Unity, collective good and climate-change mitigation

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Sean in Ottawa
Unity, collective good and climate-change mitigation

I wrote about this in 2015 here. I want to go back to it because this country is in trouble.

I will try to spell this out in more detail because this country is in trouble.

The left is defined by a belief in the public good. This public good includes national unity, efforts to mitigate climate change, jobs for those who want them and national resources. It includes the well-being of people, education, and efforts to reduce inequality. It includes mitigation of loss of human resources to economic downturns. These are collective nationally (and I would argue internationally but that is another matter).

It is a fact that the national resources have profited Alberta and Saskatchewan but they have also profited the rest of the country. Studies have shown that over the whole project an argument can be made that as much or more profit went to the nation as a whole as it did to Alberta in a number of ways. I hope we do not have to argue this point here.

It is a fact that resources including oil and gas are assets even though their exploitation is dangerous to the planet. These fossil fuel assets help all of Canada when exploited certainly but are disproportionately relied on by some provinces including these two provinces but also including Newfoundland.

Reducing reliance, development, sale and consumption of fossil fuels is a nation emergency. The product of the reduction of use of fossil fuels is a national public good (really global) that is far more even in benefit than the asset is to exploit.

Conservatives do not acknowledge a public good. It is a Conservative principle that you are stuck with self-reliance as a guiding principle over the collective need to help each other. Conservatives will not call on Ottawa to bail out provinces struggling with climate change efforts because they do not believe in either a collective approach or dealing with climate change. It is those who do believe in collective good who are calling for emergency mitigation of climate change.

If you look at the Conservative position it is consistent at least: they do not believe in a collective good, do not ask for help and insist on doing whatever they are doing regardless of cost to a collective good they do not recognize or damage to the environment that they do not recognize. The believe in individualism and generally self-reliance. I can find many hypocritical positions in the Conservative view and I cannot accept the base principles but I can accept that their position is what it is.

I cannot accept the position advanced by the centre and left generally as I find it hypocritical. We believe in this collective good. We know that these provinces have an asset that we ask to be left in the ground for the good of us all and yet we offer nothing other than a carbon tax and a suggestion that they suck it up. Too often Liberals and New Democrats argue that their past behaviour in not saving money, living without adequate taxation, not take care of their investments in the future. We accepted the largesse in profit particularly to central Canada even when we knew it was not sustainable. We would not treat an individual to punishment for past decisions that were not only legal but from which we received benefit.

We accepted that we owed justice to Indigenous people who own the ground even if they do not have possession of it through control (been pushed off it) and know they have a moral right to what happens there (regardless of what imperialist-built laws say). We have a responsibility not just to stand on anger and principle but to take practical steps to protect their interest and the assets of Indigenous peoples which is the land - even if indigenous people do not have immediate control of the land (and what is under it) imperialist control is disputed. We have a national, collective and legal responsibility to them to do all we can.

It is unacceptable in these circumstances that the central parts of the country -- as well as other parts that benefit from the fossil fuel assets have not fully accepted to share the cost of climate mitigation in an equitable way.

In 2015, Alberta had an NDP government that was not hostile to the rest of Canada. Since then New Democrats and Liberals have told them that they were on their own in most respects. We have earned the defeat there.

What should have happened is the Liberal majority government of Trudeau ought to have presented a plan for all of Canada to share in the costs of a transformation away from reliance on fossil fuels rather than forcing fossil fuel producing regions to engage in a national transformation that they did not agree with at almost completely their cost.

Perhaps unity is no longer a collective good.

But if we think it is, then those calling for radical and speedy transformation, such that the science demands, ought to recognize that the cost is significant. The nation ought to share in the mitigation of that cost.

Thankfully, coming from the left we have another core belief that Conservatives do not share: the value of future investment and in government participation in the economy and an understanding that these investments are not costs but the ground of future benefit. Any money invested – we believe – will be returned. And new crown corporations can be built to manage this because we believe that can be done.

The NDP and Liberal majority in the House ought to propose three things at the same time:

1) reject expansion of fossil fuels

2) determine the economic cost to each province for doing this

3) nationalize this cost by mitigating it with national investments proportionately in those provinces - so that those provinces do not lose less than the Canadian average loss to make the collective investment to mitigate climate change

If we do not do this, our efforts to fight climate change will founder. Any claimed unity of the country will founder along with any attempt to heal divisions that will cost us collectively more than what I propose, our responsibility to Indigenous peoples cannot be met, our vision of the country will be defeated by those who do not believe in collective good or any mitigation of climate change.

Canadians who want efforts to mitigate climate change must now learn the lesson that these efforts cannot be demanded from the parts of the country who will pay less for it and then executed by the parts of the country who will pay more.

You want to convert people to our cause - show them that they are part of a collective good -- do not ask them to contribute and make it go away when they need it.

With respect to the fossil fuel producing parts of Canada, let’s cut the hypocrisy and stop acting half like Conservatives while we try to insist that we are acting like progressives.

We need a major nationally paid for economic transformation away from fossil fuels. We are now going to have a harder time negotiating these benefits with Kenney than we would have had with Notley and her party for example. But let us stop pretending Alberta is not hurting because it is and will hurt a great deal more if we get what we want. Offering a hand of help to a one who is hurting is essential. Canada has not - so far - offered this to these regions of the country. It is possible that, even grudgingly, Kenney will accept the massive injection of money into the fossil fuel producing regions because he would be politically in trouble not to. the we will be in a moral position to deliver on our promise and our mandate to the entire country that voted to mitigate climate change but also who voted to accept the principle of a national public good.