Category Archives: Economics

Book Review: Beyond Banksters – Resisting the New Feudalism

Bankers' Hall in Calgary (Bernard Spragg, NZ / Flickr CC Licence)
Bankers Hall in Calgary (Bernard Spragg, NZ / Flickr CC Licence)

Something strange was happening in the world and until a social event in November, 2011, I was having trouble putting my finger on it. That was the night some friends held a roast for me to celebrate my 80th birthday. It was held at the Wise Hall in East Vancouver, a traditional left-wing gathering spot.

I was seen by many of the left as little short of fascist, yet, lately I’d come to the viewed by the right as what my father would have called  “parlour pink”.  It would be interesting to see who would come.

Well, they jammed the hall. Guests included captains of industry, right-wing the politicians, left-wing politicians, union leaders, First Nations leaders, and countless friends from the environmental movement. It was a lovely evening and at the end, when I had a chance to speak, I observed that there were a lot of folks in the old Wise Hall who not long ago would rather have been caught in a house of ill-fame.

Things had changed; the political sands were shifting. It was puzzling, for the new contest wasn’t left v. right anymore but “them” and “us”, with “them” being the elite and “us” being the rest. A look at “us” in a picket line shows very strange bedfellows, any of whom, not long ago, hurled insults and worse at each other.

The Brexit Syndrome

Former UK Prime Minister David Cameron stumping for the failed "Stay" campaign
Former UK Prime Minister David Cameron stumping for the failed “Stay” campaign

As I watched this situation mature, it seem to come to a head with the Brexit issue, the UK possibly leaving the UK,  voting in June of this year.

I saw it coming and said so. There were lots of issues, but the deep, underlying feeling was that when the UK voted by referendum to join Europe in 1975, the elite assured the “us” folks that it was a Common Market they were getting into, no more.

It turned out very differently and “us” weren’t consulted and were just expected to follow, in that marvellous phrase of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, “those set in authority over us”. The elite couldn’t understand what had happened. They should have known.

A quick glance around showed that unrest was everywhere yet no one was really writing about it.

That’s changed dramatically as well-known Canadian writer of the left, Joyce Nelson, has written a damned good history of events leading up to what I call the Brexit Syndrome. Her new book, Beyond Banksters: Resisting the New Feudalism, shows that it’s scarcely new in Canada and provides a dramatis personae of the epic Canadian drama unfolding.

A pivotal case

Have you wondered what it is that former Liberal cabinet minister Paul Hellyer, at 93, is doing still raising hell about the Bank of Canada and how it could clean up the National Debt virtually overnight if there were the political will, that hair-brained left loony scheme of bygone days?

Judging by recent converts to this view, it doesn’t seem quite so loony anymore!

And how about COMER and the immense lawsuit the Trudeau government won’t talk about?

Here’s how Joyce Nelson describes it:

[quote]One of the most important legal cases in Canadian history is slowly inching its way towards trial. Launched in 2011 by the Toronto-based Committee on Monetary and Economic Reform (COMER), the lawsuit would require the publicly-owned Bank of Canada to return to its pre-1974 mandate and practice of lending nearly interest-free money to federal, provincial and (potentially) municipal governments for infrastructure and healthcare spending.[/quote]

This case, one of federal government coverup and worse, is now looking like a winner. Now that will have financial consequences that neither the Liberals nor Tories care to discuss – and don’t. Of course, out of sight, out of mind has always guided their actions.

This, combined with a tame, authority-loving media have kept us all in the dark – dare I guess you, like me, don’t know much about this story that Paul Hellyer, with the zest and energy of the saint by the same name, evangelizes across the land. That will change dramatically with this book.

Changing governments, not overthrowing them

I am arithmetically challenged and when writing on the most elementary fiscal matters, must have them explained in terms of a kindergarten “number work” class. I confidently tell you that I now understood this shocking tale without difficulty. In fact this is one of Joyce Nelson’s strengths – and she has a lot of them: she can explain complex matters without talking down to you and without sounding like a know-it-all.

An Occupy demonstration on Wall Street by women of (Paul Stein/Flickr)
An Occupy demonstration on Wall Street by women of (Paul Stein/Flickr)

Nelson gives an excellent portrayal of where the opposition now is. The violent street demonstrations accompanied by pepper spray and the police batons won’t likely disappear but they’ve been largely replaced by peaceful protests such as occupy Wall Street and several others.

The great question,  not yet answered, is how this will materialize in political terms.

Traditionally, the discontented have avoided the political system like the plague. They considered voting being the same as honouring the system, which was the last thing they wanted to do. Stephane Hessel remarked in an interview given in 2012 (a year before he died), “The global protest movement does not resemble the Communist movement, which declared that the world had to be overturned according to its viewpoint.” Instead, he said, “This is not an ideological revolution. It is driven by an authentic desire to get what you need. From this point of view, the present generation is not asking governments to disappear but change the way they deal with people’s needs.”

Clear terms

The change is happening. Joyce Nelson walks us through the process and makes it understandable to people who haven’t thought about it very much, if at all,  until now.

This is a most unusual book for political junkies. It makes no attempt to settle scores or slant the historical perspective. I have the impression that Joyce Nelson has looked at the unfolding scene with a bewilderment that suits a keen, inquiring mind rather than that of a judge. Let the judging begin as the case becomes clearer.

But as this old baseball nut can confirm, you can’t tell the players without a scorecard and this one is a dandy.

Beyond Banksters can be ordered online at:


90% of world’s new electricity coming from renewables: Welcome to the end of the fossil fuel era

Solar installation class (Haggerston Community College/Flickr CC licence)
Solar installation class (Haggerston Community College/Flickr CC licence)

According to the International Energy Agency, a staggering 90% of all new electrical capacity brought online around the world in 2015 came in the form of renewable energy. That same year, China invested a record $110 Billion in clean tech – virtually 100% of its electrical capital – and in 2016, it’s set to close 1,000 coal mines. While Canada is shedding fossil fuel jobs like they’re going out of style, the world’s current economic powerhouses – China, the US, Germany, Brazil, Korea – are generating millions of new green jobs.

In other words, the bust we’re witnessing in Fort McMurray and North Dakota is no mere blip – no typical, “cyclical” downturn. Common Sense Canadian contributor and retired federal government energy innovation expert Will Dubitsky, who has been tracking and publishing these figures here for several years now and whom I draw on extensively for this article, put it to me in the following terms:

[quote]We don’t expect a return in the blacksmith business. At some point, it was simply replaced by more modern tools and trades.[/quote]

Statistics don’t have feelings

Bank of England's Carney- Most fossil fuel reserves shouldn't be burned
Mark Carney in Davos, Switzerland, 2010 (Photo: Wikipedia)

Even if you dismiss the extraordinary economic opportunities emerging in the clean tech sector, the mounting costs and existential threat of climate change are proving impossible for global leaders to ignore, as Paris demonstrated. People at the very core of the so-called “establishment” – from Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England to BP Chief Economist Spencer Dale, now acknowledge that most fossil fuel reserves will have to be left in the ground.

Based on all the available research today – and we have reams of it in our Renewable Energy section – the fossil fuel era is rapidly drawing to a close.

And here’s the cold, hard truth: Statistics and facts don’t care whether you’re a bleeding-heart tree-hugger or dyed-in-the-wool Alberta conservative. They don’t care how badly you need your old job or whether you feel persecuted or unappreciated by the rest of the country. They don’t care about your stock portfolio, your values, your moral compass, your grandchildren, vanishing caribou herds, wild salmon or spotted owls. And we, as a nation – as citizens, employers, employees, parents, youth, pensioners, taxpayers and voters must decide whether we wish to embrace these new realities or bury our heads in the sand – a particular bitumen-laden variety.

Leaping in circles

Canada’s political parties, provincial and federal, are all grappling with these realities in their own, interesting ways – a spectacle now on display from coast to coast to coast.

The NDP’s gong show of a recent federal convention is a prime example. Following his election failure last Fall, Thomas Mulcair absorbed two final nails in his coffin – both over the same issue but from completely opposite ends of the party’s political spectrum. He was too centrist for the party’s left wing, while his openness to the Lewis/Klein faction’s anti-pipeline “Leap Manifesto” angered the Rachel Notley-led provincial party in Alberta, (not to mention working the usual pundits into a tizzy over its sheer audacity, pronouncing the NDP dead upon the manifesto’s arrival). Why on earth Mulcair let the convention happen on Notley’s turf is anyone’s guess.

But Notley fully merits recrimination for her recent ultimatum on pipelines. She won’t get them through BC – even Kinder Morgan is a non-starter, which, apparently no one but we British Columbians, in the “West beyond the West”, realize. The particular blend of First Nations, court challenges, municipal government opposition, powerful coastal activists, widespread public condemnation and complete lack of economic or “jobs” case for the project means that it simply will not happen. I’m taking bets for anyone foolish enough to lay one against me. I’m already collecting on my Enbridge wagers from 5 years ago. Notley will learn soon enough.

