Justin Trudeau and John Horgan act like climate heroes, notwithstanding plenty of evidence to the contrary

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      (This commentary is longer than most articles that appear on media websites.)

      Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier John Horgan have each enjoyed tremendous political success in B.C.

      In the last federal election, Trudeau's Liberals won a party record of 17 seats in Canada's westernmost province.

      Then they went on to win the South Surrey–White Rock by-election, giving them 18 MPs in B.C. (The Liberals were back to 17 seats after Vancouver Granville MP Jody Wilson-Raybould was ejected from caucus earlier this year.)

      In 2017, Horgan became the first NDP premier since the party was trounced in 2001. 

      Both politicians succeeded by offering to make life more affordable for average British Columbians than their predecessors, Stephen Harper and Christy Clark.

      On the campaign trail, they also portrayed themselves as far more concerned about the climate than Harper and Clark.

      They followed through on their promises to make life more affordable for the middle class.

      But Trudeau and Horgan have fallen far short of the mark on the climate file, notwithstanding their joint efforts to suggest otherwise. (More on that later in this article.) And that could threaten their hold on power.

      Justin Trudeau is promising voters that he can deliver a better economy, action on climate change, and new fossil-fuel projects.

      Affordability measures introduced

      But first, here's how the economic promises were kept.

      Trudeau cut taxes for the middle class and boosted the Canada child benefit for middle-income families.

      In addition, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation will provide equity to first-time homebuyers below a certain income threshold. And workers can now upgrade their skills while working through a Canada Training Benefit, thanks to Trudeau.

      Meanwhile, Horgan eliminated tolls on the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges, boosted income-assistance rates for the poor, eliminated interest on B.C. student loans, expanded the ages of children from six to 18 for a child opportunity benefit, and eliminated medical services premiums for individuals.

      Alex Hemingway of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives looked at various provincial fees, including tobacco and carbon taxes, and concluded that most B.C. households have seen their taxes fall.

      The bottom 90 percent of households will see their provincial tax load dropping from 9.1 percent of income to 7.9 percent from 2016 to 2020, according to Hemingway's research. The top one percent of income earners will see a hike from 9.6 percent to 10.5 percent over the same period.

      Housing prices have also fallen over the past year and a half in B.C., thanks in part to new provincial taxes and tighter mortgage-eligibility rules ordered by the federal Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions.

      The Canadian government's Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project will cost $9.3 billion.
      Trans Mountain

      Climate phonies?

      But Trudeau and Horgan have been accused of being climate phonies by some in the environmental movement, notwithstanding their grandiose promises of big, positive changes to occur by the time they've left office.

      Let's start with the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. The Trudeau government bought Kinder Morgan's Canadian assets for $4.5 billion.

      Then the Trudeau cabinet decided to proceed with a $9.3-billion expansion to triple shipments of diluted bitumen to B.C. to 890,000 barrels per day.

      Warning: here comes some math on carbon emissions.

      In 2016, according to the B.C. government, there were 62.3 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents emitted in the province.

      That was actually up 1.5 percent in the first year of Trudeau's rule.

      But the numbers are even larger in connection with the Trans Mountain pipeline project.

      A report for the City of Vancouver in 2014 estimated that annual downstream emissions from the expansion would be 71.1 million tonnes per year. That exceeds the entire provincial total in 2016!

      Of that, 17.3 million would be through refining and distribution; another 53.8 million would the emissions from the pipeline shipments being combusted.

      Moreover, this report forecast an additional 8.8 million tonnes of new annual upstream emissions, with 7.7 million of those coming from bitumen production.

      Let's now consider overall Canadian fossil-fuel extraction.

      This year, as Trudeau entered his fourth year in power, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers forecast an increase in crude oil production by 1.27 million barrels per day by 2035.

      It's expected to reach 5.86 million barrels per day by that year.

      So, there will be no reduction in oilsands production, from the industry's perspective.

      Then there's the proposed LNG Canada plant near Kitimat, which the Trudeau and Horgan governments gleefully approved.

