New Democrats disappointing on climate change

In the past, I have expressed my disappointment with the poor environmental positions adopted by the New Democratic Party (NDP) – most significantly, their oppositon to effective carbon pricing. In the lead-up to the election in British Columbia, I have been joined by a number of respected environmental groups, including The David Suzuki Foundation, the Pembina Institute and Forest Ethics.

Simon Fraser University economist Marc Jaccard has also criticized the NDP climate plan, arguing that it would be ineffective and would cost 60,000 jobs.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

33 thoughts on “New Democrats disappointing on climate change”

  1. NDP sells environmental soul
    Keith Baldrey, Richmond News
    Published: Wednesday, April 15, 2009

    There’s no doubt the B.C. Liberals will take square aim at the NDP’s recently released economic platform, and poke all kinds of holes in it.

    You know: revenue projections too lofty, unfair taxation, miniscule funding lifts for health, education and crime fighting, and generally faulty arithmetic (sort of the same digs the NDP took at the last Liberal budget).

    This is to be expected, and I’m sure most New Democrats will lose little sleep over such attacks. But the NDP should perhaps be more nervous about a rearguard action from within its own side of the political spectrum, by voters who are furious at the party’s position when it comes to fighting climate change.

    Major environmentalists such as David Suzuki and Tzeporah Berman, as well as various conservation, environmental and first nations organizations, are dismayed at what they see as the NDP’s decision to sell its soul in the hopes it can gain the support of other voters.

    The NDP’s opposition to the carbon tax — a position that is the starting point for its entire platform — appears to be based on two reasons: it was unpopular when it was introduced last summer because the price of gasoline was so high at the time, and it was a B.C. Liberal creation, so therefore it must be bad.

  2. the carbon tax is one reason why i am not voting NDP in this election, however the main reason why i am voting green is because both the NDP and the liberals are in favour of the gateway project, which promises to be an ecological AND social disaster. while the NDP hasn’t said anything about it, carole james knows that the seats in the tri-cities and in surrey are much more dear to her than the seats in burnaby and east vancouver.

    voters should be wary of both parties. i certainly don’t have faith in either of them.

  3. Gateway Program
    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    The Gateway Program is a $3.0 billion regional transportation project for Metro Vancouver that is being run by the British Columbia Ministry of Transportation. On January 31, 2005 the British Columbia Ministry of Transportation introduced the Gateway Program as a means to address growing congestion and reduce travel times.

  4. i certainly don’t have faith in either of them.

    I have never had faith in any Canadian political party at any level. That being said, I prefer some to others.

    Given how absurdly messy politics is, it will always be impossible to find a large political organization with policies and past actions universally worthy of respect.

  5. “as a means to address growing congestion and reduce travel times.”

    The real goal of the gateway project is to enable the continual growth of the Port of Vancouver, by facilitating truck traffic’s movement east and south. Why these containers must move on trucks rather than trains has to do with just-in-time shipping – we can therefore blame the WalMart model indirectly for these kinds of massive corporate welfare projects.

    While we need a carbon tax, what we need even more is sustainable transportation planning as far as public infrastructure investment is concerned. That means not building more highways to fill up with cars on long commutes.

  6. I don’t know if I really understand the intense opposition to the Gateway project. The point above about trains is a good one, I think rail transport is great. On the other hand, doesn’t decreasing traffic congestion have positive environmental benefits as well (ie. less idling cars)? The full capacity of the bridge certainly won’t be entirely trucks. Also, I’m not arguing, I’m genuinely interested in thoughts on this.

    While I can see that building the bridge will potentially contribute eventually to an increase in traffic numbers, over the near future wouldn’t it serve to reduce congestion of equal traffic numbers? I sort of feel that if gov’t never built infrastructure, we wouldn’t have any bridges at all. Then again, I can’t defend all gov’t infrastructure projects, that new billion dollar convention center seems like a terrible use of taxpayer funds. Tristan, are you advocating that the Gateway money would have been better used for rail projects?

  7. ” doesn’t decreasing traffic congestion have positive environmental benefits as well (ie. less idling cars)?”


  8. ^
    A well reasoned response.

    I think if you had 100,000 trips in stop and go traffic vs. 100,000 trips in highway speed traffic there would be significantly less fuel used for the latter case.

