How the NDP Found its Green Mojo

The NDP has always had strong environmental credentials, but in the past decade it has sat back and let other parties lead the charge. Although Jack Layton was a committed environmentalist, it often felt that environmental issues took a back seat to health care, education, and pensions during his leadership, and it was painful to watch the NDP oppose carbon taxes in BC and federally. As a result, people like me sometimes voted for the Green Party. But that’s changing.

The BC NDP now supports the carbon tax, and, more importantly, promises to use some of the proceeds to improve public transit. They’ve also strongly opposed the Enbridge pipeline to Kitimat, arguing not only against the environmental costs but the economic risks of the project to BC.

Federally, Thomas Mulcair has started pushing sustainable development in a big way, arguing that polluting industries need to internalize the costs of dumping pollution into the air, water, and land, including the oil sands. The ‘polluter pays’ principle. He’s also making an economic argument for protecting the environment.

I think it’s a smart strategy. Up until now, the debate has always pitted the environment against the economy. And when push comes to shove, the economy always wins. However, Mulcair is arguing that our zeal to export raw resources is harming other sectors of the economy, like manufacturing – the so called Dutch Disease. By framing sustainable development as an economic issue instead of a environmental one, Mulcair is creating a sharp contrast to the Conservative budget, which focuses on destroying the environment for economic gain.

And it looks like the Conservatives are scared. The last 3 polls have all shown the NDP in the lead, but the economy is the Conservative trump card. If Mulcair can convince Canadians that the Conservative’s approach to the environment is in fact harming the economy outside of the oil patch, the NDP lead will continue to grow. This interview with Mulcair explains his ideas in his own words. It’s worth watching, and I’d embed the video but CTV’s video player sucks.

Oil SandsWe’re in such a rush to ship our raw resources out of the country, we don’t factor in the pollution costs – and they’re real. The mining of the past few decades is going to cost taxpayers $7.7 billion to clean up, long after the companies who made the money have disappeared.

So make the oil sands pay for using the air for dumping carbon and our lakes as tailing ponds. At the very least, enforce the existing regulations. That should slow down the development and give other sectors a fighting chance. And ensure future generations don’t pay for our greed. What’s the rush to extract all of the oil as soon as possible anyway? Unless you think it’s going to worth less in the future and we need to cash-in now.

And this isn’t just about the oil sands. The same applies to every industry across the country, including Prosperity Mine in BC that plans on destroying a lake for a tailing pond or the sulphur dioxide emissions from the Inco smokestack in Sudbury. If there’s a price on pollution, companies are incentivized to go beyond the minimum-bar regulations to make their operations cleaner.

Lastly, I couldn’t talk about politics and the environment without mentioning how stellar Elizabeth May has been. She’s been hammering the Conservatives in the House of Commons and on twitter.

This mindset reminds me most of what the former senior economist to the World Bank, Herman Daly, used to describe as “treating the earth as a business in liquidation”, an everything must go mentality and it must be done fast. He offered the opposite view. He said that we needed to understand that the economy was a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment, that these things were not in conflict and that it was so wrong-headed to say that we would only get jobs if we destroyed the environment. It boggles the mind.

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