By Roger Annis, A Socialist In Canada, May 25, 2018
The NDP government in British Columbia is in conflict with the Liberal Party government in Ottawa and the NDP government of Alberta over jurisdiction of the ‘Trans Mountain’ pipeline of U.S. company Kinder Morgan. Trans Mountain connects the tar sands region of Alberta to the Port of Vancouver, BC. All three governments are hell-bent on more fossil fuel extraction, adding more fuel to the global warming emergency.
VANCOUVER, Canada–The leader of Canada’s New Democratic Party, Jagmeet Singh, presented his political and social views in a 28-minute interview on Canada’s state-run news outlet the CBC on May 20. The bulk of the interview had him explaining his views on fossil fuel controversies and social justice issues in Canada. He spoke specifically on the highly contested, proposed expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline carrying Alberta tar sands bitumen for export through the Port of Vancouver. No questions were asked and no views were offered on foreign policy matters.
The interview offers insight into the current political dilemma of the NDP. Canada will hold its next national election in October 2019. After scoring an electoral breakthrough in Quebec in the national election of 2011 and riding high in polls prior to the 2015 vote, the moderate-left NDP finds itself today in historically familiar polling territory, well behind the twin parties of Canadian capitalism, the Liberals and Conservatives.
The interview gives pause to reflect on the longstanding failure of the political left in Canada and Quebec to construct a left-wing party that could pressure and influence the NDP and its affiliated unions and shake up the political status quo in Ottawa.
NDP nowhere on the map when it comes to global warming concern
In the CBC interview, Singh outlines his opposition to the proposed expansion of Trans Mountain pipeline of U.S. company Kinder Morgan. The pipeline currently transports Alberta tar sands bitumen to foreign markets through the port of Vancouver and crude oil to a small refinery in Vancouver and nearby refineries in Washington state, with a daily capacity of 350,000 barrels. The expansion would allow for a tripling of bitumen exports through Vancouver’s busy port, the largest in Canada.
The project has split official politics in Canada. The Liberal Party government in Ottawa and the NDP government in Alberta are pressing hard for the project, costing them whatever credibility remains of their professed concern about global warming and climate change. A target of the two pro-pipeline governments is the NDP-led government in British Columbia. It is expressing reservations about the pipeline project and potentially causing delays to its construction.
Singh does not cite global warming to explain his opposition to Trans Mountain. He says his stance is founded on support to First Nations opposed to the pipeline project, concerns about the difficulty of cleaning up ocean spills of bitumen, and belief that federal government review processes which came out in support of the project were flawed.
The shallowness of Singh’s opposition is shown by his treatment of the relentless support for the pipeline by his fellow NDP leader and Premier of Alberta Rachel Notley. He says Notley is doing the right thing as leader of the Alberta NDP because she is ‘protecting the interests of Alberta’. We are to understand from this that the ‘interests of Alberta’ coincide with those of the fossil fuel industry. But socially and environmentally aware residents of Alberta would beg to disagree. The fossil fuel industry and its related industries–auto, aerospace, armaments, mass tourism–are a death cult that has dragged the world into a global warming emergency.
The federal NDP leader’s opposition to Trans Mountain mirrors that of the minority government of British Columbia, which depends on support from the three Green Party members of the BC legislature. The government is running legal interference against Trans Mountain because it is under intense pressure from environmental activists and broader public opinion to do so. However, it’s pro-fossil fuel agenda is revealed by its drive to expand natural gas fracking in the northeast of the province and complete construction of a multi-billion dollar boondoggle of a hydroelectric dam—’Site C’ on the Peace River, also in the BC northeast. The dam would power expanded natural gas fracking and liquefaction ambitions (and here) as well as other resource extraction projects such as mining and Alberta tar sands extraction.
The BC government has staked the entirety of its opposition to Trans Mountain on the whims of Canada’s courts. It is seeking a decision from the BC Supreme Court saying it has the constitutional authority to regulate the safety standards of oil and bitumen pipeline transport through British Columbia territory. If the court rules in favour of the federal government’s claim to exclusive authority, BC will then take a challenge to the Supreme Court of Canada. Should that lose, the government says it will respect the decision and the fight will be apparently being over.
There are 14 legal challenges to Trans Mountain currently before the Federal Court of Appeal.
