“Oil has become the elephant in the room,” Linda McQuaig wrote in It’s the Crude, Dude: Greed, Gas, War and the American Way. Turns out it’s the Canadian way as well. As Toronto Centre NDP candidate, McQuaig stated a simple fact on CBC’s Power and Politics: “a lot of people recognize that a lot of the oilsands oil may have to stay in the ground if we’re going to meet our climate change targets.”
As punishment for speaking the truth, McQuaig is now the target of corporate power. Calgary Conservative MP Michelle Rempel immediately jumped on the remark, accusing McQuaig of having an “ideological aversion” to tar sands and opposing workers in the energy sector. Alberta Opposition Leader Brian Jean labeled McQuaig’s remarks “anti-Alberta posturing” and called on Premier Rachel Notley to “actively repudiate this crazy idea in the strongest terms possible.” Presiding over his second recession, Harper warned that it’s the NDP who would “wreck this economy.” The corporate media are calling McQuaig’s remarks a “flap” that the NDP need to exert “damage control” to repair. God forbid a journalist and candidate raise in the mildest terms a basic scientific fact concerning the most pressing issue of our generation, in the hopes that an election could affect change.
Ideology vs science
McQuaig wrote It’s the Crude, Dude in the wake of the Iraq War, to bring awareness to the dangers of climate change and the way the oil industry influences politics. Quoting a 2003 report from the Pentagon—hardly a bastion of left-wing ideology—she wrote: “There’s been a tendency to regard global warming as a problem that will set in gradually, giving the world a chance to adapt and even possibly take advantage of what could be longer growing seasons. ‘This view of climate change may be a dangerous act of self-deception, as increasingly we are [already] facing weather-related disasters,’ the report states. ‘Rather than decades or even centuries of gradual warming, recent evidence suggests the possibility that a more dire climate scenario may actually be unfolding.’”
A decade later, Harper finally has the Iraq War he always wanted and climate change is even more of a clear and present danger—from wildfires on the west coast to record temperatures in the Middle East. But the corporate-backed Conservatives and Liberals have an ideological aversion to science, which calls for limiting climate change to 2 degrees to avoid catastrophic change. “Nearly all politicians across the world would like to develop all domestic sources of oil and gas and coal that they have and also search for new resources. What this analysis shows is that those two positions are inconsistent. Every country can’t exploit all of their domestic reserves and keep to two degrees,” explained Christophe McGlade of the University College London. His report in the journal Nature this year showed that 85% of tar sands have to be left in the ground.
“This would seem, by any meaningful standard, to be a problem worthy of serious attention at the very highest levels. But, oddly, it’s a problem that is largely unacknowledged in official quarters,” McQuaig wrote a decade ago about US politicians refusing to face reality about oil politics, and fabricating terror threats to distract from the climate crisis: “Our wanton over-consumption of oil might be about to create a whole new kind of terror in our lives. Yet the Bush administration, which had consistently ignored and downplayed the threat of climate change and done its best to sabotage the international Kyoto accord aimed at dealing with the problem, was not about to change horses in its ‘war on terror.’ Its defense strategy would remain fixated on shadowy men in long-flowing robes, not on ones wearing business suits and bearing large checks made out to the Republican Party.” Harper is continuing the Bush legacy—stoking Islamophobia to justify wars abroad and attacks on civil liberties at home, while fueling the climate crisis.
It is not “anti-Alberta” to question the tar sands; the tar sands themselves are anti-Alberta, undermining the traditional territories and the communities in what is called Alberta. As McQuaig wrote a decade ago, “Getting the oil out of the tar is a horrendous task; it involves a massive, high-tech operation that causes serious environmental damage…By any logic, then, most of that tar sands oil should be left in the ground.”
Harper has tried to undermine this logic by making people in Alberta so dependent on the tar sands that they put the profits of Big Oil ahead of their own lives. When the price of oil fell, the only solution the Conservatives offered was to slash public services to balance the budget, but Notley’s election was a rejection of this blackmail. The Conservatives are trying to undo the provincial election and win the federal election—attacking Notley at the start of the campaign and now demanding she attack McQuaig.
