VTACC meets with our political representatives, the candidates who want to represent us, and their party organisers. We do this because:
- it gives us a clearer idea of their commitment to their climate change policies, and their understanding of the crisis;
- it helps us understand how things get done at the provincial and federal level and identify points of leverage in decision making processes;
- it reminds us that politicians are people just like us, and that the best way to influence their actions is to treat them with courtesy and respect;
- it reminds the politicians that the public is deeply concerned about this issue and wants real action to reduce emissions.
We are non-partisan and meet with all parties, because we want to see all governments taking urgent and effective action to reduce global warming emissions.
BC Environment Minister Terry Lake
We met with the Environment Minister in early September 2011 to discuss his government's priorities and agenda and to express ours as well. The meeting covered much the same ground that we surveyed during our meeting with the Premier in April, and Minister Lake did not make any fresh commitments or advancements of policy. We were left with the impression that climate change is not big priority in the current BC government.
We indicated to Minister Lake that if the government was willing to show leadership on climate policy, we were ready to rally public support for them. We gave, as an example, the expansion of the carbon tax to other emitters, its continued increase in dollar value, and the use of that new revenue to fund important alternatives like public transit. No breakthroughs.
As at our last meeting, we steered discussion to broader issues at the end. Frankly, we see little value in meeting with government to discuss minor changes to ineffective policies if we don't also grapple with the larger issues that must be confronted.
We pointed out that numerous credible sources indicate that we have only a few years left in which to start radically reducing emissions, otherwise we -- all of humanity -- will pass the tipping point and enter into a period of irreversible, accelerating climate change. We pointed out the general contradiction between dealing with this urgent issue on the one hand, and his government's stated commitment to increasing the mining and export of fossil fuels on the other.
Minister Lake didn't dispute the urgent need to act. He did, however, argue that if we don't mine the resources, someone else will, and that we have high labour standards and environmental standards that ensured that these resources are extracted in a safe manner with the least environmental impact.
We responded that some have drawn a comparison between BC's role in the export of fossil fuels and the actions of a drug dealer, and we noted that the public would not be impressed if the drug dealer argued that they employed the highest standards and safest practices to produce and sell their products.
Premier Christy Clark
We met with Premier Clark in April of 2011 just prior to the Vancouver-Point Grey byelection. Environment Minister Lake was also in attendance. It was a good opportunity to ask for clarificaton of her climate policies, given her support for fossil fuel mining during the recent Liberal leadership race, and general uncertainty over the future of the carbon tax. We also wanted to hear her views on BC's continued participation in the Western Climate Initiative (WCI).
Premier Clark indicated that her government was committed to 2011-2012 increases in the carbon tax. We encouraged her to commit to future increases, and to ensure that those increases were committed to public transit and other low emission infrastructure. She expressed willingness to consider this. General discussion ensued on extending the carbon tax to other sources.
On the topic of WCI, Clark indicated that her government was committed to pushing forward with cap and trade with Quebec and California, "within or without of the WCI framework."
We also raised the issue of BC's increasing fossil fuel exports: who will take responsibility for BC's exported emissions, in the form of our coal exports (and possible future LNG and oil exports)?
Our premier was quick to respond with the argument that fossil fuel royalties pay for school teachers salaries and keep hospitals open.
She was not persuaded by the argument that short term gains from fossil fuel royalties will be more than offset by the long term costs of catastrophic climate change.
Update February 2012:Finance Minister Kevin Falcon announces that BC's landmark carbon tax will be frozen after the scheduled 2012 increase and then subject to review of its general impact on the economy.
BC NDP Leader Carole James and Environment Critic Shane Simpson
We were finally able to meet with Ms James and Mr. Simpson in June 2008. We had a very frank discussion about their stand against BC's new carbon tax. We told them we thought their critique was far too partisan and that they had missed an important opportunity to provide constructive input to improve the policy. Ms. James and Mr. Simpson gave no indication they were going to tone down their rhetoric on this issue.
We discussed the NDP's framework plan for action on climate change, which they will roll out to the public this month. The plan is meant to provide a starting point for public discussion. We think the NDP has created very high expectations for their new climate policy and we look forward to its unveiling. We are especially interested to see how they differentiate their plan to put a price on carbon from the current BC carbon tax.
We did find common ground with BC's official opposition on some issues, and praised their critique of BC's new biofuels legislation (no recognition of the negative impacts of ethanol) and new cap and trade framework legislation (too vague). We were also happy to hear them confirm their opposition to off shore oil exploration and to the twinning of the Port Mann bridge. We were intrigued by their call for a bi-partisan legislative committee to create climate policy for the province. By having both parties formulate policy in common, they argued, the issue would be taken off the table come election time. We think this idea has merit.
Finally, we asked that they support the establishment of a legacy fund for all the windfall profits the province is receiving from oil and gas lease sales and royalties. We think this revenue should be set aside to fund the transition to a low emission economy and to address impacts of climate change, rather that being used to pay for tax cuts as it is now. Ms. James and Mr. Simpson were sympathetic but non-committal, citing accounting principles.
