Common Sense Canadian

Rafe: Old “Left” vs. “Right” divide no longer applies to environment

Posted February 9, 2016 by Rafe Mair in Politics

Rafe- Old Left vs. Right divide no longer applies to environment

Premier Christy Clark hasn’t been paying attention for the last 10 or 15 years. Times and public attitudes have changed dramatically and she hasn’t. This recent pronouncement of hers, which I mentioned in an earlier article, tells all:

The world is being divided into two – the people that will say no to everything and the people who want to find a way to get to yes. I’m not sure what science the forces of “no” bring together up there [in northwest BC], except that it’s not really about the science. It’s not really about the fish. It’s just about trying to say no. It’s about fear of change. It’s about fear of the future.

That’s 1970s and 80s thinking. There’s no longer a clear division between “left” and “right”. Except to Christy Clark and Judy Rebick, those are outmoded terms. People, irrespective of how they might vote, agree on more things and refuse to be consigned arbitrarily to one flag or another and to start saluting.

This isn’t 1975

I am often accused of moving to the left. Certainly, in terms of 1975, that’s true. But this is not 1975.

Back then, the lines were clearly drawn, even if the actual philosophies pronounced were pretty fuzzy. When most development was proposed, you could usually expect the left, as represented by the NDP, to oppose it. On the other hand, social welfare was generally considered by the right as weak-kneed socialism and you could count on its banner bearer, the Socreds, to fight it.

The shift in British Columbia came about after 1975 when the so-called right wing acknowledged that the agricultural land freeze was good policy, even though the Socreds fought it tooth and nail when it was first brought in. Similarly, as it became obvious that the Socreds were going to win elections, the NDP recognized that basing their response to developments on the same old knee-jerk responses did nor always win them votes nor even the approval of their supporters.

The environment’s time has come

Into this mix came worldwide environmentalism on a broader scale than ever before – a new kind of environmentalism, concentrating on the small and the large, from household garbage to massive forests. The public, around the world, lost patience with both industry and government, much of that based on credibility – a commodity both had lost big time. No longer did anyone accept the word of either their politician or the three-piece suit executive. There had just been to many letdowns and mistakes – and blatant bullshit from both.

Capt. Paul Watson of Sea Shepherd

As well, as these things for some reason “happen”, the environment’s time had come. Wildlife, fish, clean air and water, climate and the atmosphere all became important. The masses started to ask pointed questions of their political masters. Organizations like Greenpeace and the Sea Shepherd Society, hitherto castigated by much of the mainstream, now were popular and seen as doing the work government should have been doing. Nowhere was this more evident than when a decade ago Sea Shepherd, after being asked to assist in patrolling the Galapagos Marina Reserve (GMR), entered into a partnership with Ecuador to reinforce the local law enforcement agencies in their battle to stop illegal fishing and wildlife smuggling. It has proved very successful.

This massive attitudinal change has been missed by many politicians, including Stephen Harper and Christy Clark. It’s also escaped Christy’s attention that activism in the environmental field may be repugnant to her personal values but it works like a damn. The Great Bear Rainforest, for which she claims much credit, is ample proof of that and there are many other examples where Environmentalists have taken to the streets or the forest or the oceans and thereby made a substantial difference.

Clark doesn’t understand First Nations

BC's gift to the world- Premier Christy Clark

Premier Christy Clark at a recent conference, working hard to build an LNG industry for BC (Flickr CC Licence / BC Govt)

Ms. Clark obviously has not noticed First Nations. Times have changed very dramatically but that evidently has passed her by even though she seizes any opportunity to be photographed with First Nations leaders. What she has not comprehended are the massive changes that have taken place to First Nations rights and, perhaps more importantly for her politically, she doesn’t seem able to grasp the huge attitudinal change of the general public toward the country’s aboriginals. I changed and I daresay you have too. Christy hasn’t except where a political brownie point or a photo-op is involved.

It doesn’t matter whether or not she likes these changes, the fact is they’ve been pronounced by the Supreme Court of Canada as the law of the land. She looks at First Nations around Lelu Island refusing a billion dollar bribe to approve a pipeline and doubts that they care much about salmon and their way of life. Her ignorance – or is it arrogance? – takes the breath away, but she simply can’t comprehend First Nations’ attachment to their culture, their way of living and to the environment, including, yes Christy, their sacred salmon, which have sustained them for thousands of years.

Traditionally conservative ridings shifting allegiances

I live in Lions Bay, which is hardly a nest of revolutionaries. It’s always been a safe seat for “free enterprise” parties, yet I can tell you that the community is up in arms over environmental threats to Howe Sound and won’t put up with them. The main concern is a proposed LNG plant in Squamish but it’s scarcely the only one. Howe Sound, now cleaned up substantially, much through the efforts of ordinary citizens, is looking much like it did when I used to fish there as a boy with my Dad. That’s not only a comfort to residents but a matter of great pride.