  9. It’s not my field of expertise. However, it’s my belief that the consensus in the field (planning etc…) is that building more highways invites more cars, and more development, which continues until the expanded highway is as full as the original one.

    Just look at the highways in Toronto – 10 lanes per direction, some of them. And yet, constant stop and go during Rush hour – what gives? Suburban Sprawl gives. Suburban sprawl can’t happen in the infinite way it does without the continual expansion of freeways.

    So, if you love suburbia, people living far apart from each other, people commuting long distances to work – then by all means, support the Gateway project. However, if you think the real way to reduce carbon emissions is by reducing the distances we travel on a day to day basis, then this will be totally inadaquate.

    As for rail – rail trips are pretty carbon heavy themselves. The solution is less trips, and shorter ones, as well as higher energy efficiency. We treat efficiency as if it were the primary value, because we think this will get us what we want – but if increased efficiency comes with increased consumption this value is doomed to fail at getting us the C02 decreases we need.

  10. Well, that seems like a reasonable argument. But I think with or without the highway urban sprawl is going to increase. Perhaps the highway will greatly accelerate it, I don’t know, but I think a lot of it has to do with people’s desire to own a house as opposed to living in an apartment. Unless someone is fairly well off, a house in Vancouver is out of reach. A house in Langley might not be though and, although I personally wouldn’t want to commute for hours everyday, a lot of people seem willing to.

    Rail doesn’t have to be carbon intensive, especially if by rail we included things like SkyTrain. While I understand the enormous cost associated with building it, a place like Vancouver would be very well served by a further expansion of the SkyTrain route network. Translink seems to love adding buses, buses, buses, but they clog the roads and slow things down, not to mention they are unpleasant to ride compared to a train. If you look at a route like Broadway, if you got rid of all those articulated diesel buses and had a subway you’d be ahead carbon wise, and walking down the road would be way less noisy and smelly. Also, I think a train would get a lot of people out of their cars that can’t be persuaded to ride the often disgusting B-line.

  11. A house is neither affordable nor expensive before there are jobs within commutable distance of it. I suppose you could say it will be cheap, but it won’t even be an option for most buyers.

    Do buses slow things down, if by speed we count number of people moved per hour?

    If you think the B line is disgusting, think about how many people it moves – how might those people have moved about before it existed?

    Lots of people are willing to commute for a few hours everyday, but I don’t think you appreciate what a radical counter-factual the world in which these highways are not built is. If the Port Man had only ever been two lanes, if traffic had become impossible on the freeway by the 1960s, what would the suburbs have looked like?

    For one, they would have been more transit accessible as far as commuting to the city is concerned, because travelling by car would been have-becoming impossible. And, insofar as it was car dependent, it would have developed around local employment. It’s not as if there isn’t alot of employment in the suburbs – but people commute from one suburb to another for their job, rather than live near work. If the road system did not permit this, people would simply have to live near their work. When you live less than 5km from work, furthermore, its pretty simple to switch over to biking at least 6 months of the year. Also, it would make electric cars very easy to sell because range would not have been as much of an issue.

  12. NDP’s ‘environmental plan’ just a gimmick

    Party’s ‘axe the tax’ campaign is pure political opportunism

    By Andrew Weaver, Special to Times ColonistApril 16, 2009

    Over the years, I have given numerous presentations on the science of global warming. Midway through, I show a graph that demonstrates that no matter what trajectory our greenhouse gas emissions follow, the projected global warming over the next two decades is about 0.2 degrees C per decade.

    This is the level of global warming to which we must adapt, regardless of our emissions trajectory. By the end of the century, things are very different and the world our grandchildren inherit profoundly depends on the choices we make today.

    Global warming is fundamentally a question of intergenerational equity.

    Consequently, political leaders who take bold steps to implement policies to limit these emissions are doing so for future generations. The politicians will not see the climatic consequences of their decisions within their political lifetime.

  13. The disappointing aspect of the NDP opposition to the Liberal carbon tax includes:
    1. the sheer opportunism of opposing a revenue neutral carbon tax which could help reduce fossil fuel consumption;
    2. the success of the strategy – it worked and is a pillar of NDP strategy.

    If the BC Liberals fail to get re-elected and with the memory of the poor showing of the federal liberals on a platform including a carbon tax, a Canadian political party which wishes to retain or seek power will simply avoid promoting a carbon tax.

