A week after the Green Party of Canada won a British Columbia byelection in a seat formerly held by the New Democrats, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh is discovering new interest in the climate crisis, declaring himself against oil and gas fracking, and expressing concern about liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports from B.C.
Singh, who previously voiced support for LNG Canada’s C$40-billion natural gas export facility in northern B.C. and the Coastal GasLink pipeline that would feed it, told reporters in Ottawa on Monday that ‘the future of Canada does not include fracking’,” the National Post reports. “ His comments come just days after NDP candidate Svend Robinson tweeted that his party’s loss of last week’s byelection in Nanaimo-Ladysmith is a ‘wake up call,’ and demanded a stronger stance from the federal leader ‘opposing fracking and all new oil and gas infrastructure’.”
The National Post report points to the significant shift in Singh’s position since his own byelection campaign just a few months ago. “The LNG project has demonstrated some clear, positive steps around consultation,” he said. “There was an exhaustive and pretty thorough consultation around Indigenous communities, First Nations communities, and elected bands and chiefs.”
Singh acknowledged at the time that “there are people standing up and defending their land who have the right to express those concerns,” concluding that “there’s still ongoing work that needs be addressed before this project moves ahead.”
On April 29, while the Nanaimo-Ladysmith campaign was under way, he told the House of Commons that “I want to build a future in which we are not fracking and burning.”
Asked about LNG Canada this week, he told media any natural resource project must meet broader goals on climate change, Indigenous rights, and job creation. “At this point, there’s some concerns that I’ve raised, and (the project) has not satisfied all those criteria,” he said.
“I do not support fracking. I do not believe that is the future for Canada,” he added. “I’ll also go beyond that, saying I don’t believe any energy source that’s carbon-based is the future for Canada.”
The post notes that LNG is a “tricky” issue for Singh given B.C. Premier John Horgan’s avid support (backed by billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies) for both LNG Canada and Coastal GasLink. Nanaimo-Ladysmith candidate Paul Manly said LNG was a wedge issue in the campaign, driven by Singh’s support for Horgan’s position.
After the NDP ran third in the riding, Robinson said LNG had been a “flashpoint” for voters. “I’m confident that the leadership of the party will recognize that we were sent an important message in the byelection and that we’ve got to step up, and we’ve got to be bold,” he told the Vancouver Sun.
On Monday, Robinson interpreted Singh’s most recent comments as opposing LNG Canada. “I’m really pleased with his leadership on this issue, on the issue of the climate crisis,” he told the Post’s Maura Forrest. “It’s clear to me that Jagmeet is listening to Canadians across the country, particularly to young people.”
The NDP leader also tabled a climate emergency motion in the House of Commons Monday, declaring that “we need to acknowledge on a global scale how serious this situation is and the fact that if we make better decisions, we can actually change this.” The Canadian Press reports that Singh “won’t put a specific number on his targets yet, but he agreed the motion is ‘subtly suggesting’ the NDP would aim for the UN targets” established by last year’s IPCC report on 1.5°C pathways, “which would mean Canada has to cut emissions almost in half by 2030.”
Liberal MP Sean Fraser, parliamentary secretary to Environment and Climate Minister Catherine McKenna, said the NDP’s climate emergency motion was well timed, after the Trudeau government scheduled a debate on the “rising climate emergency” in Canada for this week.
“Given that this motion was tabled just a few days after we had our own announcement that there would be a debate about climate change as an emergency, I expect that this is more political gamesmanship than it is actually an attempt at substantive policy debate,” he told CP.
On OurWindsor.ca, veteran Toronto Star columnist Chantal Hébert notes that Singh’s recent focus on climate change has been “a change of pace of sorts for the NDP leader”. Until this week, in more than a dozen sittings of the House of Commons where he’s led his party in the daily Question Period, “he had yet to make climate change the main focus of his first round of questions to the government,” she writes. But now, “that may become a more regular occurrence,” with environment emerging as a centrepiece of the party’s platform for the federal election this fall.
“But the result of the byelection also suggests it is getting awfully late in the game for the New Democrats to try to upstage Green Party Leader Elizabeth May on the climate change stage,” after campaigning against the Liberals’ proposed Green Shift in 2008 and subsequently supporting tar sands/oil sands and pipeline development.
“Emboldened by the byelection victory, May is poised to spend the months between now and the election calling on voters who are concerned with global warming to send a strong enough Green contingent to Parliament to hold the next government’s feet to the fire,” Hébert writes. “Her ideal scenario would be a minority government that finds the Greens holding the balance of power, as is currently the case in the B.C. legislature.”
With that scenario, she adds, “May is borrowing a page from the NDP handbook—claiming for the Greens the role of environmental conscience in the Commons in an era when climate change has become as defining an issue for many voters as social justice once was.”