By Jim Harding
There is no calm before the storm with this federal election. It is more of a “mess before the storm”, and the storm will be a real storm, as climate blowback from global warming gains momentum. Seasons are already blurring: our Manitoba neighbors are recovering from an abnormally early blizzard, with crumbling snow-bearing trees still carrying summer foliage, downing power lines everywhere.
Our flawed first-past-the-post electoral system has buried the climate crisis as a major concern of Canadians. How quickly our attention-deficit society forgets what Greta recently said at the United Nations. Climate has become another “issue” to tag on to the party’s main narrative; “moving forward, affordability, the authentic leader”. Jagmeet Singh’s short list of issues includes “climate action”, along with reduced fees for cell phones and a dental plan. He attacks Trudeau’s support for the TMX, while hedging on the millions of tonnes of emissions that will go into the atmosphere from B.C.’s LNG project.
The climate emergency has implications for everything that matters to us.
Singh’s likability ratings have nevertheless helped move the NDP back to its traditional third party standing, leaving Elizabeth May and the Greens, who peaked earlier on, targeting fewer seats, where their message on the climate emergency may still break through. We don’t yet know if Singh’s aspirational and “have your cake and eat it, too” campaign will bring a breakthrough of multicultural, social democratic politics, or just further reinforce ethnic bloc voting, which is never good for democracy. As CBC journalist Eric Grenier pointed out in 2017 articles, the financial and new-member support that got Singh elected as NDP leader largely came from the Greater Ontario area with large Sikh communities. Divisive identity politics of all sorts is rampant everywhere.
The two major parties have been locked in a polling tie, but Trudeau is clearly damaged from broken promises, policy contradictions (owning a pipeline) and ethical challenges. Scheer’s unending personal attacks on Trudeau, his own white lies, and his deserved reputation as an “absentee MP”, don’t bode well for him, either, even if he happens to form a minority government. Who will back him to enact his first promise, to abolish carbon pricing?
We all want to be hopeful. But idealistic, “have your cake and eat it, too” hope, is not the answer to the politics of fear and resentment. It remains to be seen whether Jagmeet Singh ends up as Trudeau 2.0, who only 4 years ago was Mr. Positivity, too. If NDP support grows further during this last week of the campaign, it could work for the Scheer Conservatives, who love the split of the progressive vote. We don’t yet know what Singh’s candidness about a coalition with the Liberals will do to the final vote. What a dilemma for those who want to protect the future.
This is a very messy election, indeed.
The rise of the Bloc Quebecois and the Conservative’s lock on federal ridings in the fossil fuel dependent economies on the prairies, leaves us all in an electoral vice. (This is somewhat reminiscent of the way the pull of Alberta and Quebec politics took us into NAFTA.) Jason Kenney plays the national unity card over getting more pipelines, hopefully distracting us from the steady rise in greenhouse gas emissions in his province. By 2017, the emissions from Alberta and its fossil-fuel sister province, Saskatchewan, were nearly as high as all emissions from the rest of Canada (351 to 365 million tonnes, respectfully). And with only 15% of Canadians.
Meanwhile, all federal leaders are side-stepping the debate about secularism raised by Quebec’s Bill 21. And this is not simply a matter of Charter Rights versus religious discrimination. The Quebec law clearly went too far, but the reasonableness of disallowing face-covering clothing, in public sector jobs, will continue to be ignored because of the touchiness of national and/or personal identity politics in our time. Let’s get real: do any of us want bus drivers or police with their faces covered?
The big losers of the evasive politics will be Greta and her generation, for the adults are left facing a fragmented, no-win, set of choices. The growing list of vote-buying promises may look like a tempting distraction from the gathering storm of climate change, but denial always backfires. The final distribution of seats in our flawed electoral system will leave us where we were when the campaign started, still facing the human mess before the global storm. A minority Liberal government, propped up by other parties demanding a serious Climate Plan, may temporarily save us from ourselves. But we have to get our collective act together, not “soon” but sooner than that.
Author and activist Jim Harding is a retired professor of environmental and justice studies who lives in Saskatchewan’s Qu’Appelle Valley
P.O. Box 2566, Fort Qu’Appelle, SK