development, and at the same time a reduction in GHG emissions. He says we can do that largely by introducing a tax on carbon products which would make them more expensive and therefore lead to reduced consumption and a search for alternatives. Trudeau’s accompanying promise is that the government will provide cash rebates to people equal to or greater than the amount of the new tax. The object is not to tax but to shift away from carbon consumption.
In what sounds suspiciously akin to Conservative talking points, this idea is positively anathema to those on the convoy. Federal Conservative Andrew Scheer is campaigning against the tax, as is Alberta’s Jason Kenney. The provinces of Saskatchewan and New Brunswick and Ontario have taken the federal government to court. Ontario Premier Doug Ford is predicting a “carbon tax recession” in Canada.
A group of three independent experts, including the highly respected Don Drummond, say that Ford, Scheer and the others are scare mongering. The three say: “Economists are virtually unanimous in the view that carbon pricing reduces greenhouse gas emissions at the lowest possible cost to the economy.” They add that “myths and rhetoric” engaged in by political leaders such as Ford and Scheer, “are pushing the real facts to the sidelines.” British Columbia, Quebec and California are all using some form of carbon tax and their economies are humming along.
What do those on the convoy have to say in response to Don Drummond and his fellow economists? If they are dead set against a carbon tax, what is their suggestion, if any, for a means of reducing GHG emissions?
What about Indigenous rights?
The convoy’s demand that Ottawa rapidly push through pipeline projects also overlooks the issue of prior and informed consent by Indigenous peoples in cases when projects involve their territory.
Canada enshrined existing aboriginal rights in the 1982 Constitution Act but specifying those rights has been a long and arduous process. Often First Nations got nowhere in negotiating with federal and provincial governments. For example, much of the land in British Columbia has never been ceded by its original Indigenous inhabitants but the drawn out process of negotiating treaties has been an almost complete failure. Frustrated at the bargaining table, First Nations have resorted to the courts where they have had some success in arguing that they must be fully consulted about projects that involve their traditional lands.
This consultation is seen as an impediment by many who want to get on with pipeline megaprojects. But if there was no rush by Canada in the past 150 years to deal with aboriginal rights, one might well ask what justifies the rush today to push the projects through without adequate consultation and informed consent.
What’s this about immigrants?
One of the convoy’s organizers is quoted as saying: “We are opposed to the current format of the carbon tax as well as the UN impact on Canadian borders.” He is referring to Canada’s signing a UN protocol about how best to manage immigration, which Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, not to mention a coterie of white nationalists, are describing as a surrender of sovereignty over immigration and the processing of refugee claimants. This has led to Trudeau’s being described as a traitor by some in the self-described “movement” associated with the convoy.
What do pipelines and a carbon tax have to do with the United Nations and immigration? The answer is nothing. This is classic dog-whistle territory. Why is anyone peddling this malarkey? Just asking.