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Federal Politics

If Trudeau Suddenly Looks Green, Here’s Why

Fossil fuels flagging, the economy demands reinvention. Expect a bold gamble of a throne speech.

Michael Harris 14 Sep

Michael Harris, a Tyee contributing editor, is a highly-awarded journalist and documentary maker. Author of Party of One, the bestselling exposé of the Harper government, his investigations have sparked four commissions of inquiry.

Justin Trudeau’s imminent green gamble, casting the dice with long odds against rolling lucky eleven, is a risky move.

On Sept. 23, Trudeau will put his government, and his legacy, on the line with a throne speech. It faces a confidence vote. If the Liberals should lose that vote, the government would fall.

Then Canadians would be plunged into their first national campaign held during a pandemic, left to scratch their heads over myriad questions.

Who would the citizenry blame for sending them to the polls with COVID-19 still very much on the prowl?

How would newly-minted Conservative party leader Erin O’Toole, a Harper retread, have a chance of winning? It doesn’t help that the convention that crowned him on national television looked like it was run by Curly, Larry and Moe. Then there was that disingenuous victory handshake with Peter MacKay, the leadership rival O’Toole asked the RCMP to investigate as a thief. Worst of all, O’Toole is the invisible man of politics. Most voters wouldn’t recognize the new Conservative leader if he were standing beside them at the bus-stop wearing an Erin O’Toole T-shirt.

Despite denials from party stalwarts, the NDP don’t have enough chips to even sit at the high-stakes poker table of a national election. How could Jagmeet Singh be competitive if the party can’t afford to lease a plane for their national leader, as was the case in 2019?

In that election, the NDP plunged from 44 seats in 2015 to a mere 24 in 2019, making them the fourth party in parliament behind the Liberals, Conservatives and Bloc Québécois.

As for the Greens, should an election be triggered by a non-confidence vote, they would be in the worst position of all, entering an election with a new leader potentially chosen just days before Canadians voted in a national election. Reality check? Long-shots occasionally win the run for the roses. In politics, unknown leaders rarely do.

Trudeau’s own ‘Green Shift’?

Everything depends on the essence of the throne speech, including the federal government’s plan to revive the COVID-battered economy. Expect them to spend the numbers off the national credit card. Money for child care and health services, maybe even pharmacare, will be there. Liberal caucus members are clamouring, too, for a guaranteed basic income. How does the NDP oppose that?

And every signal coming out of Ottawa suggests that the prime minister is finally ready to put flesh on the rhetoric of his vision of a new, green economy, a Canada moving away from fossil fuels with solid plans to substitute renewable energies. Why is that so risky? History. The country has seen this movie before under the Liberals. It produced no Academy Awards.

In 2008, then-Liberal leader Stéphane Dion took on Stephen Harper and his Conservative government by pitching a Green Shift for Canada. Dion introduced the notion of a carbon tax linked to tax cuts, claiming that a host of economists and environmentalists endorsed his policy. The Liberal leader warned that Canada must either get greener or face tariff restrictions on energy exports like dirty oil from the tarsands.

Harper’s counterpunch promptly dumped Dion on his backside. Harper claimed that Dion’s plan would destroy the economy to the point where national unity itself would be at stake.

According to the scorecards of Canadian voters, Harper recorded a TKO over Dion. Although he didn’t achieve a majority government, Harper won 143 seats, 16 more than the party held in 2006 — good enough for another minority.

As for the Green Shifter, he and his party won just 77 seats, 18 less than they had won in 2006 under an Ad-Scammed Paul Martin. The party received its lowest popular votes in 100 years. Dion resigned days after his humiliating defeat. The Green Shift entered the history books as the Green Faceplant.

Hence the risk for Trudeau. There is little doubt that the Sept. 23 throne speech will extend the government’s extraordinary spending, partly to manage the pandemic, but also to aggressively advance the climate change file, a policy virtually derailed by COVID-19.

‘This is the way the world is going’

What will Trudeau announce?