BC or Quebec – take your pick

New Quebec government choosing fossil fuels over green jobs
Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard (Photo: facebook)

As for Energy East, well, Notley’s got another fiercely “distinct” Canadian province to contend with in the form of Quebec. Good luck with that one.

But the bigger issue is the whole “getting bitumen to tidewater” argument – i.e. that Canadian bitumen producers are getting shafted on the price for their product because of a lack of pipeline capacity and shipping opportunities. While it sounds credible enough on the surface to people who don’t know better, and it may have been true a few years ago, it no longer holds water today. Moreover, the global growth in demand for fossil fuels is flattening out, while, according to this blog from the World Economic Forum:

[quote]Petroleum consumption in the US was lower in 2014 than it was in 1997, despite the fact that the economy grew almost 50% over this period.[/quote]

In this energy climate, there simply is no argument for expanding export capacity.

Trudeau singing same tune

You can lump the Trudeau government in with Notley on this one, as it continues to advocate for many of the same projects and backs BC’s LNG pipe dream. One of these days, Justin may learn that he can’t have his cake and eat it too – but we appear to be a long way away from that today. In the meantime, he would do a lot to assuage British Columbians, First Nations and the environmental community if his cabinet declined to issue the permit now before it for the controversial Lelu Island/Petronas-led LNG project near Prince Rupert.

BC NDP flip-flops on LNG

LNG, fracking and BC's Energy future- Multi-media discussion in Victoria
BC’s LNG ship may never come in

This project and many others are the brainchild of BC Liberal Premier Christy Clark, who evidently has not received the memo on all the above realities (though we at the CSC have sent her many!). Up until recently, the John Horgan-led provincial NDP was fully on board with fracking and LNG, then it showed signs of changing its tune – a welcome development that would have gone a long way to helping it get elected in May 2017, for the first time in 16 years.

That was, alas, before Horgan flip-flopped back to the pro-LNG side, kow-towing to union pressure. Besides the obvious political, moral and scientific problems my colleague Rafe Mair addressed with this catastrophic error in judgement by Horgan, even the labour justification is plain wrong-headed. Horgan and BC Building Trades boss Tom Sigurdson clearly don’t understand that there are no jobs to be had for British Columbians in LNG. Even if a single project of 21 proposed gets built – which is looking increasingly unlikely given global crash in LNG prices and steady withdrawal of capital – the BC Liberal government has already promised many of these jobs away to China, Malaysia and India in the form of cheap, foreign temporary workers!

I laid out in these pages precisely how the NDP could successfully re-brand itself, incorporating all these insights. In short, the key to their success is the following slogan and all that goes with it: “New Democrats, New Economy.” But the chances of them getting with the program are diminishing by the day.

Notley’s dilemma

Rafe- Notley should change electoral system following Alberta NDP win
Alberta Premier Elect Rachel Notley rode to victory on a wave of progressive policies she’s now steadily abandoning (Alberta NDP facebook page)

The same logic and opportunities apply in Alberta, though it’s an even steeper hill to climb there. I appreciate the bind Ms. Notley finds herself in – which explains her backpedaling on a number of more progressive energy policies she ran on last year. Her pollsters must be telling her she’s got to make these grandiose declarations on pipelines and undercut the federal party if she has any hope of getting re-elected.

She faces an electorate that is understandably anxious about its future –  that only wants things to go back to the way they were in the good old days of $100-150 oil. It’s a scary thing not knowing how you’re going to feed your family. But things in Alberta aren’t going back to the way they were before, no matter how uncomfortable that reality is. And giving people false assurances will only make the problem worse. The only thing that can rescue the Alberta economy and bring jobs back is creating new ones – and there are real ways that can happen (more on that in a moment). Alas, for the moment. it’s easy to see how that may yet seem politically impossible to Ms. Notley.

Not all wine and roses

OK, to the skeptics who’ve gotten this far in the article, first of all, thank you for hearing me out. Second of all, you’re right about a lot of things.

You’re correct that we won’t suddenly replace fossil fuels with renewables across the board. There will necessarily be a transition period and quite possibly a place for fossil fuels in the mix for some time to come. We also won’t be able to sustain the level of growth, materialism and waste in our economy that relatively cheap, abundant fossil fuels have enabled over the past century. Some tough adjustments will need to be made there.

BC sitting on enough geothermal to power whole province, say new maps
Steam rising from the Nesjavellir Geothermal Power Station in Iceland (Photo: Gretar Ívarsson / Wikipedia)

Moreover, not all renewables are created equally – and they all have their problems. Most are not “baseload”, meaning they’re only available intermittently. The exceptions are geothermal (a huge untapped opportunity for places like BC), and large hydro dams, which aren’t clean or green for a whole host of reasons.

The solution to the intermittency issue is multi-fold. It requires building a grid with overlapping sources which fill in each other’s gaps at different times. In places like BC, Manitoba, Quebec, and a number of US states, those large dams we already have can underpin newer, non-baseload renewables. Geothermal can do the same and has for decades in San Francisco. Iceland gets more than half its electricity from it.

There are other problems with renewables though. Aggressive incentives for renewables like feed-in-tariffs have led to soaring electrical costs and energy poverty in places like Germany and Ontario, while in BC, our disastrous private “run-of-river” sham has ravaged watersheds and put BC Hydro on the brink of bankruptcy. The renewable energy sector is no more immune to greed, corruption, foolishness, and government mismanagement than the fossil fuel sector is. Anything we choose to build must be done carefully and with the public interest in mind.

Conservation is the key

The most important piece of the puzzle is conservation – the only form of energy that carries zero environmental impact or cost. The good news is we’re already doing a great job at this. Americans are using roughly the same amount of electricity in their homes today as they did at the beginning of the millennium – despite population increases, more elaborate gadgetry, and the arrival of electric cars. It’s the same story here in BC.

Things are looking up

Now for the really good news! Once we get past the denial and difficulty of letting go of everything we’ve come to take for granted, there are huge upsides to the end of the fossil fuel era. As columnist Will Dubistsky put it in these pages recently, the above developments have resulted in “an amazing decline in energy-related CO2 in both China and the US and global emissions remaining flat since 2013! What’s more, for the first time in history emissions have declined during a period of economic growth.” 

Randall Benson is a former oil sands worker who runs a successful solar company and training program (Iron & Earth)
Randall Benson is a former oil sands worker who runs a successful solar company and training program (Iron & Earth)

The message we so often get from the media and our elected leaders, particularly in Canada, is, “Sure climate change is a problem and we have to act, but we’ll get to it in 20 years.” Well, the world is already getting to it. Reducing emissions is very much achievable. So is transitioning to renewable energy, and while Canada has remained on the sidelines of the green jobs revolution thus far, there are signs that’s beginning to change.

Suncor recently announced plans to build multiple wind projects in Alberta. Meanwhile, a group of oil sands workers calling themselves Iron & Earth is pushing for resources to retool their skills for clean tech. These welders, electricians, boilermakers, pipe-fitters, carpenters, etc. are well positioned to transfer their considerable abilities towards wind, solar and geothermal. They’re calling on Rachel Notley to expand Alberta’s solar training programs to include retraining of existing electricians for solar installations. And that’s no big leap.

So, we have two choices as Canadians: 1. Accept that the end of the fossil fuel era is nigh and get on with building a new economy that puts Canadians to work in sustainable, longterm jobs; 2. Remain in denial, chasing a vanishing sector, ensuring Canadians remain out of work…and then accept that the end of the fossil fuel era.

The statistics don’t care. It will happen either way.

The NDP's only shot at winning in BC: Embrace the NEW ECONOMY

The NDP’s only shot at winning in BC: Embrace the NEW ECONOMY

The NDP's only shot at winning in BC: Embrace the NEW ECONOMY
BCNDP Leader John Horgan has a tough row to hoe to win the next election (BCNDP/Flickr)

The following is Damien Gillis’ rebuttal to colleague Rafe Mair’s recent piece, “By Backing LNG, the Horgan NDP lost election before it began”

I agree with my colleague Rafe Mair on most things – including his commentary that John Horgan and the NDP’s choice to back LNG has been a political disaster. The only real difference between Rafe’s and my views on the subject is that I still think they have a shot, a slim one albeit, to win next year’s provincial election. But only if they own up to their mistakes and quickly embrace a new, winning narrative.

Magic formula

That narrative is simple. It’s the only one they can win with and it’s so simple and powerful that if they pick it up, short of a Monica Lewinsky-level scandal, it will return them to government. This is it:

[quote]New Democrats, New Economy


Why is this the perfect slogan? It does everything the NDP needs it to. It promises an economic vision and jobs – the things people most want to hear. It contrasts them with the Liberals’ dowdy Old Economy – a shortsighted, failing vision based on fifty-year old ideas like big hydro dams and oil and gas.

It promises the single most popular and alluring of election outcomes – the very thing that brought Barack Obama, Justin Trudeau and many other usurpers to power: Change. Finally, it sets the stage for protecting the environment and the economy at the same time – the Holy Grail of Canadian politics today. I’m telling you, roll with this slogan, backed by a solid campaign, and you win.

