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New Westminster-Burnaby candidates tackle tough questions on climate change at all-candidates meeting

Cancel or carry on with Trans Mountain pipeline?
Trans Mountain tank farm in Burnaby file
The Trans Mountain pipeline was a big topic at this week's all-candidates meeting on climate change. Shown is the tank farm on Burnaby Mountain.

New Westminster-Burnaby’s Green, Liberal and NDP candidates agree Canada needs to address the climate crisis – but they don’t all agree on how it should be done.

Environmental groups joined forces to host a Sept. 7 all-candidates meeting that focused on the climate crisis. About 60 people attended the online event, including candidates David Macdonald (Green), Rozina Jaffer (Liberal) and Peter Julian (NDP).

Macdonald said the 45th parliament of Canada will likely feature another minority government, whether that’s a Conservative or a Liberal government. If elected, he said the “bare minimum” another party would have to agree to in order to win his support is to immediately terminate construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline and to immediately discontinue all subsidies to fossil fuel companies.

“I would be prepared to bring down the government, to immediately force another election … with the focus being the climate crisis,” he said.

Jaffer said former B.C. Green Party leader Andrew Weaver and an SFU professor familiar with the various parties’ plans are among the people who have endorsed the Liberals’ climate plan. She said the Liberal party has an “excellent platform” on climate change and plans to transition away from fossil fuels.

“The Liberal plan is a plan that gradually reduces our dependence on fossil fuels and gets us to zero emissions,” she said. “How fast we get there depends also on the pain we cause. If we try and get there too fast, we are going to cause a lot of pain.”

Julian, who is seeking his seventh term as a member of Parliament, said his first item of business after the 2019 election was to table a motion on the Green New Deal, which lays out a comprehensive plan for transforming the economy from fossil fuels to clean energy as a way of addressing the climate crisis. If re-elected, he said he would immediately table that plan before Parliament.

“I think I have been very clear, I hope I have: immediate ending of fossil fuel subsidies, moving to a Green New Deal,” he said. “It is not a gradual transition; we are past gradual transitions. We have seen the destructive impacts of the climate impacts this summer. We are past the idea that somehow we can just muddle along for another couple of decades.”

Julian said the Green New Deal would allow workers in the oil and gas sector to retrain and transition into new jobs in clean energy. He said the “massive” subsidies to oil and gas companies have to stop.

“The actual number of subsidies has increased dramatically over the last two years – $18 billion in the past year. That is, unfortunately, doing the exact opposite to what needs to happen,” he said. “I note that under Justin Trudeau, Canada has become the worst emitter in the G7 as a result of those massive subsidies.”

Jaffer, however, is confident the Liberals have the best plan to address the climate crisis.

“Mr. Julian talks about the Green New Deal,” she said, “but the reality is we have a real workable plan, one that has already been estimated to cost the least and to get us there the fastest.”

TMX – stay the course or cancel?

Both Macdonald and Julian want the federal government to cancel construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

Julian previously tabled Motion 94, which called for the cancellation of the TMX project and a reallocation of funds to the Green New Deal. He said up to $20 billion of taxpayers’ money is being poured into a project that will increase greenhouse gas emissions by up to 15%.

“That is why I am fighting, so strenuously, as many of you are, TMX, which is a massive, colossal boondoggle, an incredible financial hole that also has the added impacts of threatening the environment of the Salish Sea, and above all will increase mightily our greenhouse gas emissions,” he said. “If we are already the worst in the G7, TMX will make it far, far worse.”

Jaffer, however, said the federal government needs to look at the “big picture” and consider how to transition away from fossil fuels in a way that’s fair for everyone. As much as she wishes it wasn’t the case, she said the current reality is that people are still driving cars and are very dependent on fossil fuels.

“All of the money that is being raised from TMX is actually going to the clean environment section, to try and come up with energies that are cleaner,” she said. “I understand where you guys are coming from; I understand it’s not a pretty picture. What we have to keep in mind is that transitions take time.”

Jaffer said  there are a lot of people who are afraid of losing their jobs and paying increased fuel costs to heat their homes and drive their vehicles, so Canada has to transition away from the “mammoth oil and gas industry” in a way that speaks to everyone.

“Both the Green Party and the NDP have wonderful plans or great plans to get there, but the problem is they left out what the cost of those things is going to be,” she said. “Yes, we can cut emissions faster if we chose to, but at what price would we cut emissions faster? This is where the Liberal party must balance the interests. We have the most workable plan.”

Taking aim 

Macdonald, however, said the TMX expansion project isn’t about providing fossil fuels for Canadians, as it’s carrying a product that’s being exported abroad.

“It’s not going to go to Asia. At present there is only one buyer for the tar sands, and that is the same buyer that we’ve always had – the United States; they have the capacity to deal with tar sands,” he said. “I don’t see China, Malaysia or any Asian country lining up to buy our filthy fuel. Best to save the money now, stop the pipeline and invest that money in renewable.”

Like other Liberals, Julian said Jaffer is “peddling something that simply isn’t true” because the Trans Mountain pipeline won’t make money.

“The idea that there is somehow some economic boom or somehow there will be money to invest in clean energy is simply false,” he said. “It is also false to say that somehow Trans Mountain is there to maintain cars in the Lower Mainland. It is simply false as well. This is an export pipeline – raw bitumen.”

Macdonald agreed it makes economic sense to terminate the TMX project.

“The TMX is estimated to be about one-quarter complete, but already half of the capital budget has been spent. Stopping construction now would save $5.5 billion in the capital budget. We would further save the inevitable overruns,” he said. “Discontinuation of subsidies to fossil fuel companies will save taxpayers the $18 billion that was paid out last year alone.”

MacDonald said the federal NDP is on the books as wanting to end subsidies to fossil fuel companies, but he didn’t know if had been “cleared” with B.C. NDP Premier John Horgan or Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley.

“I feel the climate crisis is worth toppling the government over,” he said. “If the incumbent in New Westminster-Burnaby and his leader, if the NDP as a whole, shares those feelings, I have one obvious question: Why did they not force the Trudeau government to its knees on TMX and fossil fuel subsidies at anytime in the last two years?”

Julian stressed that bold action is needed to address the climate crisis.

“The cost of Trans Mountain, we already know – $20 billion,” he said. “The cost of climate change was $5 billion to our economy last year. That was before the heat dome. That was before the wild fires. That was before the flooding that we’ve seen, killing hundreds of people in the northeastern United States and in Germany.  The cost of not acting is enormous.”

Conservative candidate Paige Munro was invited to the meeting but did not attend. Organizers did not invite Kevin Heide, the People’s Party of Canada candidate.

Follow Theresa McManus on Twitter @TheresaMcManus