      The impact of emissions from this project are in dispute.

      This LNG Canada–sponsored article in the Vancouver Sun showed how the company is selling its proposed plant to the public.

      The company has claimed in a sponsored article that 26 million tonnes of LNG produced each year leads to a reduction of 60 to 90 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.

      That's because the company maintains that LNG will replace the use of coal in Asia.

      Marc Lee of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, on the other hand, has called the substitution claim a "big lie".

      That's because he says the processes involved in extracting the natural gas, including fracking, result in substantial emissions, drastically reducing its advantage over coal.

      In a recent policy note, Lee also drew attention to the energy required in the liquefaction process.

      The province estimates that the first phase of the LNG plant will emit 3.45 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents per year.

      According to a Pembina Institute news release last year, it could emit 8.6 million tonnes annually after the second phase is completed.

      Lee has suggested emissions could be even higher after all the other effects of production, processing, and shipment are taken into account.

      Meanwhile, Cornell University professor Robert Howarth recently had a paper published in the journal Biogeosciences that paints a grim picture. 

      He concluded that shale-gas production in North America over the past decade "may have contributed more than half of all the increased emissions from fossil fuels globally".

      "Given our finding that natural gas (both shale gas and conventional gas) is responsible for much of the recent increases in methane emissions, we suggest that the best strategy is to move as quickly as possible away from natural gas, reducing both carbon dioxide and methane emissions," Howarth wrote. "Natural gas is not a bridge fuel."

      Cornell University professor Robert Howarth recently had a paper published that emphatically stated that natural gas is not a bridge fuel to a cleaner future.

      Electrification offered as a panacea

      What's the response to all of this from Trudeau and Horgan?

      They held a photo-op yesterday in Surrey promising electrification of the gas industry to "reduce carbon emissions".

      A new clean power committee with federal, provincial, and B.C. Hydro representation "will work to advance projects that increase power transmission and electrification across the province".

      "The prime minister and I have found common cause on a number of issues," Horgan told reporters. "Minister [Jonathan] Wilkinson touched on many of those, but nowhere are we more at synch than on the challenges of climate change and what we, as orders of government, are required and compelled to do for future generations to make sure that we can continue to have a vibrant economy as well as a sustainable economy going forward."

      Naturally, the government announcement also touted the "historic $40 billion investment" in the LNG Canada plant, which the Trudeau and Horgan governments so enthusiastically approved.

      While electrifying LNG production (if this ever occurs) could reduce emissions in the liquefaction process, fracking and its associated methane releases will continue unabated. And this fossil fuel will also be burned when the LNG reaches its export markets.

      Nevertheless, the joint announcement was applauded by Clean Energy Canada and the Pembina Institute, two organizations that have consistently given the B.C. government a free pass for not legislating any emissions targets before 2030.

      This in spite of a study published in the journal Nature on July 1.

      It pointed out that existing energy infrastructure projects would emit around 658 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents by mid-century.

      Proposed energy infrastructure projects around the world would increase this output to 846 gigatonnes. That would exceed the Earth's carbon budget if warming is to be limited to 1.5 C above the period before the Industrial Revolution.

      That's the goal of the Paris Agreement, which Trudeau and Horgan profess to support.

      Yet the Trudeau government keeps approving fossil-fueld infrastructure projects. These include but are not limited to the LNG plant and the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

      Trudeau still tries to present himself as a climate hero in stark contrast to his chief opponent, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer.

      And Horgan is Trudeau's willing accomplice, showing up at news conferences to say that he sees eye to eye with the prime minister on the climate.

      God, help us.

      Admittedly, the Horgan government's CleanBC initiative will help.

      But as long as the LNG plant is on the books and fracking of natural gas accelerates, the province will be highly unlikely to meet its 2030  and 2040 legislated emissions targets.

      According to B.C. Green Leader Andrew Weaver, even if the LNG Canada plant weren't built, CleanBC would only take the province 90 percent of the way.

      In light of this, it's no wonder that climate activists are currently planning peaceful direct actions for this fall that will disrupt the status quo in British Columbia.