Liberals, stand for something while you still have time!

2020-02-25 23:02 [p.1589]

Mr. Speaker, I thank the whip’s office from the Liberal Party for allowing me a speaking slot in tonight’s emergency debate. I always appreciate a chance to speak. This is a very important debate and even at this late hour, I do want to discuss the emergency.
It is true. This is both a national and worldwide emergency.
Of course, I do not speak of this non-emergency that is the focus of tonight’s debate. The private sector company has seen the writing on the wall and has decided to pull a project that it would probably never have built even if it had pushed through to try to get a permit. The writing was on the wall.
I speak of the real emergency. This House on June 17 of last year passed a motion which said the following:
Canada is in a national climate emergency which requires, as a response, that Canada commit to meeting its national emissions target under the Paris Agreement and to making deeper reductions in line with the Agreement’s objective of holding global warming below two degrees Celsius and pursuing efforts to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Now, this is an emergency. It is one that threatens not just our economy, but it certainly does threaten our economy. It does not just threaten Saanich—Gulf Islands or Alberta, and it does not just threaten Canada. It threatens the world.
Members in this place should please take the time to read the special report on what 1.5°C looks like versus 2°C. This is a special report prepared by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change at the request of all governments that negotiated the Paris Agreement in 2015, a request that was highly specific that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change provide this specific information in time for the 2018 negotiations.
That emergency report should have sent shockwaves through every caucus in this place and right around the world, and certainly it did in many countries around the world, because it told us very clearly that holding to 1.5°C is not a political target. It is the only way we can ensure that our children will have a livable world. This is not future hypothetical children and future generations, but the children we know, our children, and for them to have a liveable world requires of us that we hold to no more warming than 1.5°C.
It is a hard concept, average global temperature, in a country like Canada that goes from -30°C in the winter to +30°C in the summer, and so 1.5°C does not sound so very significant, but do not dismiss it. Understand that on this planet between today and 10,000 years ago when where we stand was under thousands of kilometres of ice, the difference in global average temperature was 5°C.
What the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change told us in October 2018 was that holding to 1.5°C was not an ambitious target that we might do if we could get around to it. It told us very clearly that if we want our own children to have a livable planet in a hospitable biosphere, we must hold to 1.5°C. It further told us that it would be possible to do so, but it would require a global slashing of emissions by 45% all around the world by 2030.
Now that the Liberals have given us this notion that we are going to get to net zero by 2050, it is clear that the current target which was left behind by a former minister of the environment, Leona Aglukkaq, in the administration of Stephen Harper, is the target we are talking about. The Liberals still have no plan to get to that target, and that target is approximately half of what we must do as a country.
Yes, we are in an emergency, because if we miss slashing by 50% the global emissions, and actually the IPCC advice is 45% against 2005 levels globally of carbon dioxide, then there are no do-overs. There are no second chances. We condemn future generations to an unlivable world in which human civilization may not make it to the end of the century.
It is very clear that globally people were paying attention to this Teck Frontier decision, because Canada has a role to play in the world, and it should be one of leadership, but we remain laggards. Earlier tonight in debate, some hon. members were mentioning what the United States is doing. At this point, the United States, yes even under the Trump administration, is doing better at reducing greenhouse gases than Canada is. That is due to the actions of sub-national governments, states like California, New York and Texas. It is due to the actions of cities. Canada’s record in this regard remains shameful, but we have a chance to redeem ourselves.
I have never before seen anything like the letter from over 40 Nobel laureates sent to our Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister to beg them not to approve the Teck Frontier mine. Most of them are Nobel laureates in chemistry, although there is one who won it in economics, a few in medicine and some in literature, including Alice Munro.
In that letter, they said:
Projects that enable fossil-fuel growth are an affront to our state of climate emergency, and the mere fact that they warrant debate in Canada should be seen as a disgrace. They are wholly incompatible with your government’s recent commitment to net-zero greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050….
The response to the climate crisis will define and destroy legacies in the coming years, and the qualifications for being on the right side of history are clear: an immediate end to fossil-fuel financing and expansion along with an ambitious and just transition away from oil and gas production towards zero carbon well before mid-century.
As recipients of the Nobel Prize, we call on you and your cabinet to act with the moral clarity required by the state of this crisis and reject the proposed Teck Frontier mine proposal.
I invite members to ponder that. There are 40 Nobel laureates specifically begging the Canadian government to act as if we understand we are in a climate emergency.
It has been said by Bill McKibben, who is one of the planet’s leading climate activists and a brilliant author, that the first rule of holes is this: stop digging. Canada is in a very deep hole. We are far from our climate target, and that target itself needs to be doubled. What we cannot do here is add new greenhouse gas production. This project would have been enormous. If this project had gone ahead, it would have been twice the size of the city of Vancouver, at over 24,000 hectares. It would have, as the environmental assessment report found, done irreparable damage to the environment. It would have removed the forest, removed the muskeg, damaged wildlife and been damaging in many ways.
There has never been, by the way, any environmental assessment process in this country that has ever said no to a project. Clearing these very rigorous environmental reviews that we keep hearing about in this place cannot be that hard, because no one has ever been turned down. No pipeline has ever been turned down by any environmental assessment process in this country. No oil sands mine has ever been turned down by any environmental assessment process in this country, no matter which government drafted the law.
