Climate Shaming Lives Here

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The guardians of climate dogma continue their noble work at the regional offices of our national broadcaster—protecting their many supplicants, i.e. Canadian taxpayers, from heresies large and small.

In the wake of an all-candidates meeting last night in the Ottawa-area riding of Carleton—where presumably any number of election-related issues were discussed—the CBC ran the headline "Carleton PC Candidate Says She Doesn't Believe Climate Change is Man-made." The candidate in question is Goldie Ghamari, a young and accomplished lawyer with the grit to say on the hustings exactly what she thinks. "I believe climate change is real," she told the crowd. "I don't believe climate change is man-made and I certainly don't believe that the people of Carleton are at fault for climate change." Another candidate in attendance reportedly said that he and his party do "believe in" man-made climate change—a doctrinal statement guaranteed to pass the the CBC's now-standard orthodoxy test.

The point is not that this or that candidate holds this or that opinion, but that the CBC should presume to act as an arbiter of moral, political or scientific truth. In today's piece, readers are told yet again that "almost all climate scientists agree that human activity is the driving force in climate change." The hyperlink provided in that sentence does not divert readers to anything even remotely scientific—in contrast with this document, for instance—but rather to this story on the colourful politics of the Paris accord.

We're in the home stretch of an election campaign in Ontario, in which the important issue of carbon taxation figures prominently. Indeed, with the clock ticking down on Kinder Morgan's May 31 deadline for the Trans Mountain pipeline extension, and with federal finance minister Bill Morneau getting the third degree on the hard costs of his government's decarbonization policies, it's probably fair to say that energy and environmental issues have not been this politically salient for a generation. CBC News has an obligation to put before Canadians information that is useful to their lives as citizens, especially during election campaigns. Mouthing the old climate-change platitudes like its 2007 just doesn't cut it—and Canadians like Goldie Ghamari know it.

Fuel Poverty in Canada

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The 2018 publication Energy Efficiency Potential in Canada to 2050 (free to registrants at the IEA website) contains a short but shocking section on fuel poverty in Canada. Every Canadian with a stake in the rising cost of real estate, mortgage debt and especially carbon taxation would do well to read it—none more so than our energy and environment ministers.

Experts disagree on what constitutes an appropriate threshold for fuel poverty. Some argue that it is experienced when households spend more than 6% of their income on energy. Others put the benchmark at 10%. According to Canada's NEB using 2015 data and a 10% benchmark, 8% of Canadian households experience energy poverty. A recent UBC study using 2011 data and a 6% benchmark, by contrast, put the number at 21% of households. If automobile fuel costs are included—which the IEA concedes is warranted, given that 80% of Canadians commute to work in their own vehicles—the numbers double.

Fuel poverty afflicts low-income households disproportionately: up to 42% of low-income Canadians will experience it, which inevitably means "lowering their comfort standards to reduce energy bills" and thus coping with all of the attendant health risks of being cold—risks that fall most heavily on the young and the elderly. But it is not only low-income Canadians who now suffer energy poverty, in this era of expensive home ownership and mounting consumer debt. The tony Toronto neighbourhood of the Beaches, for example, has witnessed a mass exodus of boutique retail outlets, in part, according to one report, because residents have significantly less disposable income. The number of house-poor Canadian households is reportedly on the rise—and not only in the country's hottest urban housing markets. Ordinary middle-class Canadians everywhere admit that they are living hand-to-mouth in their dream homes.

The IEA report is limited to exploring future energy-use scenarios for Canada that are likely to benefit from increased efficiencies (rather than from, say, specific policy reforms or shifts in consumer behaviour). Even so, what emerges from its pages is the stark but unsurprising reality that the people suffering fuel poverty will be the least likely to achieve energy efficiencies in their homes and vehicles over the medium and long run. "Given the cold climate," the report concludes, "the consequences of energy poverty may be especially acute for some Canadian households."

Indeed. This is what it means to live in a vast, cold and sparsely populated land. We in Canada spend 8.5% of GDP on end-use energy, compared with 5.5% in the United States and 7.1% across the OECD. Even under the IEA's most draconian (and arguably unachievable) scenario—what it calls "the Energy Efficient Case"—the most Canadians could expect to achieve circa 2050 is rough parity with our allies and trading partners in the OECD.