It’s the economy, stupid

In the aftermath of the NDP’s catastrophic loss under Adrian Dix last time around, I penned a post-mortem titled, “It’s the economy, Stupid NDP” (based on American political guru James Carville’s famous slogan to that effect). I stand by every word to this day. The main points I made therein are:

  • The NDP didn’t deal with the ballot box issue of the campaign (and more often than not the key issue of all campaigns): the Economy.
  • The NDP failed to tell a compelling story, while the Liberals spun a powerful “jobs” meta-narrative. Sure, it was all bullshit, as we now see, but it worked at the time. They were going to deliver untold “prosperity” to British Columbians by building a brand new LNG industry. The NDP, by contrast, had no vision, no story to offer.

Nice guys lose elections

The latter was easy pickens. You can be a strong, respectable, principled leader and still attack your opponent wherever justified. Christy Clark and her Liberals are unpopular and vulnerable, but you have to be willing to get your knuckles a little bloody in politics. You have to be willing to draw attention to the fact that Christy Clark failed three times to get a university eduction; worse yet, that she got stripped of her student presidency and fined for cheating in a campus election at SFU – hardly irrelevant when gauging her political character today.

Christy Clark commemorating new Port Mann Bridge - as it rang in at 550% of the government's original cost estimate of $600 million (Province of BC/Flickr)
Christy Clark commemorating the new Port Mann Bridge – as it rang in at 550% of the government’s original cost estimate of $600 million (Province of BC/Flickr)

You also have to be willing to remind voters that this government has increased our real debt from $34 Billion to well over $170 Billion since it came to power – much of that owning to a whole, new category of taxpayer obligations it invented to sweep sweetheart private power contracts and PPP construction deals under the rug (that’s not even counting the likely $20 Billion tab coming if Site C gets built).

You have to be willing to say that this government couldn’t manage its way out of a wet paper bag – pointing to a pattern of more than doubling initial estimates for major capital projects like bridges, highways, transmission lines and convention centres.

You have to be willing to tick off a long list of scandals, from triple-deleted emails and healthcare firings all the way back to illegally broken teacher contracts and BC Rail (hey, if your opponents are happy to go back to the fast ferries well, two decades later, over what now seems a paltry cost overrun by comparison to today’s boondoggles, well, then, BC Rail and legislature raids are more than fair game).

All of these things are fair game – not only that, they need to be brought up, in fairness to the electorate. But I digress. Back to that winning formula: The New Economy.

A golden opportunity missed

Asian LNG prices set to tumble further
LNG is a sinking ship (Jens Schott Knudsen/Flickr)

Nearly three years ago, I began doing townhall presentations around BC on the myths of the Liberal LNG vision. Armed with the latest data from Bloomberg and respected global and local energy analysts, I predicted that the bottom would fall out of the Asian LNG market long before we got to it (I said $8/unit, where the break-even point is around $12 – today it’s fallen even below that, with predictions of $4-5 over the next year, meaning it’s impossible to make a buck at LNG).

The response I heard from NDP MLAs at the time was, “We can’t say ‘No’ to everything.”

No, you can’t. But you can say “No” to stupid ideas and “Yes” to good ones. Had the NDP picked up on this intel 3 years ago, they may have taken a political hit in the short term, but by now, a year out from the election, they’d be looking like geniuses who could shamelessly crow, “We told you so!”

Say “Yes” to good ideas

Randall Benson is a former oil sands worker who runs a successful solar company and training program (Iron & Earth)
Randall Benson is a former oil sands worker who runs a successful solar company and training program (Iron & Earth)

So, the flip-side of that coin is what you say “Yes” to. You say “Yes” to renewable energy. I don’t mean rip-off private power projects and old-school, destructive dams – rather our abundant geothermal potential, wind and solar.

You embrace a group like Iron & Earth – oil sands workers lining up to retool their skills for clean tech.

It’s no big leap for an unemployed gas pipeline welder from Fort St. John to weld wind turbine components instead, or for an oil sands electrician to wire up roof-top solar. We have the workforce – we just need to shift it from an old, shrinking economy, to a new, burgeoning one.

All around the world, except Canada, the leading industrial nations are getting it – investing tens of billions in renewable energy and reaping millions of new, green jobs. As our contributor Will Dubitsky recently noted, “according to the International Energy Agency, in 2015, an astounding 90% of all global electrical power capacity added was attributable to renewables.”  Translation: nine tenths of the market for new electricity in the world today is clean tech, not fossil fuels. Pipelines, oil sands and fracking are on the way out. Why stake your future on a losing, outmoded idea?

Get creative

You also say “Yes” to the creative economy. Vancouver now has the biggest digital effects industry in the world and a booming tech sector – driven by the great lifestyle the region has to offer and a growing cluster of skilled people and hubs of activity and resources. Mayor Gregor Robertson is embracing and nurturing this trend, while Christy Clark has shown half-hearted acknowledgement at best. In the last election, her government also ran against the film industry – which is now thriving again in today’s low-dollar environment.

Super, Natural BC

You say “Yes” to preserving and growing our $13-14 Billion Super, Natural BC tourism economy, which employs over 135,000 people vs. 10,000 at the absolute peak of our oil and gas industry – roughly 3,000 direct jobs for British Columbians in oil and gas extraction and maybe double that in additional support services. But you don’t do that by destroying our salmon runs with LNG plants, marring our coastal viewscapes with bad clearcut logging practices, oil tankers and LNG plants. You don’t attract people to “the greatest place on earth” if it no longer is “the greatest place on earth”.

Adding value

Gas industry contributes 0.01 per cent of BC revenues, few jobs
Two of the province’s surprisingly few gas workers – in BC’s Horn River Basin in 2011 (Photo: Damien Gillis)

You also say “Yes” to local, value-added manufacturing. You don’t ship raw logs to China and Japan – you turn them into high-grade wood products here first, employing thousands in the process.

We seem to have it set in our minds that we’re bound to be nothing more than hewers of wood and drawers of water – a “resource” economy – forevermore. That’s our lot in life and there’s nothing we can do about it. Balderdash. It’s that sort of self-determining crap we’ve been feeding ourselves for decades and which keeps us from moving forward.

The bottom line is this: Oil and gas contributes a scarce few jobs to this province, compared with other sectors – same goes for mining. Don’t take my word for it – check out this handy chart, put together with Stats BC figures, for this publication by Norm Farrell.


Oil and gas also contributes just 0.1% of our provincial revenues – partly because since 2008 we’ve been subsidizing the industry to the tune of a billion dollars a year in taxpayer-funded infrastructure and massive royalty credit-backs. Imagine, for a second, if we invested that kind of dough in building a renewable energy sector!

We all gotta eat

Site C review panel changes mind, asks for ALC's input on farmland
The Peace River Valley is home to some of BC’s best farmland (Damien Gillis)

Finally, you say “Yes” to feeding ourselves. That means you don’t flood or disrupt 30,000 acres of the best farmland we have left to build a $20 Billion dam we don’t need. Agriculture is not only essential to our survival – it’s also important economically.

Getting that land into production would create jobs at the same time as it saves consumers money from the rapidly escalating cost of importing half our food from drought-stricken places like California.

The NDP created the Agricultural Land Reserve – arguably its single greatest legacy. It should stand loud and proud for it now.

No more Mr. Nice Guy

John Horgan’s a smart guy. He’s a hell of a lot tougher than Adrian Dix too and I doubt he’ll make the same mistake of running a “nice guy” campaign. I’m also liking what I started hearing from him late last year, in terms of taking a tough stance against Site C Dam and rolling out a green economy platform called PowerBC. He needs to go much further on both of these points, but, hey, it’s a start.

Chances are…

That said, Rafe is correct that Horgan and the NDP have dug themselves a huge hole by failing to counter the Liberals’ disastrous LNG fib. So BC faces three possible outcomes next May:

  1. Despite all their mistakes, fibs and failings, the Liberals get back into power…again
  2. The NDP, under John Horgan, finally gets it together, embraces the “New Economy” and wins an election for the first time since cargo pants and Tevas were in fashion
  3. There is a very narrow possibility that the BC Greens, under the leadership of Elizabeth May – on the wild chance she heeds Rafe’s advice and takes over the BC party – come from nowhere and steal this election.

Based on our current trajectory, we’re headed for option 1 – which would be an unmitigated disaster for our economy and environment. But if there’s any chance of it being option 2, things have to start changing right now. The NDP can’t win by default – just because their opponents are so bad. The last election proved that in stunning fashion. Moreover, they don’t deserve to come to power, nor will they help the province unless they have the right vision and commitment to follow through on it.

They also must get their shop in order, as I noted in my post-mortem 3 years ago. The party’s back rooms need fresh blood and the various factions within the NDP must commit to working together and winning for once. This campaign cannot be the sloppy mess the last one was – they require a well-oiled machine to beat a slick political operation like that of their rivals. And all that starts at the top, with the party’s leader.

All of which means the ball is in John Horgan’s court. And nothing short of the future of the province hangs on his next move.

