Joseph Pallant is Manager of Brinkman Climate in Vancouver, and served on the GreenPAC Expert Panel that recommended six candidate endorsements in the British Columbia election May 9. In a GreenPAC interview the day after the new BC government took office, he reflected on the election result, the transfer of power, and the implications for environmental leadership in elected office.
GreenPAC: What’s the state of play with the formation of the new government, and where do you see environmental issues placing in the wider provincial agenda?
JP: Election platforms and subsequent agreements point to the new government’s strong focus on environmental issues. My first impression upon attending the public invitation to the Legislature building [on Tuesday, July 18] and some of the events around it is the openness to new ideas and engagement beyond the party core. The new government came to be because two political adversaries, the NDP and the Greens, found common ground and recognized they must cooperate to maintain power. So they’re building a bigger tent, and this creates an opportunity for GreenPAC and the wider environmental community.
One thing is for sure: no one knows how long this moment will last. The government could fall on a confidence vote if an MLA came down with appendicitis at the wrong time, so the New Democrats and Greens will be looking for a slate of quick wins.
One analyst said 80% of the platform in the parties’ confidence and supply agreement can be handled without a vote in the legislature. So they’ll probably look at areas where they can deliver quickly, like beginning the $5-per-tonne annual increases towards a $50-per-tonne carbon tax to be achieved by 2022 (it’s federally mandated, anyway) and referring the Site C hydro project to the BC Utilities Commission. They will also have to look hard at other emissions reductions pathways, because even with a carbon tax, the province only achieved a 0.1% net annual reduction in energy-related emissions between the start of the program and the latest provincial carbon inventory, almost a decade later.
It’s interesting to think about issues outside a traditional environmental agenda that are best solved through an environmental lens—and lend themselves to cooperation across partisan lines. BC is facing its worst wildfire season since 2003. The Liberals and New Democrats have thus far been cooperating to get the crisis under control. In his first public statement as premier, John Horgan went out of his way to acknowledge the Clark government’s effort. It’s the kind of honest collaboration most British Columbians expect, and it echoes GreenPAC’s vision of a political system where basic environmental values and good governance are no longer up for partisan debate.
GreenPAC: Is there an opportunity here for GreenPAC’s non-partisan agenda to promote environmental leadership in elected office?
JP: There’s an opportunity for us to make headway on promoting environmental leadership in office, but we’ll have to be nimble. If you assume that this won’t be a full, four-year government, GreenPAC can provide value by actively monitoring and vetting the actions of elected officials from all the parties. It’ll be important to keep in touch with the candidates we endorsed in 2017, with everyone who won a seat and with anyone else who plans to run again. I think we should also watch for MLAs or new candidates who know how to reach across political lines to get good things done.
GreenPAC: You’ve quoted the truism that the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second-best time is right now. How can that insight shape GreenPAC’s priorities as the minority government situation plays out in BC?
JP: GreenPAC can play a role by helping to identify the non-partisan ground where politicians shouldn’t have to argue, even if old habits have kept people fighting for fighting’s sake.
It’s interesting to see two of GreenPAC’s endorsed candidates in positions where they might be able to make that happen. As Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, George Heyman can look for elements of an ambitious climate leadership plan that resonate in every corner of the legislature. And as Parliamentary Secretary for Emergency Preparedness, Jennifer Rice can drive practical approaches to wildfire restoration that make sense to the people of this province, and benefit those directly affected on the ground.
GreenPAC: What else do you see happening in the first months of the new government?
JP: In his Tuesday CBC interview, Premier Horgan said he would head to Ottawa next week [during the week of July 24], to engage with the federal government on items of importance for BC. With new investments in infrastructure due to be rolled out, they have a lot of near-term items to discuss, along with the more prosaic details of federal-provincial cooperation. The recently-announced Canada Infrastructure Bank’s mandate states that “the additional projects the bank invests in will contribute to our long-term economic growth and support the creation of good, well-paying jobs for the middle class. These investments will also help us achieve our goals of lowering GHG emissions and building communities that are socially inclusive.”
These tenets are clearly, directly in line with the new provincial government’s spirit. There’s an opportunity to build on this province’s long-standing reputation for green leadership, deliver results that benefit British Columbians, and demonstrate best practices for the rest of our country.