The idea that appointed judges from privileged backgrounds be ceded the power to decide the fate of fossil fuel and other climate-wrecking projects should offend anyone genuinely concerned about democracy and the fate of the planet. In a taste of what to expect from the courts, the BC Supreme Court rejected on May 24 two appeals filed by the City of Vancouver and the Squamish First Nation (Vancouver region) of the BC government environmental approval of Trans Mountain in 2017. Meanwhile, the Ontario Supreme Court ruled on May 23 against the legal action of Indigenous people in Ecuador seeking redress for pollution of their lands by the Chevron oil corporation. The court did not deny that lands were polluted; it used a legal technicality to deny the action.
Notley’s government is engaged in an intense public relations battle for the ‘hearts and minds’ of BC residents. Opinion polls show residents of the province evenly divided. The government has gone so far as to threaten an embargo of crude oil and gasoline shipments to BC if the BC government continues its wavering. The latter has launched a legal action in Alberta courts against Alberta’s ‘Preserving Canada’s Economic Prosperity Act’, which was enacted on May 23. Notley threatens she may ‘turn off the taps’ anytime.
To say the least, it is an extraordinary spectacle for a provincial government in Canada to threaten in such a way the population of a neighbouring province.
The leader of the Ontario NDP, Andrea Horwath, has weighed in on the Trans Mountain controversy by similarly avoiding the topic of global warming. Asked by journalists on May 23 where she stands, she said, “The specifics of the project that is being discussed between the BC government, the Alberta government and the federal government is something that probably could have been addressed with a better national environmental assessment process.”
First Nations leader in Ontario think otherwise. Chiefs of Ontario, representing 133 First Nations in the province, decided in early May to endorse the Treaty Alliance Against Tar Sands Expansion. In their letter of endorsement dated May, 2 they wrote, “The Chiefs of Ontario agree to the immediacy of building a more sustainable future so our children do not have to rely or be exposed to fossil fuels which pollute and destroy the earth, air, and waters.”
Horwath’s NDP is surging in the polls for the June 7 provincial election in Ontario, Canada’s largest province with nearly 14 million residents. Her party’s climate change platform consists of modifying the existing ‘cap and trade’ program of her Liberal opponent. Cap and trade, also known derisively as ‘pay to pollute’, sets a limit on amount of pollution businesses or government entities may produce, after which a tax is levied. To avoid ‘carbon’ taxes, polluters can purchase credits from others that have not used their full allowance as well as fund ‘offset’ projects—such as tree planting–that purportedly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Ontario Green Party leader Mike Schreiner charges that the NDP election campaign “barely mentions climate change at all, and its inclusion in their platform is almost an afterthought.”
Moderate-left legacy of Singh-led NDP
The theme of Jagmeet Singh’s successful 2017 campaign to win the leadership of the NDP was ‘With love and courage, we can change the world’. This continued the feel-good themes of his party leadership predecessor Jack Layton, who led the party from 2003 until his death from cancer in 2011. Layton shifted the party to the political right during his run as leader.
Layton’s successor, Tom Mulcair, continued that shift. The NDP was leading the polls going into the October 2015 federal election campaign. But Mulcair and his leadership team opted to run a campaign to the right of the Liberal Party, in particular by extolling the ‘balanced budget’ dogma of globalized capitalism. In an earlier political career as a Liberal, Mulcair had expressed admiration for the economic policies of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher when she was in office.
There was little opposition from NDP candidates or from any other leaders of the party to Mulcair’s right-wing election course. NDP candidates who challenged the Mulcair line—for example, those who expressed solidarity with the Palestinian people against Israel—were removed as candidates. In 2013, Mulcair oversaw the removal from the party constitution of any formal reference to the party as ‘socialist’.
He also entrenched further the pro-imperialist foreign policy of the NDP. That was masked for a time during Layton’s term due to Layton’s conditional opposition to Canada’s military intervention into Afghanistan. Layton favoured the kind of ‘responsibility to protect’ (RTP) foreign policy doctrine which Canada implemented in Haiti when it supported the U.S.-incited 2004 paramilitary coup against Haiti’s elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. RTP provides humanitarian language and cover for political and military intervention preventing peoples or countries oppressed by imperialism from challenging the imperialist status quo.
Social policy is the strong point of the NDP aspirations to represent Canada’s ‘middle class’, as it defines its goals. But there is little to distinguish the record of the provincial governments in BC and Alberta from the Liberal Party government in Canada’s largest province, Ontario. In fact, the Ontario Liberals have staked out more progressive social policies on numerous fronts. (See Ontario government announces big child care subsidies: Are Liberals becoming reformers?, by Roger Annis, A Socialist In Canada, March 28, 2018.)
In line with NATO-member Canada’s warmaking
Jagmeet Singh issued a statement on May 14 condemning “the killings of protesters in Gaza by Israeli Defence Forces” which took place on that same date. It’s a welcome statement compared to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s vacuous expression of concern.
