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A generation of right-wing politicians ruins Preston Manning's dream of 'green capitalism'

Preston Manning in 2013 (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Let's start with a pop quiz. Who said this?

"One of the biggest issues will be the question of how much of current revenue from non-renewable resources should be saved and how those savings should be invested … so that, if the day ever comes that oil and gas isn't as significant as it is now, there's something to replace it."

If you thought Rachel Notley, you would be wrong.

The answer is Preston Manning, once upon a time the godfather of the Canadian right. He was speaking back in 2006 in an interview with Canadian Business Magazine.

Later in the same interview, he noted "there is a growing concern about environmental conservation and I think the question is not whether you make a major effort to improve environmental quality and environmental conservation but how is it to be done? Do you rely increasingly on government regulation and intervention or do you rely more on the marketplace?"

In other words, something like the carbon tax Jason Kenney has promised to eliminate in Alberta if he is elected in two weeks and that Andrew Scheer vows to destroy if he becomes prime minister next fall, or the cap-and-trade system in Ontario that Premier Doug Ford has already torn up and tossed away.

Manning has spoken about this a lot over the past 20 years, although for some reason he is awfully quiet lately. He may or may not have seen that the environmental impact of unchecked capitalism threatened the survival of the planet, but he certainly figured out that a deteriorating planetary environment presents an existential threat to capitalism.

He may also have worried that a cynical new generation of Canadian right-wing politicians would not be able to resist picking the low-hanging fruit offered by new taxes and higher prices, which are always unpopular at first but are key parts of the market-oriented solutions Manning had in mind.

Think about it. Manning was probably in a better position than most of us to know just what people like Kenney, Ford and Scheer were thinking.

If Manning's musings sounded like blue-sky rambling 13 years ago, you would think it would have a good deal more credibility on the right now in a week when we have been told that Canada's climate is warming at double the rate of the rest of the world.

Officials from Environment and Climate Change Canada published the results of their research yesterday, and the news was not encouraging. Their report said Canada is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the planet, northern Canada at almost three times the global rate.

And remember, this is based on actual observation, not computer models of what might happen in the future -- which are easier for climate-change deniers to cast doubt upon.

But instead of a serious attempt by the right to offer alternative solutions to climate change, we get a clown car of climate-change denial and juvenile belligerence like Kenney's attack on the modest reforms enacted by the governments of Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The UCP leader apparently wants to roll it all back and sue anyone who says anything different. He's even promised to pull the plug on the NDP's investment in renewable energy -- which might even get him off Manning's Christmas card list!

Meanwhile, whatever voters in Alberta decide to do in two weeks, the world is waking up to what's happening to the planet and looking for solutions. As things grow worse, those solutions will grow more forceful.

Kenney was taking credit recently for getting Toronto City Council to drop Councillor Mike Layton's call for Canada's largest city to explore legal ways to seek compensation for the costs of global climate change from major contributors to global climate change.

This was baloney, of course, since city councillors frequently bring up ideas like this and they're inevitably kicked to the curb a few times before they become part of the mainstream.

But you can count on it that this strategy will be back from cities likely to be impacted by global climate change -- New York on the Atlantic, and Vancouver on the Pacific, for just two examples. All the "war rooms" in the world aren't going to make this go away when the waters start to rise and the forests start to burn, as the findings of the Environment Canada report suggest they will soon.

Some go even farther. Last month, journalist George Monbiot published a column in the Guardian calling for the perpetrators of grave environmental harm to be hauled before an international court and charged with ecocide.

Such an approach, Monbiot wrote, could "do for all life on Earth what the criminalization of genocide has done for vulnerable minorities: provide protection where none existed before."

This may sound crazy now, but give it another 13 years and see what folks think.

"Climate change is real and denial is not an option for energy industry players or the lawyers who represent them," wrote Calgary-based corporate lawyer Colin Feasby, Calgary managing partner of the Osler law firm, in December.

"The energy industry is moving quickly on climate change and most sophisticated participants are in favour of market-based policies to reduce emissions," he explained. "Many enterprises have already accounted for the risk of climate change litigation both in their public disclosure and in the conduct of their business. Some leading industry players have adopted public policy positions that promote the reduction of emissions, such as Exxon's championing of carbon taxation and Shell's advocacy of renewable energy solutions."

Indeed, that's undoubtedly why Royal Dutch Shell yesterday revealed it is urging Canada's energy lobby groups to grow up and stop bucking carbon taxes, else it will pull its support and participation.

But what do we get from Kenney and his modern Canadian Conservative crowd? Denial and childish threats, plus promises to turn back the clock and make the world like it.

That is one approach that is not going to work! You can take that to the bank.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Photo: David J. Climenhaga

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