Week Eleven: “We as a bar have so many other issues we should talk about.”

Have you heard the one about the prime minister, the bear, and the bar?

Tabatha Southey’s pitch-perfect column in the Globe, “A prime minister and his bear walk into a bar…,” is a must-read going into the final days of the 2015 election. Because in a way, it pushes back against the moments when we (I) have dismissed campaign distractions, and forces us to take a second, harder look at precisely what matters (and why).

In 2014, during Quebec’s provincial election, Quebecers were also faced with questions of belonging, and representations and rights of minority groups and religions. Reflecting this situation and the greater context of provincial politics, a group of independent media producers called their documentary about the Charter of Quebec Values “La charte des distractions.” Acknowledging campaigns may be trying to draw our attention away from other issues does not negate the need to critically analyze how so-called distractions work.

So while I may tend to agree with Southey’s imaginary bar patron who asks after the environment — or, for more clear perspective, the Assembly of First Nations Ontario Regional Chief quoted in this episode of The Current on CBC who notes the absence of clean drinking water in many indigenous communities continues to be overlooked  — I can’t look away, either. And so here are stories that take up both the environment, and questions of the niqab and citizenship rights, lingering on the challenges voters face:

  • In an opinion piece for The Globe and Mail, a former B.C. attorney general argues that, faced with a range of political positions on most fronts — including the environment — that may or may not be so different, the question of whether voters will allow there to be “two types of Canadians” ought to be a determining factor this election.
  • The Independent, a London, U.K.-based newspaper, offers a lengthy analysis of the Canadian election under the headline, “Anti-Muslim prejudice is a nasty theme of campaigning as the liberal nation’s democracy loses its way”, while another U.K.-based newspaper, The Guardian, touches on issues of the niqab and the “barbaric cultural practices” hotline — as well as Canada’s responsibilities on climate change and our record on oil production — in this opinion piece.
  • Canadian author Joseph Boyden, in this radio interview and Maclean’s article, argues: “The real issue is the economy, which is wobbly right now. […] The real issue is the environment, which is screwed. The real issue is First Nations issues. The fastest growing population in our country are second-class citizens, and yet we’re talking about niqabs.” (If you listen to the radio interview, the interviewer goes to great lengths to play devil’s advocate on what would constitute “barbaric cultural practices” at the start of the interview, while taking a pass on the opportunity raised to talk about oil and the environment.)
  • This piece was published over a week ago, but highlights how Thomas Mulcair engaged oil pipeline and niqab issues when he was on Tout le monde en parle, and why this careful engagement is important in Quebec.

The other paddle

Pulling back, the last days of the election are not without a number of questions about how the economy will fare after Oct. 19.

On climate change


When I started this blog in August, I promised I wouldn’t tell you how to vote. And I still won’t tell you who I think you should vote for. (Chances are, even if I wanted to, I wouldn’t know.)

But, if you haven’t already voted in advance, do cast a ballot on Monday, Oct. 19. Here are some necessary details from Elections Canada.

Week Ten: Negotiating rupture and ways of life

Heading into the 1992 Earth Summit, or United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, in Rio de Janeiro, then-U.S. President George Bush made clear, “the American way of life is not up for negotiation.” The following year, in a published chapter entitled, “Global ecology and the shadow of ‘development,'” Wolfgang Sachs argued Bush’s statement effectively yoked the right of countries to maintain their rates of economic and industrial development and expansion to the interests of maintaining the environment. He argued, further, keeping development as a core principle at Rio enabled international cooperation among a range of international actors, however, “it prevents the rupture required to head off the multifaceted dangers for the future of mankind” (Sachs, 1993, p. 3).

Heading into the last two weeks of Canada’s federal election, this word — rupture — is one I can’t help returning to. Have we had the honest-to-goodness rupture moment in this election? The moment when all the potential sacrifices, real-life impacts of climate strategies, and carbon taxes have been laid out before us, to judge and to weigh? Between media coverage and party platforms (as well as party advertisements), have voters seen all the options and all the plans? At times, it has seemed that, between troubling distractions and speeches emphasizing how the ways of life of middle class voters will be maintained and made better, discussion of serious change couldn’t be farther from this election.