But what we need to actively repudiate in the strongest possible terms is not a debate on the tar sands but the tar sands themselves. As Melina Laboucan-Massimo from the Lubicon Cree First Nation said at the March for Jobs, Justice and the Climate: “What I have seen is immense changes to the land, to the air, to the climate, to the water, to the people, and to the animals. Where I come from, until my generation my family was able to live sustainably off the land. And it becomes harder and harder to do that. People and animals are sick and dying. And now across the tar sands we are surrounded by operations across Northern Alberta. We have also seen immense oil spills like the one that happened near my family, just a few miles away. It was one of the biggest oil spills in Alberta’s history in 2011… What we need now today, is Canada needs to accelerate the transition from destructive climate polluting sources like the tar sands and build a green, just economy that many of our communities so desperately want and need now…Even in the heart of the tar sands we can build a different kind of economy, with clean energy and green jobs, without compromising our families and our communities.”
Jobs, justice and the climate
Harper has been silent while the economic crisis destroyed 400,000 manufacturing jobs, and stood by while the drop in oil prices led to thousands of further layoffs in the oil industry. But now the Conservatives are attacking McQuaig and the NDP for being anti-worker.
What the climate justice movement has made clear is that the choice between the environment and jobs is “fear-mongering at its worst,” in the words of Jerry Dias, president of Unifor. As the union representing thousands of workers in the oil and gas industry, Unifor is a signatory of the Solidarity Accord against the Northern Gateway pipeline and was a major participant in the recent March for Jobs, Justice and the Climate.
As the report by Blue-Green Canada makes clear, the $1.3 billion in subsidies to the oil and gas industry could instead create 18,000 more jobs in renewable energy and energy efficiency. From the UK to South Africa, there are campaigns for a million climate jobs, to solve the economic and climate crises, and now these demands have spread to Canada. For $4.65 billion (less than half what Harper recently gave to the military), we could create 92,000 jobs in wind, solar, geothermal and tidal power. For $25 billion (less than half what Harper gave in corporate tax cuts) we could create a high-speed rail network could create 100,000 jobs and reduce our dependence on oil. And $1 billion on a home and building retrofit program (the amount Harper spent attacking civil liberties at the G20 protest) could leverage $50 billion to create a million jobs that would reduce carbon emissions.
In order to control the damage done to the planet and its people we need to leave the oil in the soil, respect First Nations and create a million climate jobs. Unfortunately climate justice was largely absent from the first leaders debate, which instead displayed unanimity on tar sands expansion—with only minor differences on which pipelines should transport it, or where it should be refined. Both the Green Party and the NDP have advocated more domestic refining, while Mulcair supports west-east pipelines and calls for “objective reviews”—as if the increasingly dire climate science and the lived experience of Indigenous communities is not objective.
As the upcoming Toxic Tour in Aamjiwnaang First Nation makes clear, domestic refining and alternate pipelines are no solution: “In Aamjiwnaang everything is polluted air, soil, water, and people. Some of the land Industry has now made their empire on is stolen land or ongoing projects that have little to no consent. This is a prime land for industry because it is used to refine and export. The colonial fight against industry has left indigenous communities like Aamjiwnaang in a constant daily struggle.” This daily struggle by Indigenous communities most affected by the climate crisis is leading a rising climate justice movement: 25,000 marched in Quebec City in April to Act on Climate and 10,000 marched in Toronto last month for Jobs, Justice and the Climate.
The climate justice movement deserves a voice this election, but the corporate parties and the corporate press are calling on the NDP to repudiate the slightest comment that echoes these movements. The same development happened in the BC provincial election, where NDP comments against the Kinder-Morgan pipeline were said to be the cause of their defeat. But after the election, opposition to Kinder Morgan exploded—showing the NDP’s electoral loss was not because of its timid opposition but because they didn’t go far enough in outlining bold alternatives. If the NDP leadership see statements against tar sands as more damaging than the tar sands themselves, they will sever themselves from the climate justice movement and provide no alternative at the ballot box. Instead they should defend McQuaig for helping spark a real debate this election, spend the next two months repudiating in the strongest terms the Conservatives’ and Liberals’ ideologically-driven wrecking of the climate, and be a megaphone for the climate justice movement that is trying to control the damage and promote alternatives.