The new Liberal MP, Pamela Goldsmith-Jones, says that in the election, the main question on the front porch and in the shopping centre was the environment. That’s why I told readers that the Tory MP, John Weston, hadn’t a snowball’s chance in hell of winning the election in this, a small “c” conservative riding. Evidently, the current Liberal MLA, Jordan Sturdy, who has faithfully supported Woodfibre LNG, knows he can’t win here again and has announced that he won’t run next time.

Old rules no longer apply

It isn’t just this riding that’s had a remarkable political metamorphosis; this has happened, I daresay, right around the province. The fact of that Tories lost seats in the Okanagan in the recent federal election is pretty fair evidence of that.

Christy Clark is a throwback to the 1975 election. There may be some older farts, of which I’m not one, who still distinguish between “left” and right”, but they’re a vanishing breed. Declarations by “respectable” business and government are now seen as meaningless bullshit and probably proof that the precise opposite is the case.

I don’t say that Clark can’t win in 2017. She could because of Mair’s Axiom IV – namely, “you don’t have to be a 10 in politics, you can be a 3 if everyone else is a 2” – and there’s every indication that John Horgan just might be a 2, although, come to think on it, Christy probably isn’t any better.

Barring blind luck, you can’t be yesterday’s politician and hope to win tomorrow’s election and it’s pretty late for the premier to start to play catch up.


About the Author

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


    Shas Cho

    When BC Premier Christy Clark
    was the MLA for Port Moody/Burnaby Mountain
    she and her husband both moonlighted
    (via their own corporation, Burrard Communications Inc)
    as lobbyists for Enbridge!
    This seems to me to be an incontrovertible conflict of interest,
    and it is just the tip of the crimeburg.

    Clark supposedly severed her ties to the Enbridge lobby
    when she became the Premier of BC,
    but that is now revealed to be no more than window dressing.
    In 2012 she appointed Ken Boessenkool as her chief of staff.
    Boessenkool is another former Enbridge lobbyist!
    Not only that,
    he was an advisor to Prime Minister Stephen Harper!

    You may recall Clark’s public stand on the Enbridge project,
    with her insistence upon “guarantees” of safety
    and a nice big contingency fund.
    Now it’s obvious that the whole thing was an act,
    a pretence of uncertainty and fair-minded consideration.
    She was working on Enbridge plans
    to build pipelines across BC
    before she ever took office!

    That’s not quite all, either.
    That little firm of Enbridge lobbyists
    consisted of three Enbridge advocates;
    Ms Clark, her husband Mark Marissen, and John Paul Fraser.
    On July 24, 2014, Clark appointed John Paul Fraser
    as acting deputy minister in charge of
    Government Communications and Public Engagement
    or, as I like to think of it, as head of her propaganda department

    Surely this is a crime.
    With three Enbridge lobbyists controlling the pipeline decision,
    who will speak on behalf of BC’s citizens?
    Why hasn’t the opposition called for her to be criminally charged?

    David Dickinson

    It’s not right versus left anymore. It’s now poor versus wealthy. As in “Mexico North”.


    I can see it now. Before the next election people will be wearing T-shirts with “A force of KNOW” emblazoned on the front.

    Kyle Koch

    Over the years, I’ve enjoy Rafe’s rants, but lately they tend to be even more polarized than ever. The criticism levelled is like a mirror, same view but inverted image.

    Certainly, things can be done better, but In this diatribe of drivel, facts are few and far between.

    One example is when he writes about First Nations. We are at an unprecedented level of negotiation with First Nations Communities and there is a deeper respect for land title and economic engagement than ever before.

    The Great Bear Rainforest agreement has been long in coming, but it has finally arrived. The Premier is not taking credit for all of it, rather the opposite. She has clearly recognized the people and groups who deserve credit for making it happen. When moments like this happen, ones that define who we are as a people, we need to celebrate, not denigrate. By recognizing good steps forward, we gain momentum in the right direction.

    I had to stop reading this article because it simply is lacking any sense of truth. The political rhetoric is clouded with opportunistic chest thumping.


      Whenever I have confronted someone with a contrary analysis from one of Rafe’s columns they often respond exactly the same way you did. Deflection. Recognition of land title by the BC Liberals is about 25 years late. Now it has become no more than a desperate vote buying scheme. Ironically your last paragraph describes what you are doing much more than Rafe.