Yet, rather serious people — people like former Bank of Canada Governor and current Bank of England Governor Mark Carney — talk openly about rather massive changes that need to be made, including, as the Globe reported from a speech Carney gave in London last week, “pricing in the risk of moving to a low-carbon future.” Soon after the Oct. 19 vote, Canada’s government will be expected to represent the country at Paris climate talks for a universal climate agreement, and the prime minister will have to engage with the notion of a “postpetroleum world.”

Meanwhile, according to a memo leaked last week, officials within Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs are looking for the post-Oct. 19 government to take up a more serious international role on climate change:

The memo recommends that the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development take a more active role in promoting climate change engagement by targeting programs at climate finance, clean technology and “climate-smart agriculture.”

“While the ultimate responsibility for multilateral engagement on climate change rests with Environment Canada, DFATD could encourage the new government to earmark resources for this purpose,” the memo says.

Cited work & recommended readings

Sachs, W. (1993). Global ecology and the shadow of ‘development.’ In W. Sachs (Ed.), Global Ecology: A New Arena of Political Conflict, pp. 3-21. London & New Jersey: Zed Books

McKibben, B. (2000). We’re all environmentalists now, right? Round one. The Atlantic. http://www.theatlantic.com/past/docs/unbound/roundtable/environment/mckibben1.htm

Vidal, J. (2012). Rio +20: Earth summit dawns with stormier clouds than in 1992. The Guardian. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2012/jun/19/rio-20-earth-summit-1992-2012

New resources

Equiterre and Environmental Defence released a 16-page analysis of how the parties might tackle climate change last week, while the Anglican Church discusses “caring for creation” in its report, An Anglican Approach to Election 2015. (If anyone out there has seen similar resources from other religious groups, please send me a note!)

Other environmental news
Finally, speaking of politics and the Keystone XL

Week Nine: Canada’s place in the world

If the environment is your key election issue, perhaps one of the most disheartening, repetitive elements of media coverage through August and September has been the consistent look at oil, pipelines, climate change, and conservation through the lens of a slow economy. With one set of issues tied, always, to the other, it is difficult to discuss seriously the notion of doing anything that could further slow the economy. Yet to seriously (hope to) turn things around on the environment, isn’t such a discussion necessary?

On this down-beat, I start this week with an offering of pieces that reflect upon Canada’s place in the world:

Even if the environment is not your issue, Mark MacKinnon’s analysis for the Globe and Mail, “Harper’s world: Canada’s new role on the global stage,” is a must-read. If the environment is your issue, this is a place to pause:

Environmentalists remain […] in shock over Canada’s 2011 decision to withdraw from the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on curbing greenhouse-gas emissions. The Canada that brought the world together in 1987 to sign the Montreal Protocol to combat ozone-depleting substances seemed to have changed almost unrecognizably.

Going into this week’s leaders’ debate, global environmental politics professor Dr. Peter Stoett offers this primer, which includes this take on the importance of discussing climate change:

Climate change should be foremost in any discussion of foreign policy. Canada has not only flouted the global trend toward serious action on climate change, but has also pulled out of an inexpensive convention on desertification and has not been the leader it could be in promoting sustainable development with alternative energy technology. [….]

I hope the leaders will make bold commitments to reduce greenhouse emissions and move away from the energy superpower rhetoric that contributes to the diminishment of Canada’s reputation among those who will be most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and reduces our buoyant, multi-dimensional economy to a resource-based dependency.

I would also like to see discussion of other issues related to the environment: the United Nations’ sustainable development goals, the oceans, responsible Canadian investments abroad and conserving biodiversity worldwide. But I doubt we will get there.

