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B.C. NDP's new policy on LNG is a game changer

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Important events don't always seem to be so. So it is with the changes last month in both the Green party and the B.C. NDP.

Going back, say a fortnight, the ruling Liberals were unpopular as hell, led by a leader of little substance who likes to have her picture taken and ride in airplanes. Despite that, I would have said -- indeed I think I did -- that she still had a very good chance of winning next year's election, if only because of Mair's Axiom: "You don't have to be 10 in politics; you can be a three if everyone else is a two."

Not only was John Horgan a two at that point, he was harried by the Green Party who showed every sign of moving into second place, a humiliation that would have damaged the NDP for a considerable time to come.

The Green Party was basking in the huge popularity of its national leader, Elizabeth May, undoubtedly the most popular politician in B.C. and perhaps in Canada. No one seemed to care that voters didn't really know who the provincial leader, Dr. Andrew Weaver, was -- let alone what he really stood for. A substantial number of British Columbians, wavering between voting Green or NDP didn't like the NDP from another movie. That was the moment for the Greens to make a clear, concise, and comforting statement of their policy emphasizing, of course, the environment.

Dr. Weaver seemed reluctant to support the environment too enthusiastically because he wanted to demonstrate that the party has other strings to its bow -- an awkward problem, to be sure, because the Green party is seen by many to be a one-trick pony.

This changed somewhat when Elizabeth May arrived and gave a fair impression that even if no one else did, she knew what the she was doing. That's why I suggested that the B.C. party drop Weaver and co-opt May and that if they did, their success in the next election could be truly remarkable.

Weaver blows it stumping for private power

In any event, Dr. Weaver destroyed himself on a talk show on 1070 CFAX in Victoria with host Ian Jessop. The issue was the Gordon Campbell Energy policy of 2003 as carried on by Christy Clark. Under this policy, the right to make new power was taken from BC Hydro and given to so-called Independent Power Producers (IPPs), who were permitted to destroy beautiful rivers in order to make the power.

In the 2009 election, this was a non-issue in spite of the efforts of some of us to make it one. One person who supported this government policy was Dr. Weaver, then a professor at the University of Victoria. To us going around the province speaking against the policy, that was a pain in the ass but no big deal.

Fast forward to last December 17 and Weaver appeared on the Ian Jessop show where the main question was his Party's stand on IPP's. This issue was finally getting traction because economists like Erik Andersen had publicized the fact that the policy had all but bankrupted BC Hydro and many prominent environmental groups pointed out the horrendous damage done to these rivers, the fish and other wildlife that depend upon them, and at the ecology around. The public, slowly, step-by-step, was becoming au fait with this issue.

Weaver evidently didn't know this and clearly was taken by surprise when Ian asked whether or not he and the Green party still supported this Liberal policy that had destroyed so many rivers and all but bankrupted BC Hydro. Weaver babbled and the more Jessop questioned, the more he babbled. I suggest that you listen for yourself here -- starting around the 41-minute mark.

Far from trying to make things better, Weaver took to blaming me and a column I wrote and got into a slanging match, on Facebook would you believe, with publisher Damien Gillis. Whether or not he was right or wrong -- he was wrong as hell -- the point is, this was not a time for shrill name-calling but damage control; time for party to come to grips with this question and declare themselves against the IPP policy and in favour of public power and keeping BC Hydro solvent. That simply didn't happen.

Now, silently, the NDP slipped into the game.

Horgan steps up to the plate

Late last March, John Horgan, the leader, wrote the federal minister of Environment, announcing his Party's opposition to Pacific NorthWest LNG and, while doing so, laying out four conditions that had to be matched before his party would give approval to any LNG project. The first three are pretty routine but the fourth one, a sort of omnibus clause, covers damn near any environmental eventuality one can think of. It states that "B.C.'s air land and water must be protected and resource development must be as clean as possible." It then gives specific numbers with respect to greenhouse gases.

As a one time legal beagle, I don't see how the NDP can make any exceptions to that blanket guarantee.

The scene has changed

It's no mystery why this revelation was made privately: John Horgan wanted to save face. He'd have a hell of a time getting an appropriate motion from a convention because so many put jobs before the environment, as we saw in the 2009 election. Union members won't understand that jobs can never trump the environment and that the terrible shape the world is in is proof of that.

The Party knows this but never wants to start quite yet. They're like the lad who is told that if he doesn't stop masturbating he'll go blind, and who in turn responds, "I'll quit just as soon as I need glasses".

In any event, the NDP have now pushed the Greens out the environmental field entirely.

Will their deeds match their words?  We'll see when other LNG proposals come to their table.

But the scene has changed and, as has been so well and truly said, in politics, six weeks is an eternity.


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