      Kyle – you say “We are at an unprecedented level of negotiation with First Nations Communities and there is a deeper respect for land title and economic engagement than ever before.” What awful crap that is. I should hope you’ve improved. What I referred to was the premier’s castigating Skeena Valley aboriginals as, in her terribly outmoded cliche, “noes” not the preferred “yeses” rather than truly concerned about the salmon and their cultural heritage. Clark cannot believe that the people of south Vancouver Island and Howe Sound desperately want to protect what are unique and bountiful waters against industrial predators with negative contributions to our surroundings and society in general. For what and for whom do British Columbians surrender their precious and unique environment? I’m somehow reminded of Ogden Nash’s spoof of Joyce Kilmer’s “Trees”, written 75 years ago – “I think that I shall never see, A billboard lovely as a tree. indeed unless the billboards fall, I’ll never see a tree at all”.
      Kyle – you and your premier are billboard people, some of us, starting with First Nations folk, are for the trees. Just stop pretending that you care for our values when you have none,

        David Dickinson

        Sure some First Nations people are “for the trees.” But an equal number, if not more, want jobs. You’ve fallen into the trap of romanticizing First Nations. I call this the “Hiawatha effect.” As if all Aboriginals are automatically environmentalists (as if it is genetic or something) and all those First Nations people who work in mining and forestry are not “true” aboriginals, cause they are not environmentalists! Things aren’t as simplistic as that. Many, many local natives from the Hazelton area work in mining and forestry. Those who are against pipelines make a lot more noise. You shouldn’t take that to mean they are the majority any more than the loud-mouthed anti-abortionists represent the majority opinion.


          I would expect that there are some First Nations people who have adopted the “development at all costs” the same as Christy and the gumshoe because it profits them in some way. I expect they are not the majority either. They are just the ones making the deals that involve FN territories (settled or in-dispute) and feathering their own nests. BC Liberals have no monopoly on greed.

    John's Aghast

    Well Ron, I’m beyond Hope. Past Spuzzum too. The only thing springing from this breast is sorrow and depression. Perhaps a Phoenix might help.
    We cheer loudly when the price of LNG drops, thus ensuring another nail in Chrispy’s coffin, oblivious to the fact that it also impacts our economy. We are pleased when it appears the efforts of First Nations, the BCUC if allowed, or even common sense dictates that Site C be abandoned. Even at the expense of jobs and termination costs to the International and out-of-province contractors employed.
    Sadly, the only thing that would bring joy to our hearts is the complete destruction of Chrispy’s dream projects, no matter what the cost to our economy.
    But all is not lost! The cancellation of Site C might result in $500,000 in termination costs, but would save $9 billion in construction costs. The bulk of the jobs lost will be to TFW’s.
    The postponement of LNG projects might impact South Korean manufactures but would ensure better royalties to future generations. And an extended lease on life to the environment and wildlife. Yes, there is a glimmer of hope. And Chrispy won’t live forever.

    anne cameron

    You’re spot on about Christie Clarke but you’re way off-side on Judy Rebick… we need a few more like Rebick. I’m about the same age as you are, Raif , and I read your articles and screeds and sometimes snicker at the huge disconnect between your version of “the past” and what I remember of those times. And sometimes it seems to me you’re engaging in revisionism; there is much about Socred which set the tone and pattern for today’s Liebrals.


      Anne – I think you missed my point. There are representatives of what traditionally were left and right and I believe that Judy Rebick and Christy Clark are those representatives. If you read Rabble regularly, as I do, I think you will agree that the contributors are all or I should say mostly from another era with most of the slogans unamended. Certainly Christy Clark is as far right as I would want to see anyone. My point why is that many of the issues which traditionally divided into left and right, including the environment, no longer qualify for that and are General issues that people of all political persuasion come together on.




    NO!! to so-called ‘trade deals’ which, by way of ISDS, allow investors and corporations to sue us over our laws and policies they don’t like (ie, TILMA, CETA, China-FIPA, TPP, NAFTA etc).


    Just say No to dumb projects which make no sense economically or environmentally (ie, LNG, Site C).

    No to fracking.

    No to mines dumping toxic waste into lakes.

    No to privatization of public assets (ie BC Hydro, BC Rail, BC Ferries).

    No to removals from ALR.

    No to corrupt real estate bubbles (ie Vancouver).

    No to fish farms spewing disease and waste.


    Ray Blessin

    The term “free enterprise” actually means “private enterprise”, as in: everything of value should be privately held . . . . everything.

    Ron Wilton

    Considering her lop-sided, positive versus negative achievements, she has done remarkably well within her limited faculties.

    She does have a certain charm that disarms and endears briefly and works well with visitors to our province.

    After a short while though one easily sees it more as guile than charm and she has pretty much perfected the use of it.

    She really is able to fool some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time and even herself from time to time but even she must know that her taking us all for fools all of the time is just about up.

    Like the harper aftermath, her messes too will take us a long time to clean up, perhaps longer than we care to imagine, but it will happen.

    Hopefully John is up to the task and you and I both have learned from living so long that hope springs eternal in the human breast.

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