Pipelines to Nowhere- Energy East, Kinder Morgan make no sense amid global green energy boom, tanking oil market

Pipelines to Nowhere: Energy East, Kinder Morgan make no sense amid global green energy boom, tanking oil market

Pipelines to Nowhere- Energy East, Kinder Morgan make no sense amid global green energy boom, tanking oil market
Images: Lindsay G/Flickr (left), Minoru Karamatsu/Flickr (right)

Most financial analysts, economists and energy experts would have us believe that the fossil fuel sectors, and the petroleum sector in particular, are in a slump, that this is cyclical, and things will eventually normalize.  This is because their “training” is based on the assumption that the future will follow the patterns of the past.

But what if it is the economic paradigm that is changing?

Two of the largest markets for fossil fuels are electrical power generation and transportation – the latter nearly 100% dependent on petroleum.  With the former, the transition to a green economy is well-advanced, while in the case of the latter market, the signs are that a transition is imminent.

Renewables surpass fossil fuels with new installations

China's emissions drop, global cleantech boom are grounds for optimism on climate change
Chinese solar company Suntech at the Bird’s Nest stadium

Since 2013, more than half of the newly added global electrical generation capacity has been associated with the installation of renewables.  And in 2015, for the first time ever, more of  investments in renewables took place in developing countries than in developed countries – $167 Billion vs. $162 Billion.

As a consequence of this trend, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA),  in 2015, an astounding 90% of all global electrical power capacity added was attributable to renewables. 

In the US, in 2015, renewables represented 68% of new electrical generation capacity installed.

But no country is changing the energy/economic paradigm more than China, the world’s largest energy consumer.  In 2015, nearly 100% of newly installed electrical capacity in China was represented by renewables – attributable to a record of $110.5 Billion in investments for that year.

This has produced an amazing decline in energy-related CO2 in both China and the US and global emissions remaining flat since 2013! What’s more, for the first time in history emissions have declined during a period of economic growth.

China to close 1,000 coal mines as wind, solar soar

China’s total installed capacity for wind farms stood at 145 GW in 2015 and for solar farms at 28 GW in 2014.  An incredible total of 30.5 GW on new wind power capacity had been added in 2015. The solar PV sector saw  16.5 GW  added in 2015, a world record!  For 2020, the projected installed capacities for wind and solar farms stand at up to 200 GW each!

The result is China’s coal use declined for the second year in a row, approximately 3.7%, in 2015, on the heels of a 2.9% decline in 2014.  Hence, China has made the spectacular announcement that it will be closing down 1000 coal mines in 2016 and not opening any new coal mines for the next three years (2016-2019).

All this translates into China’s coal generated electricity declining 10 percentage points related to China’s total electricity supply sources since 2011, in just 4 years, from accounting for 80% of total electricity consumed to 70% in 2015.

Clean Transportation:  At the edge of transition

Why the electric automobile is for realWith respect to transportation, the indications are that we are at the edge of the transition to clean transportation.

During the first 9 months of 2015, 136,700 electric vehicles were sold in China.  As of 2016, 30% of all Government of China purchases of vehicles are to be electric.  In parallel, government bodies in Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, the Yangtze River Delta, and the Pearl River Delta have committed to vehicle procurement targets of 30% electric and hybrid vehicles, as of 2016.  In 2015, Beijing restricted new vehicle registrations to electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids; and Shenzhen aimed to have more than 3,000 electric taxis, 5,000 hybrids and 1,000 electric urban transit buses on the road in 2015.

China’s overall clean transportation targets for 2020 are to have 5 million eco-vehicles on the road and a capacity to manufacture 2 million eco-vehicles/year.

Norway, California race ahead with electric vehicles

Meanwhile, in 2015 in Norway, thanks to multiple incentives, 25% of January to August new car sales were electric vehicles.

Not to be outdone, California has a target to have 1.5M zero emission vehicles (ZEVs) on its roads by 2025. It has also established stipulations for automakers that 15.4% of all vehicles sold in the state be ZEVs by 2025. Moreover, it is supporting ZEV innovation and manufacturing and has set goals for 10% of total state government light duty vehicle purchases in 2015 to be ZEVs and 25% by 2025. Finally, it is requiring that all new buildings and parking lots have the electric panel and wiring in place to accommodate electric vehicles.

And while other bus manufacturers are developing electric buses, China’s BYD is selling them, including via its manufacturing plant in Lancaster, California.  That plant recently signed a contract with the State of Washington to deliver up to 800 electric buses to that state.

E-buses can cover over 1,100 km in 24 hours

Also on e-buses, there are the Proterra electric buses, manufactured in California and South Carolina.  These e-buses can travel over 1,100 kilometres in a 24-hour period with the support quick charging points along a route, at less than 10 minutes/charge.  Another option is that of a range extender, allowing for 90 minute charges in a bus depot and, hence, fewer requirements for charges en route.  Tests conducted by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory have found these buses to be very efficient and reliable, that is, they live up to the range claims of the manufacturer.

Why fossil fuels won’t be making a comeback

This all brings us back to the following question:

[quote]Is the flattening of demand in fossil fuel markets, and oil in particular, a cyclical thing, or an omen that the energy/economic model is changing?  That is, are we in a transition to a green economics?[/quote]

Well, even BP Chief Economist Spencer DaleUBS – the world’s largest bank – and Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney have concluded that, with the increasingly aggressive actions on climate by governments all around the globe, the fossil fuel glory era is nearing its end. This means that much of the world’s proven reserves will become stranded assets, or LIABILITIES.

Canada: Still stuck in the Old Economy

Where is Canada in all this?  We are already way behind our competitors, rating 56 among 61 nations on a 2016 Global Climate Change Performance Index.   Put another way, Canada’s share of global clean tech markets is 1.3% and falling.

To make matters worse, the ultra-conservative International Monetary Fund has estimated that fossil fuel subsidies in Canada in 2015, including indirect subsidies for health and climate change, stood at $46B USD/year.

BC Premier Christy Clark touring Petronas' operations in Malaysia (BC Govt / Flickr CC licence)
BC Premier Christy Clark touring LNG operations in Malaysia (BC Govt / Flickr CC licence)

So we have to ask ourselves, why on earth is Canada and the current federal government so committed to increasing the supply of oil on international markets via Energy East and Kinder Morgan, when all the signs are suggesting that the business model for Big Oil is collapsing?  That business model is based on strong growth in demand, which, in turn, engenders high prices and the economic viability for non-conventional energy resources, such as tar sands and shale oil and gas.

Shale oil and gas are included in the discussion here because: 1) shale wells lose around 85% of their productivity in the first three years, thus requiring constant heavy investments in new wells 2) in January, 2015, the US shale sector was running up $200B in debt and 3) current indicators are such that up to half of the US shale companies may soon be facing bankruptcy.

Yet, according to a March 15, 2016 article in Le Devoir by Alexandre Shields, 30% of the Energy East capacity will be used to transport North Dakota shale oil via Canada for export to the US East Coast.  This reinforces the premise that Energy East is not economically viable.

Canada missing out on Green Jobs

Solar already beating coal on job creation, energy costIt is estimated that there are 6 to 8 times more jobs per government unit of investment in green sectors, when compared with government investments in the traditional economy.

In 2014, there were 371,000 jobs and 1.2 million jobs in the German and EU renewables sectors respectively and 3.5 million in EU green sectors at-large.

China, the world’s most aggressive country on the green economy, had 1.9 million jobs in their solar electricity and solar heating/cooling sectors in 2014 and 356,000 in their wind sector.

Seizing the opportunities

But wait a second – federal and provincial governments are not even providing adequate support even when a clean tech sector emerges!

A case in point is that Quebec has a significant critical mass regarding the electric vehicle sector, with two battery manufacturers, two charging station manufacturers, a developer of an electric motor wheel developed in Quebec but manufactured under license in China, and an electric bus under development.

And yet, we learn from Fiat Chrysler Automobile’s CEO, Sergio Marchionne, that he worries about the arrival of electric vehicles because the last bastion that the automakers fully control, from design and manufacturing to final assembly, pertains to the internal combustion engine (ICE) and its powertrain.  A shift to electric vehicles would mean this last bastion would become new entry points for outsourcing or outside suppliers.

Reallocating fossil fuel subsidies to green energy

Then there is the matter I alluded to earlier – namely that all Canadians are subsidizing the fossil fuel sectors to the tune of $46B/year in 2015 US dollars.

What we should be asking of the federal and provincial governments concerned, is this:  How can fossil subsidies be reallocated to foster diversification of the fossil fuel industries so that clean tech investment, as a percentage of total corporate-specific investments, becomes significant and increasingly so over time?

On this point, Norway’s Statoil is showing the way.  Its new CEO is from its renewable energy division; the company recently approved low carbon/renewable technologies as one of its 3 principal thrusts, while Statoil has assigned more ambitious goals for its renewables division.  Subsequently, a short while ago, Statoil set up Statoil Energy Ventures to invest in clean tech start-ups.

