As British Columbia emerges from its worst wildfire season on record and continues to recover from recent climate disasters, two of the province’s opposition parties are saying they would scrap the government’s climate action plan.
“Frankly I’m embarrassed for them,” said Peter McCartney, climate campaigner for the Wilderness Committee environmental advocacy group. “It should be disqualifying for anybody who wants to hold public office in a climate emergency to not understand the gravity of the situation and the real costs it is having for British Columbians in terms of dollars, homes and lives.”
On Wednesday the leader of the Conservative Party of British Columbia, Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad, released a statement saying he believes humans have an impact on the climate and that climate change is real, but that it is not a crisis.
“British Columbians are NOT facing an existential threat from our changing climate,” he said. “It isn’t a crisis. In fact, our changing climate is not the most pressing issue facing us in B.C. or around the world.”
There are just two Conservative MLAs in the legislature, but the party has been receiving similar support in polls to BC United, the former BC Liberal Party.
Rustad said a Conservative government would eliminate the carbon tax, the gas tax and the clean fuel standard. “Taxing everyday working people into poverty will not change the weather,” he said. Instead the party would focus on improving water management, growing food production and increasing energy security.
A BC United government would instead “go all-in on LNG,” electrify the LNG industry and prioritize carbon capture and storage. It would “invest in climate-resilient infrastructure,” end the subsidies for electric vehicle purchases and do more to suppress wildfires.
Falcon has previously said BC United would take the carbon tax off home heating fuels.
He has also said that if given the chance after a change in the federal government, he would entirely eliminate the carbon tax that he helped introduce as a BC Liberal cabinet minister.
Like other supporters of the industry, Falcon argues that exporting LNG, which is predominantly methane, displaces the burning of coal in other countries and reduces global greenhouse gas emissions.
Critics, including the Wilderness Committee’s McCartney, say LNG exported from B.C. is just as likely to block new solar or wind energy projects. In many cases the emissions from methane are no lower than those from coal, depending on the source of the fuel and how far it is transported.
In the legislature, Premier David Eby said that the province has cut emissions while growing the economy and creating jobs. “Until the leader of policy for the BCUP, the leader of the Conservative party, came out against climate action, [Falcon] used to believe that we could grow the economy and fight carbon pollution. He doesn't believe that anymore. All he wants to do is fight fires.”
“I honestly don't know which is worse,” said George Heyman, the minister of environment and climate change strategy. “The continued denial of human-caused climate change by the Conservative party, or the leader of the Opposition's desperate pandering to try to win back conservative voters by ripping up the climate plan.”
The BC Green Party, which has two MLAs in the legislature, has consistently pushed for stronger climate action and for ending the government subsidies that support new fossil fuel infrastructure.
“These are not climate plans,” said BC Green Leader and Cowichan Valley MLA Sonia Furstenau when asked about the Conservative and United positions. “They are climate denial schemes. We seem to be debating climate change in the B.C. legislature like it’s 1999, ignoring the enormous costs and economic impacts that we have seen for the last two and a half decades in this province, across this country and around the world.”
Furstenau also criticized the NDP government for saying “all the right things on climate” while continuing to approve more fossil fuel infrastructure and more fracking for methane. “I’m not sure we have elected representatives who understand the urgency and the seriousness of the moment that we’re in.”
McCartney said it’s shocking to hear Conservative Leader Rustad say that climate change is not a crisis.
“We have seen a series of climate disasters in recent years,” he said, mentioning wildfires that have driven people from their homes, the deaths of firefighters, the record atmospheric river that caused flooding in the Fraser Valley and significant damage to roads, and the heat dome that killed more than 600 people in the province.
“All of these are made worse by the climate pollution that we are continuing to pump into the atmosphere,” he said. “For anyone who wants to be in government to ignore that is shocking.”
One of the main jobs of any government is to keep people safe, McCartney added, and to not have a climate plan is to fail on that priority.
The BC NDP government’s plan is more serious than those proposed by BC United and the Conservative Party of BC, but it still falls short, said McCartney, who was with the Frack Free BC alliance that protested outside the BC NDP’s convention last weekend.
“I’m sad to say the approach of the governing BC NDP is not that far off going all-in on LNG,” he said. “We need a plan that’s in line with science and justice.” That means phasing out fossil fuel production and supporting workers to transition to other industries.