Trevor Hancock: Throne speech and budget fail future generations

The B.C. budget, delivered two days before Earth Day, confirmed what the throne speech had already shown: the environment is very much an after-thought for the NDP government, tacked on at the end and lacking any real substance. Thus they fail to address the most important long-term issue we face: our excessive and unsustainable demands on the planet.

They just don’t get that we face a global ecological challenge and that young people need them to take strong action now. Nor do they get that the post-COVID recovery is an opportunity to bounce forward to a very different society and economy, one fit for the 21st century, one that will meet the needs of the coming generations.

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To be fair, the throne speech and budget both have a section — right at the end — about protecting the environment. The speech says: “Too often, economic growth in our province has come at the expense of the environment. That must change. We can no longer rely on simple resource extraction to generate wealth with no regard to long-term consequences.” And there is something similar in the budget, noting “our action on climate change will shape the world for generations to come.”

Fine sentiments, which I endorse. But as always, the devil is in the detail. How is that translated into policy and action? Let’s look at their action on climate change, since it is among the most important of the multiple ecological challenges we face.

The throne speech and budget both include a commitment to the CleanBC strategy and climate action. But they do not go far enough. The budget “expands clean transportation, builds more energy-efficient buildings, and works with industries to reduce their carbon footprint” — all good and useful. But at the same time, notes Jay Ritchlin of the David Suzuki Foundation, “the balanced budget hinges on massive amounts of liquid fracked gas coming online in 2025 — another huge climate miss.”

Indeed there is no hint that B.C. is a major producer and exporter of fossil fuels. You won’t find the words coal, oil, gas or LNG in either the speech or the budget, nor any reference to winding down the fossil fuel industry in B.C. Yet we know that most of the fossil fuel reserves we have, especially coal, need to stay in the ground if the world is to avoid a global climate disaster.

In fact a March 2020 report from the Corporate Mapping Project — jointly led by the University of Victoria, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Parkland Institute — notes the B.C. government shows “little willingness to contemplate a managed wind-down [of B.C.’s fossil fuel sector] so long as there are external buyers for B.C. resources.” So much for no longer relying on simple resource extraction to generate wealth with no regard to long-term consequences.

Regrettably, the B.C. government “has become one of the most generous subsidizers of oil and gas in Canada,” according to a September 2020 report from StandEarth. Specifically, their report finds “B.C. pays out substantially more in fossil fuel subsidies than the province earns in oil and gas royalties.”

Even worse, a December 2020 report from Corporate Mapping Project, examining three coal mines in northeastern B.C., found that “not only do the costs of mining activity in northeastern B.C. outweigh the benefits, but the public helped to fund extinction of caribou by subsidizing exploration and development.”

The throne speech also touts the government’s new sectoral emission targets, while failing to mention that in spite of Premier John Horgan’s 2017 direction to tax them, according to Peter McCartney, the Wilderness Committee’s climate campaigner, writing in the Georgia Straight on April 1, “B.C.’s largest emitters — fracking and logging companies — don’t have to pay the tax on much of their carbon emissions”

In short, the Horgan government fails future generations when it comes to climate change. Reliance on fracked gas and subsidies for fossil-fuel extraction and export continue – even when the subsidies fail to have the projected economic benefit and in fact harm sensitive species and ecosystems. Major sectors are partially exempt from the carbon tax, and there are no plans for a managed wind-down of the fossil-fuel sector.

Not exactly climate leadership!

thancock@uvic.ca

Dr. Trevor Hancock is a retired professor and senior scholar at the University of Victoria’s School of Public Health and Social Policy.

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