What B.C.’s New NDP Minority Government Means for the Environment

Nearly two months have passed since the polls closed in B.C. and at last British Columbians know who will get to form government.

On Thursday, upon the conclusion of a no-confidence vote that ousted former Premier Christy Clark, NDP Leader John Horgan has been offered the opportunity to lead a new B.C. government under a historic partnership between his party and the Greens.

While B.C. awaits the swearing in of a new premier, we thought we’d take the time to tally up some critical promises the NDP and their Green collaborators have made on the environment file.

So Long, Site C?

The NDP and Greens have promised to send the controversial $9 billion Site C dam in B.C.’s northeast for an expedited review by the B.C. Utilities Commission. Site C is the most expensive public infrastructure project in B.C.’s history and numerous experts  have come forward to question the need for the electricity the dam will generate.

The dam will flood 107 kilometres of Peace River valley, displacing residents and flooding valuable agricultural land and sacred indigenous sites.

The Utilities Commission review will look in detail at the cost of the project and demand for the power — something that until this point hasn’t been done.

Supporters of the dam say B.C. will eventually need Site C’s power and that the 2,000 jobs created by the project are reason enough to let the dam go forward as planned. But with less destructive and cheaper alternatives more available now than ever, the debate over Site C is a complicated one.

A preliminary report-back is expected to take about six weeks once the new government takes power.

The Kinder Morgan Pipeline Battle Levels Up

In their agreement to work together, the NDP and Greens have committed to “immediately employ every tool available” to stop the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain oilsands pipeline running from Alberta to export facilities in Burnaby.

There are a number of ways the pipeline, which has already received federal and provincial approval, can still be stopped.

The pipeline is currently being fought by local First Nations who say the project’s review process failed to meet legal guideline for consultation. The province could also implement other regulatory processes the pipeline must pass.

The pipeline is supported by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, so how Horgan and Weaver deal with the project will likely involve some sort of messy political showdown.

Step Up the Carbon Tax

B.C.’s famed carbon tax languished under Christy Clark and the B.C. Liberals. The former ruling party froze the tax and created exemptions for some of the province’s biggest polluters.

The NDP and Greens plan to increase the carbon tax by $5 per year starting in April 2018 in an effort to bring the price up to the federally mandated price of $50 per tonne by 2022.

The carbon tax will also be re-jigged to deal with the major climate problem of fugitive emissions, greenhouse gasses that leak or are vented from the province’s massive gas projects and transmission lines. These emissions have been poorly measured and wildly underestimated, so bringing them more fully under a carbon tax regime is important for meaningful climate action.

Beefing Up B.C.’s Project Review Process

There have been major systemic problems with B.C.’s environmental assessment process. These problems have led to a lack of public trust in how major projects are reviewed and approved in the province.

The NDP and Greens have committed to revitalizing the environmental assessment process, which goes hand in hand with a major review and improvement of the federal process.

Respect for B.C.’s Indigenous Peoples

Whether it’s pipelines running through traditional territory, the Site C dam flooding sacred indigenous sites, or the cumulative effects of industrialization leading to species extinction, many First Nations communities are on the frontline of B.C.’s biggest environmental battles.

The NDP and Greens have stated explicitly that a foundational part of their political partnership is the two parties’ shared adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

Both parties also take to heart the significance of the historic Tsilhqot’in Supreme Court Decision and what that means for untreatied First Nations in B.C.

Many First Nations are fighting off multiple mining, oil and gas and hydro projects in their traditional and treaty territories across B.C.

If the NDP and Greens take indigenous rights truly to heart, this could mean big changes for the way projects are evaluated and given the go ahead.

Funding for Transit!

For all those daily grind commuters near big cities, this should be an exciting one.

In their agreement, the NDP and Greens promised to “act immediately to improve transit and transportation infrastructure” to “reduce emissions, create jobs and get people home faster.”

Shifting into a New Economy

Renewable energy hasn’t gotten the foothold it has needed in B.C. and there are ways to make the transition to a clean, 21st century economy easier. That’s what the new “Emerging Economy Task Force” is designed to do.

This task force will look at the changing nature of business in B.C. over the next 10 to 25 years.

One way the NDP and Greens want to prepare for the changes ahead is by shifting from a measure of GDP ( gross domestic product) to the use of a new metric: the Genuine Progress Indicator or GPI.

Under old GDP rules, anything that is of profit to society is considered of benefit. But analysis has shown that while disasters like oil spills may be a short-lived boon to the economy, they can degrade other measures of social wellbeing like health, safety and a clean environment.

The GPI measure will help B.C. understand, measure and prioritize those opportunities that represent a truer benefit to British Columbians.

Electoral and Campaign Finance Reform

The current political system is set up to advantage the wealthy and powerful. But with changes to how campaigns are financed and run that could help put power back into the hands of the people.

The Green party in particular would benefit from the two parties’ shared commitment to electoral reform. In the fall of 2018 a referendum will be held to ask British Columbians if they want to switch to a proportional representation system.

The NDP and Greens have also promised to ban big money in politics at the first available opportunity. The new rules will place an outright ban on corporate, union and out-of-province donations to political parties and also limit the amount individuals in B.C. can give.

As a bonus, the NDP/Green agreement also lays out a plan for revising lobbying rules that prevent politicians from becoming lobbyists for several years after leaving office.

These promises signal a big change in B.C., where fossil fuel and mining interests are some of the most powerful lobbyists and political donors.

Image: NDP Leader John Horgan and Green Leader Andrew Weaver sign a coalition agreement, May 30, 2017. Photo: B.C. NDP via Flickr

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Carol Linnitt is a journalist, editor, illustrator and co-founder of The Narwhal. Carol has been reporting on energy and environmental…

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