Dong energy aims for 85% renewables

An offshore wind installation in Denmark (United Nations Photo/Flickr)
Danish offshore wind power (United Nations Photo/Flickr)

Another model is this vein is Denmark’s Dong Energy, 60% owned by the Danish Pension Fund, which plans to shift from around 85% of its investments in fossil fuels and 15% in clean energy to the reverse of this ratio by 2040. Dong is the world’s largest investor in offshore wind.

Finally, diversified energy companies headquartered in the West can do more than just develop local infrastructure in their respective regions. Rather, they can become key players in the global market by bringing together clean tech expertise from across Canada. This would include economic diversification, the participation of stakeholders previously not involved in the clean tech, high job creation/growth areas.  And often, it means the blending of different fields of expertise that brings about world leadership.

More generally, it is clear that Canada, to be competitive, should be focusing on clean tech at large and not just on clean energy.

Canada at a crossroads

More fundamentally, it time to face the music and recognize that Energy East and Kinder Morgan are white (or, more appropriately, “black”) elephants. This means focusing on how Canada can engage in a fast-forward catch-up with its competitors on the transformation to a different economic model: Green economics.

Roadmap for Canadian transition to green economy

It is in this context that I have assembled a detailed paper on the subject – a roadmap for getting Canada up to speed on the transition to a green economy (read full paper here). This discussion document is based on models from around the globe, adapted and improved upon for “Made in Canada” applications; plus my own Government of Canada employee experience on sustainable development-related experiences in policies, legislation, programs, projects and other initiatives.

What makes this document distinct is this:

While other organizations are emphasizing why we should change and what goals we should pursue, the aforementioned discussion document specifically maps out of HOW TO MAKE THE TRANSITION TO A CANADIAN GREEN ECONOMY.  It does so by presenting broad palettes of policy/strategy options, amenable to cherry picking by stakeholders, as per their respective preferences.

No need to reinvent the wheel

Canada need not reinvent the wheel on the green transition because there is so much to learn from the successes and failures of countries far ahead of us and from our own Government of Canada empirical evidence stemming from past climate change action plans.

We don’t need to be stuck with white/black pipeline elephants.  Accordingly, I invite anyone interested to have a look at the Roadmap so that we can finally get the dialogue going on how Canada can move forward and fully participate in the high-growth, high-job creation, global green economy.


The Harper Conservative economic disaster

Photo: Stephen Harper/Flickr cc licence
Photo: Stephen Harper/Flickr cc licence

Guest post by Doug Carrick

According to Stephen Harper, the coming election offers a choice between the certainty of  Conservative economic expertise on the one hand…or the risk of Liberal or New Democrat inexperience.  However, a closer examination reveals a different picture.  It is the Conservatives who have the shaky economic record.

All his eggs in one basket

Mark Robinson/Flickr cc licence
Mark Robinson/Flickr cc licence

For example, instead of diversifying the economy, Harper has put all his eggs in one basket (the tar sands). Farmers on the prairies know all about diversification. To cover the possibilities of crop failure or an unexpected drop in market price, they plant a variety of crops – wheat, canola, legumes, oats, barley, flax, or some such mix. They know it would be disastrous to speculate on one crop…and be wrong! Harper has done just that with oil. An inexcusable risk that went wrong!

The Conservatives have tried to project the image of business expertise by showcasing a “balanced budget”. The Huffington Post examined this budget and listed “Seven Conservative Tricks to Faking a Balanced Budget”. It wasn’t balanced at all. In fact, the Conservatives hardly know what a balanced budget looks like. They have produced nothing but “deficit budgets” in each of the previous seven years. That is why our national debt has sky-rocketed in the Harper years.

Worst Canadian economic record since WWII

Harper warns us never to trust the spendthrift Liberals. Our memories are so short! It was during the Liberal years that the two “spendthrifts”, Chrétien and Paul Martin, reduced the national debt by an unprecedented $81 billion. Since then, Harper has increased the national debt by $176 billion – also unprecedented! Economic expertise?

His poor track record in economics has been confirmed by a recent study by two Canadian economists, Jim Stanford and Jordon Brennon. They conclude that:

[quote]Stephen Harper and his Conservatives are running the most poorly performing economy the country has seen since the Second World War.*[/quote]

Their study “examined the economic data from nine Canadian governments…using 16 indicators of economic progress, including job creation, Gross Domestic Product growth, export growth, household debt and real personal income.

“The Harper government ranked last or second last in 13 of the 16 indicators”, resulting in “a score of 8.05 out of 9, with 9 being the worst possible score.” Based on economic performance, the Harper government was rock bottom. And at the other end of the scale, “Lester Pearson has been the most successful prime minister, followed by Pierre Trudeau.” *

Child poverty, homelessness reach abysmal levels

But we hardly need such studies to prove their economic ineptitude. It is obvious. Under the Conservatives we have had more children living in poverty, more homeless people, more people depending on soup kitchens, and greater family indebtedness. Highly paid jobs have been replaced by low paid part-time jobs with no benefits. And young people despair of ever owning their own homes.

Most damning is their tax policy. They keep reducing taxation on the rich and on Corporations – forcing government agencies to reduce services to everyone else – thus creating more billionaires each year and more paupers. Good economics for the top 1%, but horrible for the rest.

Putting economy above planet

Even worse, is the Conservative policy of promoting the development of the Alberta tar sands at the cost of permanent damage to the world’s climate. The greenhouse gases created are causing droughts in the best farmland; are wiping out the glaciers and snow fields which are reservoirs for next summer’s water; are destroying forests (by diseases and fires); are destroying the oceans (by acidification and overheating); and are causing massive damage to islands, coastlines and port cities (by rising oceans and extreme storms). The harm done to people around the world is much greater than the paltry economic benefit to Alberta. Is this good economics?

Harper’s request for us to “stay the course” with the Conservatives is like staying the course with the Titanic. Contrary to Harper’s propaganda, Conservative economics is a disaster.

*  Jeremy J. Nuttall, The, July 31 2015

Doug Carrick writes regular articles for the Hornby Island “First Edition”,  the Denman Island “Flagstone” and occasionally for the “Island Tides” and other publications.


Fossil fuel era drawing to a close…except in Canada

Adrian Wyld/CP
Adrian Wyld/CP

The following is the sequel to an earlier story by Will Dubitsky on the growing green economy and Canada’s failure to take advantage of it.

In the first part of this story for The Common Sense Canadian, I discussed how Canadian and Quebec leaders are largely ignoring the potential of high job creation, high growth green sectors, while China, Europe and the US are showing real leadership. Here, I will dig deeper into the policies and organizations that are foolishly banking on the Canadian resource-based economy as the key to economic development. Sadly, while President Obama sits poised to veto the Keystone XL pipeline, signalling the accelerating transition into a new era, Canada is being left behind.

Up to a trillion dollars in stranded fossil fuel investments

In keeping with Einstein’s definition of insanity, nearly all the economic experts will tell you we must keep doing the same thing over and over again and expect different results. Yet the signs are that the fossil fuel era is approaching its demise.

First, long-term energy and energy-related investments already favour the green economy – largely because the costs of clean tech are coming down.

Second, in the Summer of 2014, long before the recent plunge in oil prices, it became apparent that unconventional resources such as the tar sands, shale and offshore oil cannot be supported by market prices. As a result, Big Oil has already started to withdraw from major unconventional investments around the globe, otherwise known as stranded assets. This trend is becoming more and more evident .

The growing order of magnitude of stranded fossil fuel investments are very telling. Of the$2 Trillion invested in oil development in 2014, $930 Billion may never reach the return on investment stage – the makings of an investment bubble.

Considering the 20% return on equity for oil and gas in 2008 and the projection of a mere 5% return for 2015, it would appear that the most of the financial community has got it all wrong – especially when you factor in the increased volumes of stranded assets to come with oil at less than $70/barrel.

Unfortunately, financial institutions are not as diversified as they claim to be, totally bypassing the high growth, high job creation green sectors while maintaining the resource economy as integral to the majority of investment products/strategies.

Doubling down on unconventional energy

Meanwhile, Goldman Sachs has warned that the oil companies’ capital expenditures for investments in unconventional resources have “gone through the roof” and that their Reserve Replacement Ratio, the measure which investors use to rate oil companies, is not encouraging. (New Internationalist, November 2014)

Similarly, a UBS study concluded that the rapid decline in the costs of clean energy, clean transportation and green economy integration technologies – such as energy storage technologies – together suggest that the writing is on the wall for fossil fuels and point to a full-scale shift to a green economy by 2020. (Ibid)

Leaving it in the ground

This is about more than economics though. Governments around the globe are adopting strong climate policies which favour the green economy, acknowledging that 80% of fossil fuels must remain in the ground to avoid catastrophic climate change. That means that of the 12,000 gigatonnes of fossil fuel reserves, only 936 gigatonnes can be used.

$26.4 Billion/yr in subsidies to Canadian fossil fuels: IMF

Another issue is the fact that fossil fuels remain one of the most heavily subsidized sectors in the global economy. According to the International Monetary Fund, in US 2011 dollars, Canada spends $26.4B/year in direct and indirect subsidies (including health, climate change costs, etc.) for its fossil fuel sectors. This means that the unraveling of short-term thinking on fossil fuels will accelerate over time as the international community increasingly engages in addressing climate change. Put another way, the idea of shifting subsidies away from fossil fuels to the green economy will become increasingly attractive for policy makers.

