Rafe: NDP’s LNG reversal is a game-changer for BC election

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Rafe- NDP's LNG reversal is a game-changer in BC election

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

Going back, say a fortnight, the ruling Liberals were unpopular as hell, led by an airhead 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 I, “you don’t have to be 10 in politics, you can be a 3 if everyone else is a 2.”

Not only was John Horgan a 2 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 BC 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 BC party drop Weaver and co-opt Ms. May and that if they did, their success in the next election could be truly remarkable.

Weaver blows it stumping for private power

BC Green MLA Andrew Weaver
BC Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver

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 Producer (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 Dr. 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.

Dr 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 min mark.

Far from trying to make things better, Dr. 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

Photo: BCNDP/Flickr
John Horgan (Photo: BCNDP/Flickr)

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 “BC’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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About Rafe Mair

Rafe Mair, LL.B, LL.D (Hon) a B.C. MLA 1975 to 1981, was Minister of Environment from late 1978 through 1979. In 1981 he left politics for Talk Radio becoming recognized as one of B.C.'s pre-eminent journalists. An avid fly fisherman, he took a special interest in Atlantic salmon farms and private power projects as environmental calamities and became a powerful voice in opposition to them. Rafe is the co-founder of The Common Sense Canadian and writes a regular blog at rafeonline.com.

17 thoughts on “Rafe: NDP’s LNG reversal is a game-changer for BC election

  1. Weaver is on of those people who is so convinced by himself that he can’t accept anyone disagreeing, so self absorbed and on the verge of exploding.
    He totally doesn’t get that people are tired of lame reasons they should accept insane things like IPP contracts. He is so lame he can’t explain there value but for some reason expects us to accept the unacceptable. So out of touch with people who actually have to cough up the money. People like me!

    1. “Weaver is on of those people who is so convinced by himself that he can’t accept anyone disagreeing, so self absorbed and on the verge of exploding.”

      I always find it interesting how the perpetrators of intolerance think it is incumbent upon the rest of us to tolerate their position.

  2. I was talking with some friends from other political stripes and one (conservative) friend said, “I think this government is in trouble.”

    I mentioned IPPs and he got worked up. He’s a sports fisherman and he couldn’t believe the destruction a small run-of-river had caused on a favourite stream of his.

    Another (pro-business) friend piped in about run-of-river and how a proponent had tried to rope their community service group into putting a seal of approval on a proposed IPP in the area. (They didn’t bite.)

    It warmed my heart, to know that the run-of-river backlash is starting to build traction in new territories.

    Thanks to all who are helping get the word out.

  3. The article compares apples and oranges by comparing Weaver’s record on Independent power producers to a vague statement by Horgan on Lng development; without giving Horgan’s take on independent power and weaver’s take on Lng. How is this one statement is enough to win some environmental gold sticker? We need political diversity on issues to have meaningful debate and protecting our environment should come as a prerequisite to job creation, however that does not make the green party irrelevant, they will still be needed to balance the conversation. I suggest this publication try for better journalism over thinly veiled ndp rhetoric.

    1. You miss the point Jake. I had no intention to compare each on specific issues but to demonstrate that Weaver had lost a lot of ground with his position on IPPs including a chance for the Greens to be #2, compounded by the fact that Horgan had recovered some ground with policy changes on LNG plants which, if you’ve paid attention, was hitherto uncritically supportive.

      Since this article it seems Horgan may have back slided a bit although Weaver has done nothing.

      As long as Horgan remains unwilling to oppose Clark but suck up to powerful interests instead, it’s manna from heaven for Christy. To be specific, if Horgan supports LNG to keep some union leaders happy he will be saying that jobs trump health and climate issues, i think most voters will disagree.it’s not helpful to have voters disagree at election time.

  4. I appreciate the wisdom, Rafe, and frankly, just the information. I had not heard that Horgan had repudiated LNG. But if so, it certainly encourages me to support the NDP. Not that the writing was not on the wall anyway. Late to the game, Horgan is saying they wouldn’t approve LNG, that already economics have written off. What guts and clarity of vision!

  5. British Columbians can count on Rafe Mair to put his finger directly on the nub of almost any issue. He seems to have done it again with this article pointing out another of Professor Weaver’s weaknesses. People should begin to appreciate that John Horgan and his NDP caucus are on top of the LNG issues and can be counted on to find the proper balance between our economy and our environment — while listening to these warning signs from former Environment Minister Rafe.

  6. Thank you Rafe. Weaver’s position needed to have a light shone it. Prior to his comments on Ian’s show I was leaning his way. His comments in support of IPP’s blew me away. Now I live in hope John can begin to open cracks in the Liberal government’s track record. There should be more than enough to show diehard Liberal voters what has taken place since they came to office in 2001.

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