B.C. political axis shifts from left-right to where politicians stand on future of the planet

It's no big surprise that Ironworkers Local 97 supports the B.C. Liberals

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      This week, the provincial media went into overdrive following a news conference held by Premier Christy Clark and members of the Ironworkers Local 97.

      The union's business agent, Doug Parton, declared that the union is supporting the B.C. Liberals because it backs various megaprojects that employ his members.

      And he slammed the union's traditional ally, the B.C. NDP, for questioning the wisdom of these policies.

      “For years they’ve been known as the labour party,” Parton said. “But when they come out against the George Massey bridge, that’s a direct attack on the ironworkers. I can’t take that any other way. That’s our bridge.”

      The comment that this was "our bridge" is rather ridiculous.

      If the George Massey Tunnel Replacement Project is built, it will belong to the public, not to a bunch of Ironworkers. And it is expected to cost $3.5 billion, some of which will end up in the pockets of union members.

      Moreover, this bridge will be paid by public tolls, which will go on for at least one generation and quite possibly longer.

      The new bridge could also be a big money loser, judging from the dismal performance of the Port Mann Bridge.

      The Port Mann crossing is expected to lose $86 million in each of the next two years. This will have to be offset by subsidies from the provincial government, which means less money available for health care, education, or tax cuts.

      Many mayors across the region oppose the George Massey Tunnel Replacement Project for environmental reasons. The only one who's unabashedly in favour is Delta's Lois Jackson.

      But will Jackson be prepared to heavily densify Ladner and Tsawwassen to help cover the cost with more traffic? Not a chance. That's because she'll be out of office before those hard decisions ever have to be made. She was first elected in 1973 and has already been mayor for 18 years.

      New political divide emerges in B.C.

      The Ironworkers' decision to support the B.C. Liberals is an example of a paradigm shift taking place in politics in this province.

      Traditionally, B.C. voters have divided along ideological lines of left and right.

      The left tends to see government as offering solutions to problems and as a useful tool to promote greater equity in society.

      That comes through investments in public health care, public education, and childcare, stronger regulations, and changes to the tax system.

      The right tends to see the government as the source of most problems. It wants to "starve the beast" by cutting taxes and slashing regulations to reduce the government's capacity to interfere in the marketplace.

      This sentiment was encapsulated in former U.S. president Ronald Reagan's statement: "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.' "

      Nowadays, however, the schism is not so much left-right, though that still exists in B.C. in a big way.

      The growing divide is between those who seriously fret about the future of the planet and those who put this issue much farther down on their list of priorities.

      Mayor Gregor Robertson has won three mayoral elections as a very green politician.
      Charlie Smith

      It started at the municipal level

      In Vancouver, this schism over the environment has been at the centre of municipal politics for almost a decade.

      It has helped Vision Vancouver retain control of city hall for three straight elections.

      That's because Mayor Gregor Robertson and some of his councillors (notably Andrea Reimer and Heather Deal) are in the camp of those who seriously fret about the future of the planet. Voters sense this and even if they dislike their policies around development or public finances, a majority will still vote for them.

      Burnaby mayor Derek Corrigan and City of North Vancouver mayor Darrell Mussatto appeal to the same types of voters.

      Can anyone seriously believe, however, that Premier Clark gets up in the morning fretting about the future of the planet? Her government's environmental record has been, quite simply, appalling.

      Those who share her views, including many members of the building trades, are migrating to the B.C. Liberals. In their mind, how much harm can another bridge cause?

      Others think that it would be far smarter to invest the same amount of money in rapid transit. They say moves like this help stave off the types of extreme weather events that have become commonplace as greenhouse gas emissions have surpassed 400 parts per million in the atmosphere.

      They also believe that not building the bridge, not to mention the Site C dam, will preserve B.C.'s food security as climate change wreaks havoc on California's agriculture industry.

      The Kinder Morgan pipeline approval has upset many younger British Columbians, who see it as another example of older politicians not caring about the environment.
      Amanda Siebert

      Young voters care about the climate

      There's a generational divide, as well. Younger people are far more likely to fret about the future of the planet because they'll have to live with the consequences of climate change.

      Many older voters, though not all, don't give a hoot about that. This was apparent during a regional plebiscite on a 10-year, $7.5-billion transportation plan, which was soundly defeated in 2015.

      The challenge for the B.C. NDP is to mop up enough climate-concerned voters—including young people—to win seats in places where people care about the environment. That includes North Burnaby, North Delta, the Northeast Sector of Metro Vancouver, and the Comox Valley.

      In the past, the B.C. NDP has tried to play it both ways by pandering to the building trades while promising environmental salvation.

      That left room in the political marketplace for the Greens, who eagerly pointed out the hypocrisy of this approach.

      But under B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan, the Official Opposition has adopted a more consistent environmental message. It cost the B.C. NDP the support of Ironworkers Local 97 and it may well cost it the support of other building-trades unions.

      However, this is not the political calamity that some columnists might think it is.

      The B.C. NDP's concerns about megaprojects could bring young voters onside, including some of the same young voters who helped Justin Trudeau become prime minister.

      Paradigm shifts in politics aren't unheard-of

      In Quebec, the political divide used to be over the power of the Catholic Church. Nowadays, it's not left-right; it tends to be sovereignty-federalist.

      In India, the divide is not left-right; it’s secularism versus religious communalism.

      In both these places, people of wildly different ideological perspectives end up in the same party because they agree on the fundamental issue of concern.

      So if the divide in B.C. becomes whether you fret about the future of the planet or you don't, we shouldn't see this as a problem.

      In fact, it's something we should all welcome.

      Anyone who's paying attention to the potential of abrupt climate change recognizes that it could wipe out humanity in fairly short order.

      Could any political issue be more important than that?