In this case, it is a project where even after all the environmental damage was catalogued, the panel found that the economic benefits of the project outweighed all the downsides. However, as we have heard in this House, the economics were kind of wobbly, because what Teck Frontier put forward as the precondition to this project being viable was that oil was selling at $95 a barrel. That is what they put in the report. That is what they relied upon. As we also commented in this place, there were not a lot of investors lining up.
I think the Prime Minister of this country may have remarkable talents, and the reach of his powers may prove to be supernatural, but I have not seen it yet, so I really do not think the Prime Minister can be held responsible, as the Conservatives in this House would like us to hold him responsible, for the price of a barrel of oil globally. That is beyond the reach of his powers.
The reality is that investors are moving away from fossil fuels all around the world. Just listing the companies and investors that have vacated the oil sands is edifying. These companies have left because they are concerned about something identified by the former governor of the Bank of Canada, Mark Carney. He refers to them as “stranded assets”. Investors are left with “unburnable carbon”.
If the fossil fuel business has something of a future ahead of it, it resembles a game we played as children, musical chairs. People start falling on the ground because the chairs are gone. Nobody wants to be left trying find the chair that is in the oil sands, one of the first places investors vacate because it is unburnable carbon and its stranded assets are very expensive.
Sweden’s central bank left the oil sands and their investments in the oil sands, specifically stating that this province is the “highest in terms of carbon dioxide emissions”. Royal Dutch Shell has left the oil sands, stating specifically that it did not want stranded assets. ConocoPhillips, Marathon, Total and even the coke industries have vacated the oil sands and the investments there.
Earlier, some of the speakers in this place referred to people concerned about climate change as fringe groups and eco-radicals, people without a really good grip on the finance sector. Perhaps members could imagine which eco-radical said the following on January 14: “We cannot rule out catastrophic outcomes where human life as we know it is threatened.”
That is a suggestion that we are on the path to human extinction. That quote did not come from Greenpeace or the Green Party. It came in a leaked document prepared by economists working for J.P. Morgan.
J.P. Morgan will be held forever on the wrong side of history for being responsible for having spent $75 billion investing in fossil fuels in recent years, but now recognizes that we cannot rule out catastrophic outcomes. In fact, it now announces that it will not invest anymore in new coal or drilling in the Arctic, but that is not really good enough.
Goldman Sachs is the first big U.S. bank to rule out future financing of some forms of fossil fuels. It are not alone. BlackRock is one of the biggest investment companies in the world. Its CEO has said that climate is “almost invariably the top issue that clients around the world raise.” Climate is the number one issue its clients raise. It is moving toward divestment.
My favourite quote on this subject comes from Wall Street watcher Jim Cramer, who has a TV show that I have seen from time to time. It is called Mad Money and it is an investment program on CNBC. He says, “Big pension funds are saying listen, we’re not going to own them anymore” and “I’m done with fossil fuels. They’re done.”
Obviously Jim Cramer has been heavily influenced by the Prime Minister’s brainwaves across the border to the United States. No, this whole notion that the Prime Minister is in any way at fault for Teck Frontier cancelling is absurd. The problem is that the Prime Minister cannot take any credit either, because the Government of Canada is still on the laggard side. We are still on the wrong side of history.
We could do what is required. In the Liberal platform, we have a very promising commitment to a climate accountability act. Where is it? When will we see it? This Parliament will not sit that long. It is a minority Parliament. Let us work on the things we can work on together. The majority of MPs in this House want a climate accountability act with five-year increments, not these targets that no one ever has to meet.
On that note, 2020 is the year that Stephen Harper’s climate promise falls due. It is this year. It was negotiated by the late and quite wonderful Hon. Jim Prentice. It was approved by a cabinet that includes Alberta Premier Jason Kenney. Also, 2020 is the year the Copenhagen target falls due, so by this year we should be emitting no more than roughly 600 megatonnes of greenhouse gases. The last figure we have is that we are at 716 or 717 megatonnes of greenhouse gases.
Let us imagine we could magically get to Stephen Harper’s target. Politicians in this country choose targets knowing that the due date will exceed the best before date and somebody else will note that we have missed the target once again. That is why we need a climate accountability act that measures this in five-year increments, with an independent auditing function, so we know whether we are meeting our targets.
The surest thing we can say is that Teck, as a company, had a lot of issues. It has had troubles with its mine in Chile. It had a lot of financial issues swirling around this. The business pages of this country were full of those stories, not of the Nobel laureates who warned us that to approve Teck Frontier would be an act close to criminality, when one considers the cost to our children, future generations and the peoples of the world if we continue as a country to boost our greenhouse gases rather than slash them. The business pages were full of speculation about the CEO of Teck, Don Lindsay, whose name has been raised in the House tonight more often than probably any CEO in Canadian history. He was clear: Teck had not done a feasibility study and was not sure it could go ahead. However, even a month ago he was saying we should give Teck the permit and he would see if it could raise the capital, if the price changed.
This project was never going to go ahead, but the Liberals have lost their chance for moral courage. They lost the chance to say they would never have approved this. This was, in the words of some Liberal MPs, an easy no. For God’s sake, the Liberals need to stand for something while they have time in this place. They need to stand for future generations and put in place a climate target well before we get to Glasgow in November so that Canada can once again be in the lead. Canada as a climate leader is still possible to imagine.
I listened to the embarrassing response from the Liberals that it really was not their fault that Teck Frontier did not go ahead. They should stand up and say that they would never have approved it. Then we can believe the Prime Minister might have a notion of being a climate leader.