Canada's Orwellian Climate Politics

Writing in today's Globe and Mail, SFU professor of sustainable energy Mark Jaccard observes that successive Canadian prime ministers up to and including Justin Trudeau have adopted an "Orwellian" approach to climate and energy policy. What he means by this is that our leaders routinely commit themselves to international emissions-reduction targets they know their policies cannot achieve. This makes the policies, if not the leaders themselves, "dishonest." Jaccard pillories the Trudeau government for approving the Trans Mountain pipeline project, and lauds B.C. premier John Horgan's policy of principled resistance. "National studies by independent researchers (including my university-based group) consistently show that Mr. Trudeau's 2015 Paris promise of a 30-per-cent reduction by 2030 is unachievable with oil sands expansion," Jaccard argues. "His staff know this, so he knows it, too."

Over a thirty-year career that has included stints with the IPCC, Professor Jaccard has dedicated his research program to the goal of what might be called politically achievable sustainability. In 2016, for example, he posed the question, "Is Win-Win Possible? Can Canada’s Government Achieve Its Paris Commitment... and Get Re-elected?" If you accept the premise that CO2 emissions pose an existential threat to humanity and that aggressive unilateral decarbonization should guide Canadian energy policy, then presumably you regard Jaccard's work as both noble and indispensable. You likely also share his frustration. "Orwell once suggested that politicians be required to publicly admit their untruths—at the moment they utter them. When it comes to Canada's climate-versus-pipeline battle, this would be a great idea."

Professor Jaccard is dead right about Canada's Orwellian climate and energy policies—but for all the wrong reasons. What is objectionable about the pattern of dishonesty Jaccard has identified is that Canadian politicians no longer represent abroad what used to be called the national interest. It is true that prime ministers Mulroney, Chrétien, Harper and Trudeau all "failed to immediately implement the regulations and carbon prices necessary to achieve their promises," as Jaccard notes. But they did so precisely because they knew that Canadian voters would not abide them—the same Canadian voters who have besieged Justin Trudeau with their experiences of energy poverty (see the video clip above); who agree with climate scientist James Hansen and economist Bjorn Lomborg that meeting the Paris targets will cost trillions of dollars and have little impact on future global temperatures; who appreciate Trudeau's own boast that "no country would find 173 billion barrels of oil in the ground and leave them there" (see the video clip below); who are frustrated that Canadian oil is selling at a massive discount due to self-imposed transportation bottlenecks; who resent the bungled energy policies of their provincial governments (Ontarians in particular); who are tired of guilt-inducing global-warming media hysteria; and, above all, who are sick of sanctimonious environmentalists telling them how often they should vacation, or how much meat they should eat, or how many kids they should have.

The problem for Canadian politicians who make "dishonest" promises at COP conferences, in short, is not that they lack the imagination or the political will to sell them to obdurate voters back home. It is that the promises are dishonest.