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Rex Murphy: the shifting sands of Canadian climate change politics

The election of Jason Kenney – and defeat of Rachel Notley’s NDP – is the latest in series of reversals for Justin Trudeau’s climate plan
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The election of Jason Kenney, and the vigorous majority afforded him by the electors of Alberta, could have confounded no one outside the miasmic cults of Greenpeace and Sierra Club, or the bible-bashers of the penitential church of global warming.

In other terms, to anyone sentient, the result was entirely predictable and expected. You cannot lock up the central resources of an entire province – during a period of collapse in world prices – and not anticipate the citizens of that province to look for a fresh strong change of leadership.

This is not to say Ms. Notley was primarily responsible for Alberta’s plight, but it is to say that having partially interlocked herself with the Trudeau government’s crusade against what they call “carbon emissions,” but which even high school students know as carbon dioxide, an entirely different substance. But then clamorous climate-changers are very careless about words and things.

If you wanted water, you wouldn’t ask for a glass of hydrogen; but in the global warming game if it helps to call CO2 carbon, or CO2 “pollution,” why then have at it.

Catherine McKenna’s wretched line – “we’re putting a price on pollution” – her translation for a tax, not a price, on carbon dioxide, is both a crass and crude distortion. Remodeling the language to suit your ideological purposes should be a signal that the case for the great “climate plan” of the Liberals is not – even to them – as strong as they tell us. But, I mildly digress.

Mildly, because the attitude behind verbal manipulation underwrites the overall case that we – meaning Canadians – “have to reduce our carbon emissions” though where this imperative comes from is never much questioned. On ever-so-virtuous climate policy, the general media is comfortably and unwontedly uninquisitive.

Why, it should be asked, have we got to reduce our emissions? If Canada were to cut a fraction of a fraction of the world’s supply of CO2 – which is all the Liberal plan will do – what difference would it make? What change in global temperature? What effect on the “rising of the oceans”? And why are Canadians supposed to accept bending the national economy and ticking off everyone who has to drive to work, or deploy a tractor…for null effect?

Is it obedience to the Parisian conclave everyone signed onto voluntarily, but without the force of penalty or law? The hallowed Paris commitments wearisomely invoked as if they represented some solemn oath of the deepest honour? But what are they really, and what are they worth?

Even those believers have long since indicated that living up to those commitments will “not be enough” to stop (their fervid estimate) of climate Armageddon. Hours after the “world-saving” signing of the Paris agreements, their very proponents insisted they were not sufficient.

So keeping to those commitments is at best a negligible task. Why then is Canada, or rather the current government, so invested to being at the front of a crusade which has failure written into its first principles?

The staggering economy to the south of us abandoned Paris, and now leads the world in oil and gas production and – miraculously – has actually lowered its so-called carbon emissions? They abandoned Paris, expanded the energy industry and lowered emissions. Guess which country with ten provinces and three territories, endorses Paris, has climate taxes…and has raised its emissions?

Second, considering that what Canada adds to the putative peril of the planet is itself a meagre fraction, and that even shutting down the full industrial base of the entire country would not shake the global thermometer in any measurable way…why are we tied to this pseudo-treaty?

I put it this way: we don’t significantly contribute to the crisis. So why is our Liberal leadership so wound up to perform a useless task, to the impediment of the Canadian economy and to the lethal consequences it visits and has visited upon our western provinces’ economies? And most particularly, why is Alberta and the oilsands been the furious focus of all efforts to “combat climate change?”

Alberta has been frozen out of realizing the value of its resources, blocked by British Columbia and Ottawa on pipelines, and sacrificed to virtue-signaling on climate.

So was there any wonder that a pro-oil party won?

Kenney’s election is the major challenge to the prevailing assumptions of federal global warming philosophy. Because the province he now leads has borne its most concentrated negative effects, and because equally its calls from some balance or remedy has been steadfastly ignored.

Further, a Kenney government has given notice that the soft thinking on carbon emissions and our “responsibilities” for “fighting climate change” is going to be challenged. Climate change is not, never has been, just the “science.” It has a vast ideological dimension, rarely discussed, certainly rarely questioned because saving the planet has acquired something of the aura of a sacred dogma. Politicians who in their timid hearts really do not wish to sign on to the cause fear the backlash if they too.

That atmosphere is about to change.

In early days of the Trudeau administration everyone was a boy scout on this issue. It got easy affirmation from at least nine provinces, with Brad Wall’s government a notable courageous standout.

The political landscape has changed significantly. Conservative premiers with provinces to run not only do not see environmentalist ambitions as part of their mandate, but to the contrary, see them as a hindrance to their economic and social agendas.

Mr. Trudeau’s signature policy push has more political resistance these days, faces real court challenges, and will be a real burden in the election he is shortly to face.

November won’t be won on phantom polar bears or walruses posing for bishop David Attenborough. A new realism on the actual costs of posturing for the environmentalist agenda, premiers who aren’t embarrassed to advocate for jobs and industry, and an abandonment of the apologetics over oil and gas will make the campaign to come a nervous one for those who think a tax on energy is a winning proposal.

That, and of course, the signals already coming out of a refreshed Alberta.


Rex Murphy has been one of Canada’s most familiar, trusted, and insightful political commentators since the 1970s. 

A former Rhodes Scholar, Murphy built a reputation as a quick-witted broadcaster and reporter in his native Newfoundland, and later throughout Canada on CBC's The National and host of CBC Radio's Cross Country Checkup