The agreement between British Columbia’s New Democratic and Green parties to form a minority government will cause a significant shift on a range of climate, energy and transport policies in the province, if it goes ahead.
In a four-year deal between climate scientist Andrew Weaver’s Green Party and John Horgan’s BC NDP, the two parties have committed to “immediately employ every tool available to the new government to stop” the twinning of energy firm Kinder Morgan’s proposed Trans Mountain pipeline running from Edmonton to Burnaby. Opposing the pipeline expansion was a mutual key plank in their campaigns due to the resultant increase in coastal tanker traffic, which increases the risk of oil spills, the transport of raw bitumen through the province, and the associated greenhouse gas emissions from its production and combustion.
Presumptive new premier John Horgan said that his government would consult with the ministries of energy and environment and with the attorney general to ensure provincial permits are reviewed.
The move has already kicked off a conflict with fellow member of the NDP and Alberta premier, Rachel Notley, who is insisting that the pipeline, approved by the federal government and the National Energy Board last year, must go ahead regardless of Victoria’s position.
The NDP and Green leaders have also committed to hiking the province’s carbon tax by $5 a tonne each year from next April, rising to the nationally required $50 a tonne by 2021, a year earlier than agreed to in the Pan-Canadian Framework on Climate Change signed in November 2016. Although the increase does not hit the $10 per year desired by the Greens, the uptick is more aggressive than had been promised by the NDP, which in earlier election campaigns had opposed the carbon tax outright. The carbon tax will also be expanded to cover fugitive emissions in the natural gas sector and slash-burning.
The alliance will also refer the controversial Site C hydroelectric project to the BC Utilities Commission for a six-month, independent review. The accord language says that the commission is to consider its economic viability and consequences to British Columbians “in the context of the current supply and demand conditions”, suggesting that the parties do not want the commission to assess whether the dam’s additional electricity generation is needed for future deep decarbonisation of transport, heating and industry. Nevertheless, the move would represent something of a compromise from the Greens, who had wanted to kill the project outright.
The accord would also see the government expand public transit across Metro Vancouver and develop new sources of revenue for such projects, reconvene the province’s Climate Leadership Team, and investigate the safety of hydraulic fracturing (i.e. ‘fracking’). There is no mention of liquefied natural gas development in the accord, but NDP and Green officials have said that any LNG project must be squared with emissions mitigation targets.
The alliance must, however, first defeat Premier Christy Clark’s Liberals in a confidence vote when she recalls the legislature in the coming weeks, which, due to the narrow one-seat advantage the two parties hold in the chamber is not guaranteed.
Energy economist Mark Jaccard helped design BC’s carbon tax, and he still supports it. But he questions just how politically viable a stringent tax—at the level needed to meet climate targets—can really be. So he also continues to explore how other policies that the public find more acceptable could work.