  14. Oleh,

    Don’t you think the unsustainable development which the Gateway project will foster will increase fossil fuel consumption?

    I think we need both sustainable development, and a carbon tax. But if I had to pick one to start, I’d pick the sound development practices. A carbon tax is just an idea, and it’s easy to enact when there is popular support, in a very short amount of time. Massive public works projects have a very different time-scale.

  15. “If the Port Man had only ever been two lanes, if traffic had become impossible on the freeway by the 1960s, what would the suburbs have looked like?”

    This argument seems to completely ignore population growth. The population of Earth has approximately doubled since the 1960s. So if we had poor infrastructure (ie a two laned Port Mann bridge) we’d be living in a city that wasn’t properly accommodating the immediate needs of the population. I think the carbon tax aims to at least partially address the future needs of the population. We can always drive electric cars over the bridge in the future, and the tax creates a pressure for people to adopt fuel efficient (and hopefully eventually carbon neutral) vehicles.

    “If you think the B line is disgusting, think about how many people it moves – how might those people have moved about before it existed?”

    Way to take me advocating for even better/i> public transit (a SkyTrain) as me railing against public transit. And to push the point even further, I easily remember a time before the B-line existed because I took this route to and from school everyday. I rode a trolley bus which, especially in BC, pollutes way less than those garbage diesel articulated buses.

  16. The BC NDP aren’t the only provincial politicians who should be in hot water because of bad climate policies.

    In Saskatchewan, Environment Minister Nancy Heppner has announced that the province will be scrapping their mitigation target of a 32% reduction by 2020. Instead, they are planning to use ‘intensity targets,’ under which emissions may actually rise.

    There is no way Canada will meet its overall 2020 target if provinces like Saskatchewan and Alberta don’t step up their efforts.

  17. I’m having trouble understanding what a 5 cent per liter carbon tax on fuel can have in terms of an effect, when government taxation is already 50 cents a liter. What we’re talking about is a ten percent tax hike – it’s minute. If we considered the extra tax on Canadian fuel over the taxation on US fuel a “carbon” tax, then we already have massive carbon tax. Who cares what name is attached to a tax – what difference does it make?

  18. Myth 5: B.C. has introduced a “gas tax”.

    It’s a carbon tax. B.C.’s carbon tax applies to the burning of nearly all fossil fuels in the province, whether the greenhouse gas pollution is from industry or individual consumers.

    In fact, gasoline accounts for less than a quarter of fossil-fuel emissions subject to the carbon tax. More than 75 per cent of the carbon tax revenue will come from other fossil fuels, including coal, coke, diesel, and natural gas.

  19. Ok, fine. Still, to know the real size of the carbon tax, you need to know how high taxes were on all those commodities beforehand.

  20. Albertans are in need of a climate-change reality check



    A strange and alarming disconnect has opened between what the Alberta government sees and believes about climate-change policy, and what is actually emerging in the United States.

    Alberta, which accounts for about 32 per cent of Canada’s emissions and is home to the “dirty” oil from the tar sands, seems convinced that threats from the south are hollow.

    Americans need, and will always need, our oil, the provincial government insists. They will not cut it off. They will be impressed by what we have done, and what we are doing, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

  21. Conservation voters of B.C.:

    Anyone but Carole

    As leader, the decision to position the NDP campaign against world-leading climate policies while not putting forward improvements or better alternatives is on her shoulders. We do not endorse Carole James. Because of the New Democrats’ opposition to key strategies for energy conservation and the BC’s continentally-significant carbon tax, we cannot endorse any NDP incumbents that were members of this past caucus. We believe the party needs new leadership and new voices that take a more urgent, principled and collaborative approach to the challenges of climate change.

  22. an open letter to carole james.
    April 25, 2009

    your environmental policy is – forgive the term – garbage. while industrial pollution must be curbed, let’s be reasonable. industrial pollution should be tackled, sure. however, your party’s assertion that irresponsible industrialists are single-handedly responsible for climate change in bc is laughable.

  23. Watching the West Coast

    The Ottawa Citizen
    April 27, 2009

    The NDP, for obvious reasons, supports electoral reform. It has not supported tax-shifting, despite its long history of support for environmental causes. In British Columbia, the NDP is campaigning with the slogan “axe the tax,” a reference to the small levy on fossil fuels brought in by the government of Gordon Campbell, offset by other tax cuts and rebates.