Oddly enough, the representatives of the fossil sectors complain about subsidies for clean energy. The response of the European Wind Energy Association is that the wind sector could compete without any subsidies if it weren’t for the subsidies fossil fuels receive.

Renewables lead new energy mix

In the US, wind energy is now cost competitive with natural gas. Indeed, the change in the US energy paradigm is now well-entrenched, with renewables representing 47% of new electrical generation capacity installed in 2014, natural gas at 50% and coal, nuclear and oil combined only accounting for a little over 2%.

Consequently, from an investment perspective, clean technologies are the safer bet, free of the fluctuating, speculative prices we see with fossil fuels and destined to be favoured by increasingly aggressive government policies, further driving down prices.

Yet in Canada, only the NDP has committed to end fossil fuel subsidies, transfer the savings to clean technologies and introduce a cap and trade system.

NEB locking us into yesterday’s economy

As a result of the Harper administration’s changes to legislation on environmental impact analyses, the National Energy Board does not have the mandate to consider the biggest issue among all issues associated with TransCanada’s Energy East and other pipeline proposals – that is, the emissions stemming from tar sands development and downstream consumption of these fossil fuel products.

Compounding the limitations of the NEB mandate, the regulator has an “attitude problem”. This is very evident from the NEB’s rejection of oral cross-examination regarding certain types of questions, such as those submitted by distinguished energy expert Marc Eliesen on Kinder Morgan’s TransMountain pipeline expansion proposal.

Marc Eliesen is a former CEO of BC Hydro and Chair of Manitoba Hydro and served as a deputy minister in seven different federal and provincial governments. Since the NEB did not see it as necessary for TransMountain to address most of Marc Eliesen’s written questions, he withdrew as an intervenor/participant in theNEB Kinder Morgan review circus.

One can expect more of the same for the NEB hearings on Energy East.

Changing our laws to suit oil and gas

Just as it restricted the NEB’s environmental review mandate, the Harper government gutted the habitat protections in the Fisheries Act, at the request of Canada’s pipeline industry.

Harper has also ensured that the NEB reports directly to the Prime Minister’s office.

In other words, Canada is painting itself into a corner.

Both Justin Trudeau and Harper view Canada as a resource export economy and both revert to the denial of science to increase Canada’s dependence on resource exports.

The new energy paradigm

As alluded to my Jan 23, 2015 Common Sense Canadian article, yesterday’s economists, Harper and Trudeau and most of mainstream media, much like the climate change deniers would like us all to believe in a fairly tale that presents economic and environmental considerations as opposing forces for which there is a need for reconciliation.

This economy versus the environment spin is comparable to the debate of 100 years ago on the reconciliation of woman’s rights with the need for economic development.

Yet the world’s largest energy consumer, China, is already changing the global economic-energy-environmental paradigm in through a rather schizophrenic war on coal. Consider that: 1) China is the world’s largest investor in green technologies, with $89.5B in clean energy technology projects in 2014; 2) China’s coal imports will be down by 15% by the end of 2014 compared to 2013; 3) China’s pilot cap and trade systems in Beijing and Shenzhen have reduced emissions by 4.5% and 11% respectively; 4) China is thinking of introducing a national cap and trade system in 2016.

Europe on track for big emissions reductions

Nearly all of the EU members are on track for their 2020 targets for a 20% reduction in GHGs, 20% energy from renewables and a 20% improvement in energy efficiency. Not resting on their laurels, in October 2014, the European heads of state agreed to a 40% GHG reduction target for 2030.

Then there is the incredible case of Germany, which outdid its own Kyoto Protocol objective of a 21% reduction of GHGs by 2012, having achieved a 25.5% reduction instead. But Germany is not an exception to the rule. For the same Kyoto period ending in 2012, the UK, Sweden and France reduced their emissions respectively by 23.4%, 18% and 10.5%.

At this point, Ban Ki-moon’s 2007 remarks on green economics seem highly appropriate:

[quote]We have witnessed three economic transformations in the past century. First came the Industrial Revolution, then the technology revolution, then our modern era of globalization. We stand at the threshold of another great change: the age of green economics.[/quote]

How long is it going to take for today’s economists to catch up?

Obama Keystone veto’s global ramifications

In closing, with Obama on the verge of applying his veto to Keystone, it may be helpful to read the article referred to below, which specifically deals with the matter of Keystone but could easily be recast as the case against TransCanada’s Energy East, Kinder Morgan’s TransMountain and Enbridge’s Line 9.

In a nutshell, this article in The Guardian speaks of the increased path dependencies generated by new pipelines and concludes that an Obama rejection of Keystone would be a clear signal to the US, Canada and the entire world that the time has come for putting the emphasis on developing clean energy and clean transportation alternatives – and the weaning off of our dependence on fossil fuels.

This is precisely the point President Obama made in his January 20, 2015 State of the Union speech, when he indicated that a rejection of Keystone would send a signal to the world that we must get serious about migrating to a green economy; whereas approving it would constitute a setback to the climate action agenda.

One can say “ditto” for TransCanada’s Energy East and the other major Canadian pipeline projects.

What is happening is that China, Europe, the US and other nations – not Canada – are becoming increasingly aligned for a future that functions on a green economy paradigm, the path to higher job creation,  stronger economic development, avoidance of catastrophic climate change and the embracing of environmental stewardship – in other words, the path to tomorrow’s economy.

With the aforementioned science and economic considerations in mind, Mark Carney, the current Governor of the Bank of England and former Governor of the Bank of Canada, recently wrote to British Members of Parliament, advising them that the Bank’s officials are reviewing whether or not the majority of fossil reserves are burnable.

Change is clearly afoot – if only Canada’s leader could see and embrace it.

Christy Clark's LNG-fueled Fudge-it Budget

Christy Clark’s LNG-fueled Fudge-it Budget…and the enabling NDP

Christy Clark's LNG-fueled Fudge-it Budget
Premier Christy Clark made big election promises about managing BC’s economy (CP)

Welcome to Ruritania! Where is Peter Sellers when we need him?

We now have a legislature pretending to act like big kids do, leaders acting as if they really are in charge, a government out of control, and an opposition dedicated more to supporting the government than to raising issues.

Through the looking glass: Clark’s surreal throne speech

The Throne Speech was really quite funny when you think of it. The more LNG companies withdraw their undertaking, the more money we make. The fewer the LNG plants developed, the more jobs we’ll have. The worse our environmental record is in fracking for LNG, the less it matters.

If we go on having companies withdraw from LNG in BC, God knows how much money we’ll all make and how rich we’ll all become!

Thanks to Christy Clark, Alice in  Wonderland has become not a fairy tale, but a documentary!

LNG looked bad from the beginning

BG Group recently pulled the plug on BC LNG
BG Group is one of many companies to abandon ship on BC LNG

In looking back at the history of LNG in BC, one is reminded of Casey Stengel, managing “them amazing Mets”, in 1962, when he asked “can’t anyone here play this game?”

From the outset, Common Sense Canadian publisher Damien Gillis and I have raised questions about the viability of an LNG economy, given the global situation. Our concerns arose because we did simple research, largely using government and industry publications. We also were much helped by our resident economist, Erik Andersen.

It was abundantly apparent that there would be a glut of natural gas on the world market, that the United States, long so dependent upon the Middle East, was going to be self-sufficient and competing with us on exports, and that the cost of getting our LNG to China was – surprise, surprise – much higher than shipping gas from China to China.

We weren’t rocket scientists, just ordinary people like you who had learned early on how to read.

It didn’t take a crystal ball…

Our predictions steadily came true and if anything more quickly than we thought. Each time one came true, Christy Clark, and her poodle, Rich Coleman, had even more money rolling in to British Columbia. As time went on, and more companies withdrew their support, Christy Clark’s view of things got even rosier.

This ridiculous situation continued until the present day and I shudder in excitement thinking of all the money we’ll make when the last LNG company abandons us.

The Opposition that refuses to oppose

This article today, is not really about Christy Clark. It’s about leadership in general.

There is no nice way to say it – John Horgan, the NDP leader, has done an appalling job. Given the Christy Clark/Coleman saga, any decent opposition would have a field day.

It’s indeed ancient times but in my day the leaders were Dave Barrett and Bill Bennett, as unalike as chalk and cheese, yet each, in his way, hugely effective. Barrett was the master of the instant put down. On the government side, you were constantly on the defensive and, as I quickly learned, woe betide anyone who heckled him.

Bennett, always better informed, though no orator, was a plodder with the ability to come up with a killing comeback instantly.

They heartily disliked each other and for those who know them well, it is so sad to see them both seriously ill. Two great guys, two great leaders.

The point is that both sides of the legislature and those that supported them outside knew they had a leader. That may not sound like much but it is hugely important, especially for the opposition. The government, without an opposition ready to take over, is able to coast. For an opposition to be effective it must be a government in waiting, with policies ready to implement. That requires leadership that is both ready to lead and appears to be.

