There’s a strong strand of opinion in the wider environmental community that building a just, sustainable world is about more than the laws and decisions we make (though it’s certainly that, too). It’s also about how we listen and communicate, and how we treat each other, especially when we disagree.
It’s a great viewpoint. And it’s a far cry from the bombastic, misleading rhetoric that too often passes for policy debate in much of North America.
But in British Columbia late last month, we saw an interesting and important development: two GreenPAC endorsees, each holding a senior position in the same provincial government, talking across party lines to try to resolve their differences on an issue of crucial importance to the province, the country, and the world.
They didn’t get it settled in one conversation. The discussion will continue. But the tone so far has been...refreshingly constructive.
LNG: Carbon Bomb or Economic Boom?
The January 24 discussion took place between NDP Environment Minister George Heyman (Vancouver-Fairview) and Green Party leader Andrew Weaver (Oak Bay-Gordon Head).
At issue was one of the most challenging issues the minority New Democratic government will face under its Confidence and Supply Agreement (CASA) with the three-member Green caucus—whether any new exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) can be reconciled with the government’s commitment to a 40% greenhouse gas reduction by 2030.
The catalyst for what could have been a nasty, bruising fight was a CBC report that Premier John Horgan, on a forthcoming trip to Asia, would “confirm his openness to a proposed LNG export terminal in Kitimat, B.C., proposed by Royal Dutch Shell in partnership with Chinese, Japanese, and Korean investors.” That was enough for Weaver to threaten to bring down the government.
“Lest there be any doubt, let me be perfectly clear: NDP government will fall in non-confidence if after all that has happened it continues to pursue LNG folly,” Weaver tweeted.
“The reason why we agreed to the CASA agreement with the NDP is their supposed commitment to GHG reduction,” he added in a separate tweet. “A push for #LNG means they are not serious. We are willing to let BC voters have their say. We would have been deceived.”
Back from the Brink
In politics as usual, things might well have deteriorated from there. Positions would have solidified. Offence would have been taken. With backs to the wall and elbows up, the two CASA partners would quickly have become combattants, and British Columbians would have been on their way back to the polls for an election no one wanted. (At least, not seven or so months ago.)
But then, something different happened.
When the disagreement erupted, Heyman immediately extended a hand, saying he wanted to talk to Weaver “about how the province can tackle GHG reductions while still pursuing LNG,” according to the Globe and Mail. “What Andrew Weaver and I should discuss,” he said, “is what our government’s overall climate action plan looks like and what our proposals are that we are developing to reduce emissions” across all sectors of the provincial economy.
A few days later, while Horgan was in Asia, both Weaver and Heyman were still holding firm to the environmental values they brought to their roles as elected officials: Weaver drawing a line in the sand against future LNG exports, Heyman agreeing that the province must meet its GHG targets, the two of them backing the same end goal while working to sort out their differences on how to get there.
"The reality is, you can say you're going to meet a target, but unless you have a plan to get there, it's meaningless,” Weaver charged. Heyman replied that the NDP had always been clear about its interest in LNG, but “one of the key conditions is that it has to meet our climate commitments. If it can't meet our climate commitments, that's a different question entirely."
Which ultimately means that "Dr. Weaver is right," he told CBC. "We need a clear climate action plan that shows how we're going to meet our benchmarks,” and "we're going to work on that in consultation with him and his colleagues."
They clearly aren’t in complete agreement. It’s a messy discussion about a politically fraught topic, and it remains to be seen how it’ll end.
And yet, for a discussion among elected officials balancing all the political calculations behind a major policy decision, the interaction between these two GreenPAC endorsees has been about as good as it gets. A lot better than it would have been if bedrock environmental values hadn’t been represented on both sides of the table. And now, we're going for the trifecta, with the word that GreenPAC endorsee Nathan Cullen (Skeena-Bulkley Valley) has been named B.C. liaison for the federal NDP caucus.