Vancouver Quadra MP Joyce Murray
We had our first meeting with our new MP in June 2008, where we were brought up to date on the carbon tax campaign that Liberal leader Stephane Dion plans to roll out this summer. We urge the Liberal Party to abandon focus groups, stop looking at the polls, and simply step out and show some leadership on the issue. We think the public is way ahead of government on pricing greenhouse gas emissions. Mr. Dion should fully embrace an aggressive carbon pricing policy and start pushing it in a clear and decisive manner. The public will have no patience for Conservative attack ads when it becomes clear they have no effective alternative to put forward.
Federal Green Party Leader Elizabeth May
We met with Elizabeth May when she came to Vancouver during the Vancouver Quadra by-election campaign in February 2008. We were able to have an hour long discussion of climate change policy and federal politics. We were impressed by her pragmatic focus on solutions to the climate crisis, and her willingness to work with other political parties to bring forward tough emission reduction measures, and her overall commitment to action on climate change. Ms. May had some thoughtful comments on ways the ways in which climate change can be kept on the agenda in Ottawa, both now and during the next election. We also discussed the merits of strategic versus principled voting and the need for post-partisan political alliances to confront our common challenges.
BC Premier Gordon Campbell
We had a two hour discussion with Premier Campbell in the summer of 2007 in one of our Kitsilano homes. Our exchange was full and frank, and covered a lot of ground -- from the importance of personal action to the need for bold political leadership. The premier had a clear grasp of the issues, and his deep concern for the problem was obvious. We praised the vision the Premier offered in his spring Throne speech, and we criticized the subsequent contradictions in his Energy Plan (continued subsidies for oil and gas exploration and support for the lifting of the offshore oil moratorium) and in his continued support of highway expansion and road building, otherwise known as the Gateway Program. We told him we looked forward to legislated reduction targets, and to the introduction of the tough measures needed to meet those targets. We specifically encouraged him to get behind a carbon tax, and he encouraged us to show that there was public support for the measure. We've been doing that ever since. Finally, we pointed out that the BC government was well poised to play a major leadership role in the Canadian fight against climate change, and we told him we would rally public support if he took bold steps to radically reduce emissions. (Update April 2008: BC's revenue neutral carbon tax was introduced in the legislature on April 28th. The province is moving ahead with cap and trade agreements with Western States, which has the potential to achieve significant reductions from large emitters if done well. The province also continues to move ahead with highway expansion, and continued subsides for oil and gas exploration in the 2008 budget.)
Federal Opposition Leader Stephane Dion
We met with Mr. Dion late in the summer of 2007 when he swung through town for a Liberal Party benefit. Vancouver Quadra Liberal candidate Joyce Murray arranged an introduction for us, and after an intense game of floor hockey with some local kids Mr. Dion sat down for a private discussion with us for 40 minutes. Mr. Dion is also fully aware of the extent of our climate crisis, and he spoke strongly of his desire for action from the current Conservative government in Ottawa and of what he would do if he formed the next government. He gave thoughtful responses to our questions, and was quite willing to acknowledge contradictions in policy and obstacles to action. We asked him to commit his party to tough measures that would actually reduce emissions -- like a carbon tax. More importantly, we urged him to keep climate change front and centre in federal politics and to keep pushing the Conservatives to do more, in order to give Canadians a sense that we have an alternative worth voting for at the federal level. (Update April 2008: Mr Dion recently announced that the Liberal party will consider including carbon pricing in its climate change platform.)
Candidates for the federal by-election in Vancouver Quadra
We have had good discussions with all the candidates in the upcoming election in our local riding: Liberal candidate Joyce Murray (in fact, we met with all the nominees running for the Liberal candidacy), NDP candidate Rebecca Coad, Green Party candidate Dan Grice and Conservative candidate Deb Meredith. We talked with all candidates about the state of their parties' policies on climate change, and the role that their MP's and politicians are currently playing in keeping a spotlight on climate change in Ottawa. In all our discussions we tried to get a sense of the candidate's own level of awareness of the climate crisis and their personal commitment to solutions.
We held a candidates' town hall meeting hosted by Vancouver Sun editor Kirk LaPointe in February 2008 which was attended by the Liberal, NDP and Green candidates and over 150 constituents.
We have been most impressed with the Green Party's policy on climate change -- they are currently the only federal party committed to tough measures like a carbon tax. We'll see how the other parties' platforms develop as a general election nears. We did not endorse a candidate, but we did point out the quality of the Green Party platform and raise the issue of strategic versus principled voting. (Update April 2008: Liberal Candidate Joyce Murray won the election by just 150 votes over her Conservative rival. The Green party obtained almost 14 percent of the vote -- one of its best outcomes in a federal general or by-election in Canada. We look forward to continued discussions with Joyce Murray on the Liberal Party's support for carbon taxes.)