The NDP response to the Throne Speech, where the premier assured us again of the riches to come from vanishing LNG producers, was that the government talked too much about LNG and should move on to other subjects. This particularly came from Mike Farnworth, who ought to know better and that the point was that Clark has nothing else to talk about except failure.

Clark has nothing

Think about it for a second. Apart from the phoney LNG business, Clark has no policy whatsoever. They have nothing whatever concrete to offer in terms of the economy and, of course, are bankrupt on such matters as the environment. There is, therefore, a huge political vacuum.

It’s not brain surgery to realize that this is the spot the NDP step in. The first thing they do is to kill what remains of the LNG enthusiasm falsely raised by the Liberals. It’s sheer idiocy for them to proceed into the next election, just over two years away, allowing the Liberals to sail on promising another Umpty-dump billion dollars for LNG projects.

LNG threatens environment

Before moving on, one must observe that the NDP also has a huge obligation to expose the environmental concerns surrounding LNG – I dare say the majority of people in British Columbia have those concerns and in some areas, Squamish particularly, it is a very real impending threat. Their doughty city Council has had no encouragement whatsoever from the Opposition to plans that would materially and adversely alter the lifestyle of that lovely town and the surrounding area.

In order for the NDP to complete its apparent suicide commitment, it should stop shilly-shallying and just support the Liberals’ LNG policy, being that these foreign companies may do as they please as they are used to doing; cheat on their taxes and utterly ignore environmental concerns as just an avoidable nuisance.

Both parties either underestimate the public’s feeling about the environment or don’t give a damn.

Public hungry for change

I’ve watched that feeling develop over a good many years. Much of what people generally feel now was espoused by the NDP 40 years ago – their problem being that then their opposition was more whining than practical. Moreover, it is always very difficult to be ahead of public opinion.

The public has dramatically changed. Even when I was in government it would be unthinkable to try to stop an interprovincial pipeline, let alone two of them. Alberta was looked upon as a pal to be envied.

But, in 25 years, the world has dramatically changed, as we all know. The question of fossil fuels has become first a very serious scientific one and then, logically, a political one. Global warming is for real and the vast majority of the public knows that – the exception being some politicians.

We’ve reached the position, then, where the public is far, far ahead of its political masters who would have us believe that the environmentalist is against all development and wants to crawl into a cave, chew on the leg of a sabre-toothed tiger and spend the rest of his life drawing pictures on walls.

I consider myself an environmentalist. So does Damien and a great many other people I know, who not that long ago wouldn’t have considered supporting the NDP and wouldn’t today if it weren’t for the Clark/Coleman Neanderthals.

Making a living and enjoying a living

The growing concern, which has enveloped all of us, is for the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the surroundings in which we live. We’re convinced that making a living and enjoying a living are compatible ambitions. Of course it requires some sacrifice – anything of importance does.

What environmentalists have done, however, is to annoy the hell out of the establishment because we no longer believe a word it says. This isn’t cynicism – it’s bitter experience. One only has to look at the Woodfibre LNG’s Indonesian owner and their tax-cheating overseas, to say nothing of their wanton environmental destruction, to realize that when they tell us that they will be good corporate citizens, care for our environment and pay their taxes that they’re lying through their teeth.

The trust just isn’t there

This is a huge societal dichotomy, no doubt about that. There was a time when most of us looked at the captains of industry and political leaders and thought that deep down they really cared about the people and the environment in which we live.

Experience has taught us that this is a load of crap. We’ve  learned about hugely expensive internal and external public relations exercises devoted simply to deceiving the public.

Naively, we expected our politicians to reflect our feelings but have learned that they reflect only the interests of the establishment. As it always has, money talks.

Out of all of this comes a sense of keen frustration.

I no longer have the faintest hope that the Liberals will do anything but reflect those who invest money in them.

Where does that leave us?

I had hoped that John Horgan would be able to offer the kind of leadership the public could listen to and perhaps follow. Unfortunately this has not proved to be the case.

I’ve expressed hopes for the Green Party, however I am realistic enough to know that they won’t be forming a government in the near future.

It’s obvious that choices are severely limited and that if the Throne Speech proves nothing else, it’s that the government is bankrupt, lacking a semblance of moral compass, and the opposition are useless.

If the Green Party has nothing else going for it, at least the alternatives are far worse.

Canada sued the most over trade agreements, environmental protections

Canada sued the most over trade deals, environmental protections

With FIPA, NAFTA, Canada has traded away environmental rights
Prime Minister Stephen Harper with then-Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao upon FIPA signing in 2012

In 1997, Canada restricted import and transfer of the gasoline additive MMT because it was a suspected neurotoxin that had already been banned in Europe. Ethyl Corp., the U.S. multinational that supplied the chemical, sued the government for $350 million under the North American Free Trade Agreement and won! Canada was forced to repeal the ban, apologize to the company and pay an out-of-court settlement of US$13 million.

Designed to protect corporations

The free trade agreement between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico was never designed to raise labour and environmental standards to the highest level. In fact, NAFTA and other trade agreements Canada has signed — including the recent Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement with China — often take labour standards to the lowest denominator while increasing environmental risk. The agreements are more about facilitating corporate flexibility and profit than creating good working conditions and protecting the air, water, land and diverse ecosystems that keep us alive and healthy.

Canada’s environment appears to be taking the brunt of NAFTA-enabled corporate attacks. And when NAFTA environmental-protection provisions do kick in, the government often rejects them.

Quebec sued for fracking moratorium

According to a study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, more than 70 per cent of NAFTA claims since 2005 have been against Canada, with nine active cases totalling $6 billion outstanding. These challenge “a wide range of government measures that allegedly interfere with the expected profitability of foreign investments,” including the Quebec government’s moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

Quebec imposed the moratorium in 2011 pending an environmental review of the controversial gas-and-oil drilling practice. A U.S. company headquartered in Calgary, Lone Pine Resources Inc., is suing the federal government under NAFTA for $250 million. A preliminary assessment by Quebec’s Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement found fracking would have “major impacts,” including air and water pollution, acrid odours and increased traffic and noise. Fracking can also cause seismic activity.

Canada sued the most

According to the CCPA, Canada has been sued more often than any other developed nation through investor-state dispute settlement mechanisms in trade agreements. Under NAFTA:

[quote]Canada has already lost or settled six claims, paid out damages totaling over $170 million and incurred tens of millions more in legal costs. Mexico has lost five cases and paid damages of US$204 million. The U.S. has never lost a NAFTA investor-state case.[/quote]

Harper blocking watchdog

NAFTA does, however, have a watchdog arm that’s supposed to address environmental disputes and public concerns, the Commission for Environmental Cooperation. But Canada is blocking the commission from investigating the impacts of tailings ponds at the Alberta oilsands.

Environmental Defence, the Natural Resources Defense Council and three people downstream from the oilsands asked the CEC to investigate whether tailings leaking into the Athabasca River and other waterways represent a violation of the federal Fisheries Act. According to the complaint, the tailings ponds, which are actually much larger than what most people would think of as ponds, are spilling millions of litres of toxic liquid every day. Environmental Defence says the CEC found “plenty of evidence that tar sands companies were breaking Canadian law and lots of evidence that the Canadian government was failing to do anything about it.”

It’s the third time in the past year that Canada has prevented the commission from examining environmental issues. Canada earlier blocked an investigation into the protection of polar bears from threats including climate change and one concerning the dangers posed to wild salmon from B.C. fish farms.

Citizens, environment left out

Trade agreements are negotiated in the best interests of corporations instead of citizens. On top of that, federal and provincial governments keep pinning our economic hopes on volatile oil and gas markets, with little thought about how those resources could provide long-term prosperity. Recent plummeting oil prices show where that leads.

These priorities are screwed up. We end up with a boom-and-bust economy and the erosion of social programs as budgets are slashed when oil prices drop. Skewed trade deals allow corporations to override environmental protections that haven’t already been gutted, and create a labour climate in which wages, benefits and working standards fall.

It’s time for Canada to recognize that a diversified economy and citizens’ right to live in a healthy environment are more important than facilitating short-term profits for foreign and multinational corporations.

Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington.

Canada, Quebec's political leaders blind to clean tech revolution

Canada, Quebec’s political leaders blind to green jobs revolution


Canada's political, economic leaders blind to clean tech revolution

Part 1 of a 2-part story from innovation expert Will Dubitsky on Canada’s missed opportunity to build a prosperous green economy.

The ardent defenders of our resource economy are in no way limited to the climate skeptics who support TransCanada’s Energy East project, the Keystone XL pipeline and the tripling of Kinder Morgan’s pipeline capacity to Vancouver. There are also much larger and perhaps more influential groups of traditional resource economy supporters – the greenwashers such as Justin Trudeau, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, the majority of mainstream journalists, economists, Bay Streeters and more.

These stakeholders would have us believe that with a little tinkering of the status quo, we can address requirements to reduce greenhouse gases while supporting projects like TransCanada’s Energy East and the other proposed pipeline projects for Canada.