Further on climate change, Germany’s ambassador has said Canada is needed as a strong climate ally this fall in Paris, and Hillary Clinton envisions Canada, the United States, and Mexico working as a team on a new climate strategy. Clinton also swept headlines last week with her (long awaited) voiced opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline that would carry bitumen from Alberta to the Gulf Coast — her opposition has ramifications for Canada’s election, though after reading this piece from the UK-based Guardian, it’s difficult to gauge the actual impact of her announcement.

More on oil & politics in Quebec

The French-language debate last week offered insight into how oil politics play in Quebec, and this excerpt from a CBC story offers a neat, if distractingly leader-centered summary:

Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe pressed the NDP leader, who goes by Tom in English but Thomas in French, on his views on oilsands.

The BQ leader cited comments that Mulcair had made in French and in English on the topic, suggesting they were contradictory.

“I’d like to know if Tom talks to Thomas from time to time,” quipped Duceppe.

More interesting, however, is an exchange regarding exporting water.

Other headlines this week

Week Eight: “What comes next?”

Watching last week’s Globe and Mail leadership debate, entitled, “Our economy. Our future,” a question that stood out, from an environmental perspective, is this from the Globe‘s editor-in-chief to Stephen Harper:

Your dream, though, of being an energy superpower [has] not been realized. For those who are worried about jobs of the future, what comes next?”

As is evident from the premise — drawing upon Harper’s near-decade of international and domestic speeches emphasizing Canada’s natural resource extraction and export economy — this is a question about what comes after an oil-centered economy.

Listen to Harper’s response, at 20:15:

The answer would seem to stand out far less than the question, or at least to be less preoccupied by the future than by the past. Much later in the debate, Harper similarly stuck to discussion of his government’s long-term plan, which can be understood as continuing to hold resource extraction and trade at its core.

This is, perhaps, the problem with accepting the election frame Harper and the Conservative Party offered on Day 1: the key issue of this election is the economy and the Harper government’s economic record. Does accepting and elaborating upon this framing allow other issues, like the environment, to be sidelined?

(For a different example of the environment being sidelined, see this series of CBC interviews with the Conservative, Liberal, and New Democrat party leaders.)

Of course, if you do have the time to watch the Globe debate in its entirety, spend some time with the context offered by Kelly Cryderman at the start — Cryderman highlights how the economy and questions of the economy are important for people in Alberta who are experiencing “sleepless nights,” who are worried about their mortgages, their jobs, and their personal debt loads. Is this kind of intensely personal context missing from the environmental debate in this election? Making connections to people’s bank accounts and potential sacrifices was certainly missing from the later debate discussion of both the NDP’s and Liberal party’s plans for capping, trading, and/or pricing carbon should they be elected.

More debate coverage

Other climate change news

Other pipeline news

More on the candidates

Week Seven: On oil

If you only read three stories this week to consider the importance and role of oil in this election — and to consider the case for thinking outside of pipelines and extraction as leading economic drivers — here are my strong recommendations:

  1. If you haven’t already, go find this weekend’s copy of the Globe and Mail. Largely structured around the question of what comes after oil, its Business and Focus section are dedicated to unpacking “Canada’s new economic reality,” and still more promisingly, offering potential solutions for significantly diversifying the national economy. Mushroom harvesting? “More female geeks”? More wind power? So much to talk about!

    2015-09-14 11.05.06

  2. Also from the Globe, Margaret Atwood’s piece, “Can Canadian oil green-clean itself?” Breaking open the problems Canadian oil faces, Atwood critiques the prime minister’s performance in this area to date, questioning as well whether Stephen Harper has been the ally the oil industry has needed:

    “If you were a leader promoting Canadian oil, maybe you should avoid annoying every other leader whose co-operation or territory is needed for your favoured projects – such as pipelines – to go ahead. Instead, Mr. Harper has threatened the U.S. President, treated First Nations with contempt, gone out of his way to antagonize the Premier of Ontario, and sullied Canada’s reputation abroad through foot-dragging over carbon-reduction treaties.

    “The oil patch must be wondering whether they backed the right champion. A leader able to admit to the CO2 problem, support practical tech, and avoid demonizing other points of view would be a wiser choice.”