    There is nothing wrong with criticizing the details of the Campbell tax-shift. But tax-shifting in general is an idea so sound that support for it unites nearly all economists and nearly all environmentalists. Done right, it can influence behaviour while putting money in people’s pockets.

    Instead of trying to create the best possible tax shift for B.C., the provincial NDP has chosen to follow the populist path blazed by the federal Conservatives, and portray the tax-shift as a cash-grab. This has lost the NDP the support of prominent environmentalists, including Tzeporah Berman. David Suzuki has warned that if the Liberal government in B.C. falls because of the carbon tax, no Canadian politician will be likely to champion tax-shifting for years.

  24. B.C.’s carbon tax rated top climate policy


    From Thursday’s Globe and Mail

    April 29, 2009 at 11:23 PM EDT

    VANCOUVER — A think tank at the University of Ottawa has ranked British Columbia’s carbon tax the most effective climate policy in Canada.

    But the group, Sustainable Prosperity, noted that even the B.C. government has a way to go before it achieves eight key principles that must be reached if carbon pricing is to be effective in fighting global warming.

    The group also took a cursory look at a provincial NDP plan to axe the carbon tax, and replace it with a cap-and-trade system, but said that approach would create “huge instability and doubt” in the market and would fall far short of attaining climate change goals.

  25. British Columbia Votes on Carbon Tax
    — By Julia Whitty | Wed May 6, 2009 1:32 PM PST

    North America’s first carbon tax faces a critical test in upcoming elections in British Columbia. The results are likely to ripple across the continent.

    Nature News points out that Canadian provincial elections don’t normally garner international attention. But economists and environmentalists are viewing the election on May 12th as a test of several climate change policies.

    The incumbent Liberal Party government imposed a carbon tax in British Columbia in July 2008. It’s been unpopular with many from the start because it boosted fuel costs during a time of record-high oil prices.

  26. Harcourt throws support behind provincial carbon tax
    Former NDP premier joins forces with Suzuki and other environmentalists, despite fact party’s current platform promises to scrap it


    Globe and Mail Update

    May 9, 2009 at 5:31 PM EDT

    NEW WESTMINISTER and KELOWNA — Former NDP premier Mike Harcourt has joined the movement lobbying for a carbon tax in the midst of an election campaign, arguing the tax will be part of the future despite an NDP commitment to kill it if the party wins next Tuesday.

    Mr. Harcourt, the premier from 1991 to 1996, has signed an op-ed piece published today on, along with such luminaries as environmentalist David Suzuki, that calls for a carbon tax and cap-and-trade system working in conjunction to spur innovation and clean-energy solutions.

  27. Lessons from B.C.

    Andrew Steele, today at 11:38 AM EDT

    What lessons can be taken from the election?

    The first and foremost lesson is that voters will re-elect governments that do big things.

    Campbell undertook two major reforms in his second term, both of which were hugely controversial.

    The first was a carbon tax. Campbell’s levy was highly unpopular in itself, but earned the Premier some respect for taking action. The NDP opposition chose to throw away its past environmental stands to cynically curry favour with voters by pledge to withdraw the carbon tax. The result was success for the politician who took a risk on doing something unpopular and failure for the politician who stood for nothing.

  28. BC NDP Leader Accepts BC Carbon Tax (Bravo! Carole James)
    By Richard Littlemore on Rob Fleming

    In a surprising and impressive political about-face, BC New Democratic Party leader Carole James withdrew her party’s opposition to the BC carbon tax today – committing to improving the tax, rather than trying to undermine it.

    James lost a close provincial election only last month, at least in part because an influential group of environmentalists condemned her party’s position on the carbon tax and campaigned against her.

    Given the bitterness that surrounded that debate, you might have expected James and the NDP to dig in even further on the issue, continuing to campaign against the tax. Instead, the leader appears to have accepted the public judgment AND the tax, telling the Vancouver Sun that BC Liberal leader “Gordon Campbell’s tax is in place. We now need to make sure it’s fair and that it’s effective.” In announcing her new shadow cabinet, James also appointed the bright, likable and decidedly green Victoria-Hillside Member of the Legislative Assembly, Rob Fleming, as Environment Critic, a further signal that she is committed to reasserting the NDP’s environmental reputation.

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