According to this line of thinking, the traditional resource-based economic paradigm is a permanent fixture of global economics. Consequently, if TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline isn’t built, another petroleum source would fill the “void”, leaving the impacts on greenhouse gases at the level of the status quo.  In other words, new infrastructure to increase dour dependence on petroleum is fine, even though the International Energy Agency has said we must leave 80% of proven reserves in the ground if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change.

Green economy still ignored by many

It is rather unfortunate that the green economy paradigm – despite the facts on the ground in China, Europe and the US – remains off the radar screen of nearly all economists.

Even the very conservative International Monetary Fund, Goldman Sachs and UBS are way ahead traditional economists on the decline of the resource economy paradigm, respectively exposing: 1) the spellbinding levels of subsidization of the fossil fuel sectors; 2) the high financial risks of unconventional fossil resources, such as the tar sands; 3) the rapidly growing quantity of stranded oil assets due to the combination of high debt loads and reserves that cannot be supported by market prices; and 4) the growing aggressiveness and frequency of government action on climate change around the globe . Together, these factors are fostering the emergence of a global green economy.

Massive opportunity, huge job growth…except in Canada

The green sectors are among the fastest growing and highest job creation sectors of our times.  Unfortunately, Canada is missing out on these opportunities while China, the European Union and, to a lesser extent, the US are way ahead of us.

There are 3.5 million people currently working in the green sectors in the European Union (EU), with 1.2 million in renewables. The clean energy sectors in Germany are right up there with the German auto sector in terms of job numbers, and there is a 7,000-position labour shortage in the EU wind energy sector.

At last count there were 300,000 people working in the Chinese solar energy sector and another 800,000 in its thermal solar sector.  The projections for China’s wind sector are 500,000 jobs by 2020.

Meanwhile, the US had174,000 people working in the solar sector as of November 2014.

All this makes good sense, given the fact that government investments in the green economy create 6 to 8 times more jobs than the same level of investment in the extractive resource economy.

Quebec missing the boat

Though Quebec is participating in a carbon (cap and trade) market with California, current Couillard Quebec government actions are founded on a resource economy with negligible interest shown in high job creation green sectors. This is counterproductive not only for the environment but for the province’s economic development as well.

To begin, Quebec could better grow its economy and reduce its dependence on wealthier provinces by concurrently: 1) rejecting the few hundred jobs associated with Energy East; 2) reducing its dependence on petroleum from outside Quebec and thereby reducing local emissions; 3) focusing on the high job creation green sectors, including the development of Quebec’s emerging electric vehicle sector.

Quebec’s emerging EV success story

The transportation sector represents 42% of Québec’s emissions, so it’s a good place to start for tackling emissions. The good news is that not only does the province enjoy a clean energy surplus – mainly hydro – but its nascent electric vehicle (ev) sector has given rise to some promising local companies and institutions, including:

  • EV battery manufacturer Bolloré/Bathium
  • Electric motor wheel company TM4
  • A Nova Bus (Volvo) electric bus under development
  • Two manufacturers of electric vehicle charging stations – GRIDbot and ADDÉnergie
  • EV research centres such as the Centre National du Transport Avancé and L’Ecole de technologie supérieure

Should Québec and Canada not seize the day, it is China and the US – California in particular — that will continue to be the leaders in, and reap optimal long term benefits from, the electrification of transport.

China: Full steam ahead on clean tech

While  BYD of China is already manufacturing electric buses – this includes a manufacturing plant for BYD electric buses in California – China’s central government has adopted aggressive policies to the effect that beginning 2016, 30% of all government vehicle purchases will be electric.

Meanwhile, the city of Shenzhen recently announced a cap on new vehicle sales to cut air pollution, coupled with a requirement that 20% of registrations must be electric vehicles.

China’s central government is also considering a $16 Billion program to set up charging stations across the country and it has removed the 10% purchase tax for electric and hybrid vehicles.

California leads way with EVs

In the US, California is leading the way on electric vehicles with a comprehensive plan and legislation agenda that includes financial assistance for low income residents and support for clean energy micro-grids complete with energy storage and electric vehicle charging stations. New homes and parking lots are also being required to have the electrical infrastructure in place for setting up electric vehicle charging stations.

Quebec backslides on green investment, shale oil and gas

Yet the Couillard government, much like policies of Harper and Trudeau, lives in the past tense, supporting TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline proposal while cancelling a $500 million PQ program for the electrification of transport, instead committing $450 million for an unneeded cement plant that will be fueled by petcoke – a high-carbon content fuel derived from the residues of tar sands refineries. Couillard also remains fixated on his predecessors’ Plan Nord – a large scale vision for heavy extractive industries in the province’s north.

Meanwhile, Couillard shows disturbing signs of softening Quebec’s moratorium on fracking, letting it be known that his government will not be taking action along the lines of the New York State to impose a permanent ban on shale gas development. Instead, his government appears to be keeping its options open for developing a shale oil sector on the Island of Anticosti, which the previous PQ government injected $115 million into through two equity agreements.

In addition to the high level of methane leaks from shale gas wells and risks of soil, water and air pollution, it is becoming clear from the US experience that shale gas and oil lead to boom and bust economics. Yet Couillard appears reluctant to fully cut ties with this form of development and instead seize the enormous benefits available from the green economy.

Watch for the sequel to this story next week – exploring the decline of the fossil fuel era and remarkable rise of the green economy.

Oil prices drop as global warming rises- Suzuki

Oil prices drop as global warming rises: Suzuki

Oil prices drop as global warming rises- Suzuki
Cheaper gas means more fill-ups at the pump

With oil prices plunging from more than $100 a barrel last summer to below $50 now, the consequences of a petro-fuelled economy are hitting home — especially in Alberta, where experts forecast a recession. The province’s projected budget surplus has turned into a $500-million deficit on top of a $12-billion debt, with predicted revenue losses of $11 billion or more over the next three or four years if prices stay low or continue to drop as expected.

Alberta’s government is talking about service reductions, public-sector wage and job cuts and even increased or new taxes on individuals. TD Bank says Canada as a whole can expect deficits over the next few years unless Ottawa takes money from its contingency fund.

Norway’s oil wealth cushions blow

It’s absurd that a lower price on a single commodity could have such a profound economic impact, but that’s what happens when you put all your eggs in one basket and fail to plan for such contingencies. With a population and oil-and-gas production profile similar to Alberta, Europe’s largest petroleum producer, Norway, is also feeling the impacts. But much higher taxes on industry, majority state ownership of the country’s largest oil-and-gas company and an approximately $900-billion sovereign wealth fund built from oil revenues are cushioning the fall.

Oilmart- Low, low prices!
By Lorne Craig

Lower oil prices = more driving

Some see low fuel prices as good news, but there are many downsides. With driving becoming less costly, more cars and trucks could be on the road, which is good for the auto industry but bad in terms of pollution, climate change and traffic accidents. And because the price of oil is now lower than the cost to extract oil sands bitumen, the industry is starting to put the brakes on rapid expansion plans — bad news for workers and businesses in Fort McMurray and those heavily invested in the industry but good news for the planet.

Most oil and gas must be left in the ground

Recent research shows most of Canada’s oil sands bitumen — as well as all Arctic oil and gas, most of Canada’s coal and some conventional oil and gas — must be left in the ground if the world is to avoid a global temperature increase of more than 2 C above pre-industrial levels, the internationally agreed-upon threshold for limiting catastrophic impacts of global warming. The report, by researchers at University College London’s Institute for Sustainable Resources and published in the journal Nature, concludes a third of the world’s oil reserves, half of gas reserves and more than 80 per cent of coal reserves must not be burned before 2050.

The study also found that carbon capture and storage, touted as one way to continue exploiting and burning fossil fuels, is too new, expensive and limited to make enough of a difference by 2050.

Study co-author Paul Ekins told National Geographic that putting hundreds of billions of dollars into fossil fuel exploration and development is “deeply irrational” economic behaviour. “What would be ideal,” he said, would be to “use the opportunity of this fall in the oil price to start instituting a global carbon tax, which would take some of the volatility out of the prices.” Removing fossil fuel subsidies would also help.

Hottest year on record…again

John Stone, a Canadian scientist and lead author on the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, told CBC the UCL study “is another wake-up call to snap us out of our denial of climate change.”

With 2014 confirmed as the hottest year on record, and 13 of the hottest 15 years having occurred since 2000, we can’t afford to ignore the consequences. According to researchers, the odds that natural variability is causing today’s climate change are less than one in 27 million!

It’s astounding that, in the face of such overwhelming evidence from scientists worldwide, people continue to deny the problem exists or that humans are responsible and can or should do anything about it.

Clean tech good for economy and environment

It’s especially irresponsible when energy conservation and cleaner fuel alternatives offer so many economic benefits, including job creation, greater stability and reduced health-care costs. As world leaders prepare for the UN climate summit later this year, we must look at the recent market meltdown as an opportunity to shift away from fossil fuels. It’ll be much easier and less costly to get on with it now than to wait until we’re left with few choices.

Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington.

READ “2015: Year of reckoning for Canada’s fossil fuel economy”