These IEA data have salience for many public-policy issues in Canada, but none more so than the debate over carbon pricing, which, until now, has had an airy, Economics 101 vibe to it. In northern Europe, the scourge of fuel poverty has been front and centre in the decarbonization debate for roughly a decade—as it has, perhaps ironically, in the more temperate climes of the developing world. Now, finally, after the coldest winter in memory, the debate has come to Canada.

Justin Trudeau's Speech for the Ages

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's NYU commencement address, delivered on Wednesday at Yankee Stadium, is likely to endure as one of the more significant expressions of his confused political doctrine. As J.J. McCullough noted in his scathing critique of the speech in the Washington Post, Trudeau has no business advising NYU grads to "let yourself be vulnerable to another point of view." From Bill C-16 to the summer-job values test and beyond, fumes McCullough, "there's almost nothing about Trudeau’s political career that suggests he’s ever had even slightest interest in 'discovering that someone you vehemently disagree with might have a point,' as he extolled NYU’s grads to do." British conservative James Delingpole was apoplectic about Trudeau's mingling of female genital mutilation and climate-change skepticism as equivalent moral transgressions (at 19:57 in the clip above). McCullough dismisses Trudeau's NYU speech as "appallingly dishonest," while Delingpole calls it "grotesquely hypocritical." Both appear to believe that Trudeau understands the contradictions inherent in his über-progressive world view, and therefore castigate him as the worst sort of cynic.

Another interpretation is, however, possible—namely that, like many progressives, Trudeau has no coherent political philosophy and is thus incapable of navigating the contradictions of his own gut instincts. If so, he is the antithesis of his father, the late Pierre Elliott Trudeau, who ascended to the office of prime minister only after theorizing a political-constitutional program for Canada that elevated "reason over passion"—tough medicine requiring that even he leave his deeply held pieties at the door.

When Justin told the NYU grads mid-way through his speech that we must all "fight our tribal mindset," he sounded very much like his father. But a moment later he departed wholesale from Pierre's signature idea that tolerance alone guarantees citizens' rights in free and diverse societies:

I think we can aim a little higher than mere tolerance. Think about it: Saying "I tolerate you" actually means something like, "Okay, I grudgingly admit that you have a right to exist, just don’t get in my face about it, and oh, don’t date my sister." There’s not a religion in the world that asks you to "tolerate thy neighbor." So let's try for something a little more like acceptance, respect, friendship, and yes, even love.

There are sentiments in this statement Pierre Trudeau would likely have applauded, but "aiming higher than mere tolerance" would not have been among them. The reason is fairly obvious to anyone who has thought about the practical application of liberal values within diverse societies: we can disagree with, disdain, or even deplore something and still tolerate it. But we cannot love it. The pacifist can tolerate the use of her tax dollars to fund the military, but she cannot love it. The environmentalist can tolerate the building of a pipeline, but she cannot love it. The religious conservative can tolerate the extension of abortion rights, but she cannot love it. "Tolerance is never sufficient," Justin Trudeau wrote in 2016 after touring Auschwitz. "Humanity must learn to love our differences." His father, by contrast, knew that perfection is the enemy of the good, and that loving our differences is not only an unattainable ideal in politics but a dangerous one. At the very least it inculcates political correctness, or what Michael Ignatieff has called a "coercive culture of ritualized, insincere approval." At its worst, it is authoritarian.

What the NYU speech appears to demonstrate is that Justin Trudeau has imbibed just enough of his father's classic liberalism to confound his own progressive impulses. "To let yourself be vulnerable to another point of view—that’s what takes true courage," Trudeau told the NYU grads. When he said this, he appeared to believe it. And when he added just moments later, "Let me be very clear: this is not an endorsement of moral relativism or a declaration that all points of view are valid," he appeared to believe that too.

The liberal in Justin Trudeau wants desperately to be tolerant, but the progressive in him cannot help but dictate the limits of that toleration.