Justin Trudeau and Christy Clark risk political backlash from millennial voters if they embrace pipeline projects

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      Anyone who reads Postmedia newspapers can see that the groundwork is being laid for approval of the Kinder Morgan and Energy East pipelines.

      This would enable Alberta bitumen to be shipped to Burnaby for export on oil tankers through Burrard Inlet. TransCanada's proposed Energy East pipeline would transport bitumen across the Prairies, Ontario, and Quebec to its destination in Saint John, New Brunswick.

      This has the potential to cause a political earthquake not only nationally, but also here in B.C. This is particularly true among millennial voters, who see climate change as an existential threat.

      Earlier this month, the National Post's John Ivison reported that Finance Minister Bill Morneau and others have convinced Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to back both projects.

      More recently, the Vancouver Sun's Vaughn Palmer wrote a column entitled "Ingredients simmering for a pipeline deal". The article outlined how B.C. premier Christy Clark could be brought onboard if B.C. had better grid integration with Alberta to enable sales of hydropower.

      This hydropower would replace coal-fired electricity generated in Alberta, enabling Trudeau, Clark, and Alberta premier Rachel Notley to claim that tripling shipments of oil to the West Coast would be good for the planet.

      Thus it's no coincidence Trudeau has taken his cabinet on a retreat to Alberta, where they'll meet Notley this evening.

      "Her office has indicated Notley intends to bend ministerial ears about the need for a pipeline to get her province’s crude oil to tidewater," the Toronto Star reported.

      It's part of Clark's blue-collar strategy

      The hydroelectric power would come, in part, from the proposed Site C dam in B.C. It's vehemently opposed by First Nations and farmland advocates, who fear that climate change is going to have seriously negative impacts on the U.S. agriculture industry.

      However, the dam and the pipeline projects are supported by many in the building trades. They see the potential for years of employment if the companies aren't allowed to import temporary foreign workers.

      In 2013, the B.C. Liberals relied on support from blue-collar workers to capture seats in the B.C. Interior that previously went to the NDP. Wooing those B.C. equivalents of the "Reagan Democrats" is at the core of Clark's political calculus.

      The premier's strategy also generates massive political contributions from companies that are in the business of building megaprojects. That can help in an election.

      Meanwhile, an independent society, Resource Works, headed by former Vancouver Sun business editor Stewart Muir, constantly sends out articles and other messages in favour of pipelines and LNG projects. Muir is married to Athana Mentzelopoulos, who's been a senior adviser to the premier and who's now deputy minister of finance.

      Get ready for millennials' rage

      The backroom moves by Trudeau, Clark, and Notley don't come without considerable political risk for the B.C. Liberals and B.C. NDP.

      On Saturday at the TEDxEastVan conference, young journalist Geoff Dembicki delivered a remarkable speech explaining how and why millennials helped throw Stephen Harper out of the prime minister's office. His presentation at the York Theatre in East Vancouver came as we may be seeing signs of nonlinear or abrupt climate change.

      Dembicki, who writes about environmental issues for the Tyee and other publications, cited a recent paper by former NASA climatologist James Hansen.

      "The science of it is fairly complex but basically what it comes down to is climate change is affecting the current in the Atlantic that helps control the weather," Dembicki said. "And if Hansen is correct, this could mean that Antarctica is warming 10 times faster than we've previously thought. This was a controversial paper and in many ways, it was a worst-case scenario. But what it could mean is that by 2065 at the very earliest, we could be experiencing a multimetre sea level rise that floods every coastal city on the planet."

      It's scary stuff when you realize that this would include such heavily populated centres as New York City, Rio de Janeiro, Mumbai, Shanghai, Los Angeles, and London. 

      Dembicki pointed out that the generation between 18 and 34 years old could easily be alive for this "doomsday scenario" in 2065, unlike political leaders in their 40s, 50s, and 60s.

      He also cited a Pew Research Centre survey of millennials, which showed that more than 50 percent identified themselves as politically independent. And in Canada, these millennials often voted strategically in the last election for the candidate most likely to defeat a Conservative.

      "A poll in B.C. on election day found that over 42 percent of young people engaged in strategic voting, the highest of any age group," Dembicki said.

      He said that many millennials were looking for anyone who would take their survival seriously—and they weren't "particularly picky" about party labels.

      "As Hansen's study reminded us, climate change is not just some abstract scientific issue," Dembicki told the audience. "It's a moral crisis that literally threatens the future survival of an entire generation. We are not willing to tolerate a political and economic system that doesn't take that threat seriously."

      He pointed out that an upsurge in youth voting helped elect Trudeau as prime minister.

      "What Canada's election shows to me is when a group of politically independent people come together to vote for their survival, they can achieve profound and immediate change," Dembicki noted.

      Fallout could be felt in B.C. election

      How are millennial voters likely to respond if many believe that Trudeau, Notley, and Clark's actions show they are more interested in short-term jobs than long-term survival?

      And how is B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan going to appeal to them when his political sister next door, Notley, is doing everything she can to get pipelines built across the country to enable more fossil fuels to be burned?

      Horgan has already declared that the Leap Manifesto, which aims for a clean-energy future, is contrary to the values of British Columbians. That statement alone indicated which side of the fence he is on.

      From the political rumblings in Ottawa, Alberta, and Victoria, it sounds like the door is opening ever more widely for B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver.

      In light of Dembicki's comments about how politically independent the millennials are, we shouldn't be surprised if the Greens make major inroads in the 2017 election.

      If the stars align, they could even form the Official Opposition, just as Gordon Wilson's B.C. Liberals did after a transformational provincial election in 1991.

      These days, anything is possible, particularly in a province where a growing number of voters are casting ballots based on environmental issues.