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Climate change missing from James speech: former MLA

British Columbia New Democratic Party leader Carole James' convention speech missed the opportunity to reclaim the green agenda, said former MLA David Cubberley.

“It's what I didn't notice,” he said when asked for his thoughts on James' speech. “It's like the dog that didn't bark in the night. The word 'climate change' was never mentioned. 'Sustainable' was a tack on.”

The speech, he said, “appeared not to be centred in the most paramount issue of our times at all.”

The party in recent years adopted a policy that says every issue will be looked at through a 'sustainability' lens. “I don't think that speech had it as a lens in any way, shape or form,” he said. “For me I would say sustainability has not made it to being a value in this party and if it doesn't the party will become progressively less and less relevant.”

During the last election, James and the NDP made opposition to the Liberal government's carbon tax a major plank of the party's platform, putting the party at odds with much of the province's environmental movement.

“The speech was an opportunity to show [sustainability] is becoming more relevant and I think it showed the opposite,” said Cubberley, who represented Saanich South from 2005 to 2009 and chose not to run in the May election.

Everyone knows the NDP believes in education, health care, social justice and fighting poverty, he said.

“The question really now, especially after the last election campaign, is whether they care about the environment and the sustainability of our economy and whether they see the shift that we have to make moving into a more sustainable economy as something they play a key role in and I didn't get a sense of that from this speech.”

Many members of the party are talking about these issues, though not publicly.

“If the party membership cares, I believe the party membership do care in the majority about it, it has to become a discussion, it has to become an open discussion,” said Cubberley. “It appears to be being suppressed as a discussion, which I don't really get.”

James' speech made vague reference to the environmental achievements of the 1990s, but went into no detail, he said. Cubberley worked as a staff member when the NDP formed the government.

“I'm very proud of what the party did, particularly in the first term, the Harcourt term,” he said. The NDP introduced strong, even visionary, land use planning, progressive forestry measures and product stewardship regulations, he said.

“You would think actually somebody giving a speech like this today would draw on that large reservoir and be able to come up with convincing examples that show the conviction of New Democrats around environmental sustainability and then marry it with the need to be come economically sustainable which is a goldmine for her.

“There wasn't even a concrete image around it,” he said. “If you're not proud of your own history, especially the parts of it that had high integrity, were innovative and groundbreaking you're absolutely not standing on anything. You're floating in the air. It's a very, very good base to speak from and build on.”

Soon after becoming leader James addressed many of the failings of the NDP in the 1990s, especially the era when Glen Clark was premier, he said. “What she appears not to be able to do, and I don't understand the reason for it, is to be proud of the achievements of that era, and they were numerous and groundbreaking, and build on those.”

Dealing with climate change will require more than vague references to green jobs, he said. “Why are we the New Democrats not the party of public transit at this point in time?” he asked. “Public transit advantages everyone in society but especially those at the bottom and it is part of the solution for creating green cities. Why are we not the party of public transit? Why are we not married to it? I like to think that we are, but I don't hear it in speeches.”

This afternoon the convention will debate resolutions related to the environment.

UPDATE: View Carole James' post-speech scrum at Public Eye here, and Liberal Attorney General Mike de Jong's reaction here, and read Tyee columnist Bill Tieleman's disappointed reaction here.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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