  3. In the National Post, Max Fawcett outlines what a “mature conversation” about the oil sands might entail right now. In service of the argument, there may be one too many rhetorical uses of “apparently” here, and too easy a slide between the idea of leaving some oil in the ground and turning entirely from oil development. But the argument itself deserves thorough examination in the weeks ahead:

“The real solution lies in reducing the demand for oil and refined products, and the single best way to achieve that is through the implementation of a carbon tax. After all, the bulk of emissions take place at the tailpipe, not the wellhead. Given that, punishing a particular source of supply when dozens of other ones are available is more about political posturing than actually reducing emissions.

“That’s why I have a hard time taking calls for a “mature conversation” about the oil sands seriously. Mature conversations, after all, don’t trade in intellectual binaries and moral absolutes, and they aren’t conducted using internet memes and snappy tweets.”


The headline for this New Republic story — “Stephen Harper Turned Canada into a Climate Villain. An Election Won’t Change That” — doesn’t hold anything back. But if the headline reads as tough criticism of the prime minister, the analysis shows all of the political parties are either setting their targets on carbon emission cuts too low, or aren’t being specific enough about how they will make change.

Week Six: Bill Nye visits the oil sands and other long weekend-ish news

Bill Nye, who taught a generation (my generation) about science via a series of VHS tapes played in schoolrooms across the land, was in northern Alberta last week working on a show that will feature the oil sands. As APTN reports, the scale of bitumen development had an impact on Nye, who also noted the upcoming federal election could bring about helpful change. Drawing on their own archives and the APTN interview, Vice notes Nye has previously called Conservative leader and prime minister Stephen Harper a “controversial” figure when it comes to climate change:

Nye, who is also CEO of the Planetary Society, has been speaking out about climate change for years. Last year in an interview with VICE, he was already talking about Harper’s focus on fossil fuels and how it’s hurting Canada.

“The government in Canada is currently being influenced by the fossil-fuel industry,” Nye told VICE. “Stephen Harper is a controversial guy in the science community because [of] the policies, especially in Western Canada.”

Nye’s visit carries little weight in a sea of election news, but is relevant for its ability to draw attention to oil sands development, the communities of First Peoples in and around the region, and to remind Canadians that people outside the country are watching and wondering what will happen as a result of this election, particularly on Canada’s climate change response agenda.

Following the leaders

This Huffington Post story about new NDP ads featuring leader Thomas Mulcair highlights the absence of environmental issues from the party’s English-language push. Both the party’s French and English videos feature windmills, but whereas protecting the environment is explicitly part of Mulcair’s agenda as presented to Quebec, in the English video (below), Mulcair is identified as having been Quebec’s environment minister in a visual clip. In his voiceover, he simply says, “As a cabinet minister, I brought people together to get things done and make a difference in people’s lives. We need to give our kids a better start in life, ensure our young people get the opportunities they need and our seniors get the benefits they deserve…”

It would be interesting to know what the NDP knows about voters’ interests in Quebec versus the rest of Canada; why does one audience get passing reference to the environment and social justice (and many references to Stephen Harper), while the other primarily receives coded references to the economy?

This said, the NDP made clear last week it plans to put legislation to work that would significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions if elected. There is more news to come before Oct. 19, according to the party’s environment critic, but this story offers an outline of the party’s plans should it have the opportunity to define Canada’s contributions to international climate change discussions in Paris later this year. Compare this to incumbent Conservative minister Lisa Raitt, who, according to a story in the National Observer, left future discussions about how the Tories would handle the Paris conference to the prime minister. To date, and as recently as in the past week, Canada’s response to climate change has been characterized as “inadequate.”

In an interview in Quebec last week, Green Party leader Elizabeth May is recorded as having spoken very little about her party’s environmental agenda, but the Montreal Gazette Q&A does take up May’s explicit opposition to the Energy East pipeline.

Despite so many reports of how tightly controlled Stephen Harper‘s campaign events are, a Nipissing Township, Ont. man managed to get up close and personal, and get his photograph taken beside Harper while wearing an anti-Energy East T-shirt.

