Politicians often talk about the urgent need for bold action on the climate crisis gripping the planet.
New Democrats, led by Jagmeet Singh, now have an excellent opportunity to take such action.
Handed a chance by voters to hold the balance of power in a Liberal minority government, the NDP can demand as its price the scrapping of the $9.3-billion Trans Mountain oil pipeline expansion project.
Svend Robinson expressed such a wish as he joined New Democrats at their victory party at the Hilton Vancouver Metrotown hotel on election night Monday (October 21).
“My hope is that the NDP caucus will, in fact, make it very clear that we are not prepared to support a government that tries to push through the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion,” Robinson told the Georgia Straight.
The voice of the former long-time MP will be absent from that caucus following his election-night loss in Burnaby North–Seymour, where the pipeline originating from Alberta ends.
According to Robinson, stopping the Trans Mountain expansion should make or break the deal for New Democrats.
Carbon emissions from human activities, including the use of fossil fuels like oil, contribute to global warming. Based on estimates, emissions associated with the Trans Mountain expansion will exceed those produced by the entire province of B.C.
According to provincial figures, B.C. generated 64.5 million tonnes of carbon-dioxide equivalent in 2017. Emissions from downstream activities related to Trans Mountain, like refining, distribution, and retailing of petroleum products, are projected at 71.1 million tonnes per year.
The estimate was made by SFU professor Mark Jaccard and was submitted as evidence by the City of Vancouver to the National Energy Board.
In addition, the city told the NEB that the project will generate annual carbon emissions of about 7.7 million tonnes from upstream activities such as exploration and production.
Singh has said that he opposes the pipeline expansion.
In the closing days of the campaign, Singh laid down six conditions for supporting a party in a minority government. One of the conditions is a commitment to reduce emissions.
On election night, the Straight asked reelected NDP Vancouver East MP Jenny Kwan how important Trans Mountain is in securing her party’s support for a Liberal minority government. Kwan did not address the pipeline matter directly, saying only that the “issue around climate action is very real”.
“We need to ensure that we take action to address the climate emergency,” Kwan told the Straight.
Peter McCartney, a climate campaigner with the environmental group the Wilderness Committee, shares Robinson’s wish. “It’s very clear that Canadians have spoken in favour of bold climate action, and bold climate action does not include pipelines,” McCartney told the Straight by phone.
The NDP won 24 seats in the election, enough to sustain a minority government. Liberals earned 157 seats, which is 13 short of a majority.
Rita Wong was sentenced to almost a month in jail for protesting outside the pipeline’s Westridge Terminal in Burnaby in violation of a court injunction.
Wong, who is a poet and a professor at Emily Carr University of Art + Design, also wants to see the pipeline expansion project scrapped in a deal to be struck by New Democrats. “I would support that as a condition of an agreement, but I don’t know what the prospects of that are,” Wong told the Straight by phone.
Justin Trudeau has approved the pipeline expansion twice. In 2018, his government bought the pipeline for $4.5 billion from the Canadian subsidiary of Texas-based company Kinder Morgan.
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, has been one of the most vocal opponents of the pipeline project.
“I would imagine that a Liberal-NDP coalition will offer opportunities to continue our struggle to ensure that the Salish Sea and orcas and wild salmon and our rivers and whatnot are protected from catastrophic oil spills and tanker spills,” Phillip told the Straight by phone.
As to whether New Democrats should demand the scrapping of the project, Phillip said that “time will tell how that card is played.”
“It’s going to be up to Jagmeet Singh and his team to, you know, finesse the issue,” Phillip said.