Memo to Christy Clark: Vancouver–Point Grey voters care about climate change
Premier Christy Clark's recent decision to redefine natural gas as a "clean source of energy" may have unintended consequences for her political career.
That's because she represents Vancouver–Point Grey in the legislature, which is home to some of the most environmentally conscious voters in the province.
On June 21, Clark declared that her government will change the legal status of natural gas when it's used in the development of liquefied natural gas.
The Clean Energy Act has an "objective" to generate at least 93 percent of electricity in B.C. "from clean or renewable resources and to build the infrastructure necessary to transmit that electricity".
Under the law, a "clean or renewable resource" currently means "biomass, biogas, geothermal heat, hydro, solar, ocean, wind or any other prescribed resource".
Clark's sleight-of-hand with the definition of "clean energy"—which was announced at a Business Council of B.C. energy conference—will enable her to include a fossil fuel in that category to boost the LNG industry.
It's clear that these plants require a great deal of power. The British Columbia Renewable Energy Blog reported in May that if four LNG plants are built, with each requiring approximately 4,000 gigawatt hours of energy per year, "the demand for electricity in the Province could exceed 25% of the existing BC Hydro load".
Clark's announcement was condemned by a bevy of clean-energy advocates.
SFU resource economist and former B.C. Utilities Commission chair Mark Jaccard told CBC that "this new policy direction is a complete betrayal of the families Christy Clark says she cares about".
The David Suzuki Foundation also ripped into the policy change. And Nathaniel Baker, writing on the Energy Boom website, characterized it this way: "Christy Clark, the premier of British Columbia, has joined the ranks of public officials the world over, which have clouded the definition of 'clean energy' by using the term to serve their own interests."
This is where things get problematic for Clark. While her decision may be cheered in northeastern B.C. where the gas is produced and among energy executives in downtown Vancouver, it may not go over nearly as well in her own constituency.
The former MLA, Gordon Campbell, was very aware that a significant number of students, university employees, and environmentalists in Vancouver–Point Grey see climate change as a voting issue.
Campbell introduced the carbon tax, the Clean Energy Act, and other measures to demonstrate that he understood its significance. The former premier held several high-profile meetings with his friend, then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, to discuss the issue.
Campbell even shared a stage in Vancouver with the King of Climate Change, Al Gore, where they were both introduced by David Suzuki. I had fun with that one, writing a feature article called "The Two Faces of Gordo", which juxtaposed Campbell's so-called green conversion with climate-killing policies such as the Gateway Program and his support for coal exports.
But Campbell's outreach to people like Gore sent a message to voters in his constituency that he understood climate change and considered it an extremely serious issue.
Clark, on the other hand, has not demonstrated to many voters that she really cares that much about climate change. The so-called "Green Liberals" helped her become party leader only because she was slightly more liberal on this issue than her chief rival, Kevin Falcon. The Green Liberals ranked Clark third among the four candidates.
Clark's lack of passion for the issue was apparent during the B.C. Liberal leadership campaign when she tap-danced around climate change at a B.C. Chamber of Commerce event.
Christy Clark sort of speaks about climate change.
Unlike her rival Kevin Falcon, Clark didn't question the carbon tax. But she didn't give it a strong endorsement, either.
“I don’t support a referendum on the carbon tax. principally because I don’t support going to referenda on tax issues,” she said.
There was no word on rising global emission levels or any demonstration that this was of any serious concern to her.
The Green vote reached 15 percent in Vancouver–Point Grey in 2005. It's probably no coincidence that Campbell's strong embrace of this issue followed that election, in which he only captured 46 percent of the vote. In the 2009 election, Campbell passed the 50-percent threshold.
I would argue that this is because Vancouver–Point Grey voters believed, by and large, that by 2009, Campbell understood and accepted the reality of climate change.
It's now 2012, and their current MLA, Premier Clark, still has not appeared to have gotten the message on climate change. She's getting condemned by the same types of people—Jaccard, the David Suzuki Foundation, and green-energy entrepreneurs—who were willing to cut Campbell a great deal of slack, notwithstanding his Gateway Program roadbuilding frenzy.
Unlike Campbell, Clark hasn't appeared to recognize that climate change is a voting issue for many residents of Vancouver–Point Grey. The evidence is pretty clear in her cavalier announcement about changing the legal definition of natural gas, without taking time to consult or placate green-energy supporters.
Many of her constituents who care about global warming are not the types who would have dialled up her CKNW Radio show. But they will put an "X" on a ballot for a Green party candidate if they feel that Clark hasn't wrapped her mind around the importance of climate change and truly understands the threat that it poses to life on Earth.
For more information on climate change, see the UBCC350 site, which was created by UBC students, faculty, and staff advocating for meaningful climate action.
Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter at twitter.com/csmithstraight.