An Abacus poll Maclean’s reported on last week highlights how warmly respondents felt about Thomas Mulcair and Justin Trudeau, while carving a hard line between perceptions of abilities to care for young people or be good company versus abilities to persuade or negotiate.

Other news

Week Five: Pulling back focus

If we accept the popular expectation that the “real” federal election starts next week after Labour Day, for this week it is interesting to pull focus back somewhat, from what has been covered environment-wise on the election trail (pipelines, spending on infrastructure) to what has been taken up by media outside election coverage.

These items contribute to how we might think about climate change and living in our environment, yet for the most part they occupy a non-election space, not technically anchored by the daily doings of Stephen Harper, Elizabeth May, Thomas Mulcair, Justin Trudeau, or their parties, but no less influential upon our lives and the state of federal governance post-Oct. 19.


This week Barack Obama is in Alaska for the Conference on Global Leadership in the Arctic. As this Globe story outlines, whereas other countries are sending their environment ministers, Canada is sending a bureaucrat, which can be read as a symbolic failure to buy in on “immediate action” to safe-guard the region, or at best a distancing of members of the current federal government from whatever decisions are made or discussions had.

Foreign ministers from five of the seven circumpolar nations – Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, all of which are expected to back Mr. Obama’s call for immediate action to cut emissions and protect the Arctic – will attend the Conference on Global Leadership in the Arctic: Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement and Resilience (GLACIER).

Only two countries – Canada and Russia, where resource exploitation, not curbing carbon emissions, is the top Arctic priority – won’t send a minister to hear Mr. Obama’s call for action.

Neither Foreign Minister Rob Nicholson nor Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq, who led the Arctic Council during Canada’s two-year chairmanship, will attend the two-day GLACIER conference hosted by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Anchorage, Alaska. Instead Ottawa is sending a senior bureaucrat, Daniel Jean, a deputy minister. Moscow will be similarly represented by an official, Russia’s U.S. Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

This is no peripheral issue. Arctic energy extraction and sovereignty, the potential for having to move isolated and remote communities to safer ground in the years ahead, and other ramifications and results of climate change need to be dealt with. One might take issue with the U.S. government’s showcasing of “climate impacts in the Arctic as a harbinger for the world”–something like showcasing canaries in coal mines, which undermines the agency of people who live in the region now–but the political task at hand isn’t really shelve-able.



Media coverage of the Unist’ot’en Camp on the weekend highlighted two omissions from serious political debate or elaboration since the election was called: the ramifications of Bill C-51, and what happens if First Nations communities say no to proposed energy pipelines. This CBC story published Friday highlights concerns that the RCMP would use the new law to carry out mass arrests, seriously hindering the camp’s ability to bar entrance to unceded traditional territories by energy company surveyors and workers. The B.C. Civil Liberties Association issued its opposition to the potential move on the weekend, and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May joined a list of prominent people and organizations offering their support to Unist’ot’en. For its part, the RCMP released official word that it had no such plans:

The BC RCMP respects the rights of individuals to peacefully protest says Cpl. Janelle Shoihet, on behalf of North District RCMP. To clarify, the BC RCMP has no intention of ‘taking down the camp’ set up by the Unist’ot’en. We value the Wet’suwet’en culture, the connection to the land and traditions being taught and passed on at the camp, and the importance of the camp to healing.

Among a cross-section of resources to continue monitoring this story, this journalist’s Twitter feed is particularly useful.


Energy notes

Alberta is beginning serious work on refining its approach to energy royalties/provincial revenues with a new panel and a reach-out to Albertans.

For those interested in engaging questions of what comes after oil, however, check out video from this Petrocultures panel that took place in Edmonton and linked media coverage.

In this interview with Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, the absence of carbon capture from the election agenda is queried.

Global News offers in-depth analysis of “what you need to know about oilsands and the 2015 election.”

This year’s multi-element Atkinson Series is focused on the oil sands and “examining the costs of Canada’s oil sands bargain.”