Some key clues to what the government might unveil on the climate change front are contained in remarks made by the PM in the riding of Burnaby South just prior to the 2019 federal election, four months before COVID-19 arrived in Canada.

It was the classic “big-vision” speech. Trudeau told his audience that politicians would have to move “faster than ever” to reach net zero emissions by 2050. The words he used are telling:

“That means not putting any more carbon emissions into the air than we take out.... It’ll require us to slash our emissions, transform our economy, and use the power of nature — like planting trees and protecting ecosystems — to bring us to net zero.... We will hit net zero by 2050 — not only because we can, but because we must.”

The prime minister explained that a “big part” of the plan to achieve the desired results included “creating an economic ecosystem where clean-tech companies can thrive. The global clean-tech economy is a multi-trillion opportunity. And so, the clean-tech market is exploding. This is the way the world is going. This is the next great economic frontier.”

Canada’s political Captain Kirk informed his audience that he wants this country to “lead” in the global clean-tech race. And he put his money where his mouth was. If re-elected, a Liberal government would cut corporate tax in half for zero-emissions clean-tech companies.

So on Sept. 23, look for big incentives to clean-tech outfits building battery technology for electric vehicles, or those working on the next generation of solar panels. Interestingly, Trudeau used an identical phrase from that 2019 B.C. speech in a Sept. 2, 2020 interview with Global News, declaring “This is the way the world is going.”

Oily dominoes

Expect Erin O’Toole to go after Trudeau exactly as Harper went after Dion. The Conservative party will declare that the government must not ignore the traditional energy sector in its zeal to create a brave, new economic world in Canada based on green energy.

As the leader of what remains a western-based party, O’Toole will continue to champion Big Oil, and even Jason Kenney, Alberta’s reverse-visionary premier who thinks that open-pit coal mining in the foothills of the Rockies is the answer to climate change.

Refusing to accept the fact that they can never return Albertans to the happy days of $100-a-barrel oil, the Conservatives will resort to all the usual threats of economic disaster, as well the spectre of Wexit — a notion nearly as wacky as Brexit.

It might work, but Trudeau has some important things going for him that Stéphane Dion did not.

For starters, the sun is going down on Big Oil. The harbingers of approaching dusk for this sector are everywhere.

ExxonMobil was just dropped from the Dow Jones Industrial Average after 92 years of preeminence. The world’s most valuable publicly-traded company, estimated to be worth $500 billion in 2008, has lost nearly two-thirds of its value. ExxonMobil was also dropped from the top 10 on Standard and Poor’s 500 Index. There are now no oil companies in S&P’s top 10.

Last December, just before the pandemic hit, Saudi Arabia sold off 1.5 per cent of state-owned oil giant Saudi Aramco, raising $25.6 billion in the world’s biggest share sale. It was part of a plan to create a massive sovereign wealth fund. According to Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as reported in Bloomberg News back in 2016, the goal is to make investments in non-petroleum assets. That way, the main source of the kingdom’s revenue will be investments, rather than oil.

Shell Oil dumped most of its investment in the Alberta tarsands in 2017.

Several financial institutions, including Deutsche Bank, will no longer invest in new fossil fuel developments, including those in the tarsands or coal projects.

Bond rating agency Moody’s coolly concludes that “modest enduring changes due to behavioural change combined with government policies and technological advantages designed to reduce carbon emissions could make it unlikely that oil demand will return to its pre-COVID levels.”

It may or may not be peak oil, but the writing is on the stock portfolio for fossil fuels. They are a bad investment in the COVID-era when a lot of people have substituted telecommuting for traffic jams, and a good book for that Sunday drive in the interests of keeping the skies clear. The great unwashed are learning new ways to live.

The watchwords these days in the petro palaces are falling prices, unsustainable dividends to investors, rising competition from alternate energy technologies, sector disruption and stranded assets. A financial horror show. Freddy Krueger with an adding machine. Saudi Aramco saw its profits drop 73 per cent.

There’s only one thing better than being on the right side of history: being on the right side of the future.

If the hounds of scandal don’t bring him down, a green Trudeau just might be on to something.  [Tyee]

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