Trudeau has said Israel used “excessive force” on May 14 when it killed 62 unarmed Palestinian protesters with gunfire and injured hundreds more. The action was “inexcusable”, said Trudeau, and he wants an international investigation. But the gesture is cheap grandstanding.
For one, Canada says it opposes a formal UN investigation into the Israeli massacre. It wants an investigation controlled by its “international partners” and which would include investigation of “reported incitement by Hamas”, referring to the party which governs Gaza. The Palestinian territory is called by critics of Israel ‘the largest, open-air prison in the world’. Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland told Parliament on May 22: “In keeping with our government’s policy of not supporting resolutions that unfairly single out Israel, we did not support a clearly biased resolution at the UN Human Rights Council.”
For another, past investigations of Israeli brutality have changed nothing for the harsh conditions of life for Palestinian people living under Israeli occupation. Real Canadian gestures would be the expulsion of Israel’s ambassador to Canada and provision of humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza—in defiance of Israel’s blockade of the territory if necessary. But Canada is a close ally of Israel, and Canada’s closest ally and partner, the Trump-led United States, is Israel’s strongest supporter of all.
Trudeau was only moved to his statement because of the publicity surrounding one of those injured by Israeli sniper fire–Canadian doctor Tarek Loubani. He was treating victims of Israel’s shootings on May 14 when he himself was targeted and shot, while wearing his medical attire and treating those being injured by Israeli sniper fire, no less.
Singh’s statement does not signal a rupture with the NDP’s longstanding support to the state of Israel. The NDP continues to support the failed ‘two-state’ proposal for Israel and Palestine. It opposes a democratic Israel-Palestine modelled on multiracial South Africa. It opposes measures against Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands, notably the international boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign. At the 2017 NDP convention, the party leadership blocked any discussion of Israel’s harsh and violent treatment of the Palestinian people.
The NDP also supports NATO’s new cold war drive against Russia, including the ongoing NATO-backed civil war against the people of eastern Ukraine and the U.S.-led drive to violently overthrow the government of Syria. Most disturbingly of all is the NDP’s silence in the face of Canada’s aggressive initiatives aiming for the violent overthrow of the socialist government in Venezuela.
Where is Canada’s left wing amidst the uproar?
Canada’s small groupings of left-wing forces are a non-factor in the uproar over the country’s leading role as a global warming vandal. Canada contains the third largest fossil fuel reserves in the world in the form of the tar sands deposits in northern Alberta. If the industry and the Alberta and Canadian governments have their way, production will rise by 50 per cent in the coming decades, even as the consequences of global warming become increasingly dire. (Rachel Notley and Justin Trudeau say overall carbon emissions will not increase due to reductions in the ‘intensity’ of carbon emissions per unit of production.) The chief obstacles to Canada’s continued environmental vandalism are the approximately 600 First Nations communities in the country.
The NDP was founded in 1961 through a fusion of Canada’s trade unions and a farmer-labour party, the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation. For a decade or so, the party contained a vibrant left-wing which gave voice to trade union and other social justice struggles, supported Quebec self-determination and campaigned in solidarity with anti-imperialist struggles in such places as Cuba and Vietnam. But the defeat of the left-nationalist ‘Waffle’ current in the NDP in the early 1970s put an end to hope that the party could evolve into a strong left-wing force.
Since then, the NDP has moved steadily to the right. The political left has ceded the political terrain to the NDP, absenting itself from the all-important electoral arena. A large part of the NDP membership, including in its affiliated trade unions, has become disaffected and disillusioned with the capitalist status quo. But they have nowhere to turn come election time.
The reasons for the left-wing default are complex. Building a broad, left-wing party in countries such as Canada where faith in imperialist democracy runs deep is not easy; witness the relatively small number of wealthy countries where such projects have succeeded. Much of the generation of radicals of the 1960s and 1970s who might be expected to help inspire and lead a new part process became settled with good-paying jobs, good pensions and inflated real estate portfolios. Some have for decades waged factional, ideological war within the party to win it to a socialist program, as opposed to seeking common ground in action with NDP constituents on the pressing issues of the day—against war, for social justice, challenging the global warming emergency, etc.
There is also the small problem of the political degeneration of Marxism and other radical ideologies in the West over recent decades. Today, we witness leftists in the West who voice calls for the violent overthrow of governments in conflict with imperialism—Syria, Iran, Russia, etc—and who shrug their shoulders over NATO’s anti-Russia, New Cold War offensive in Ukraine and elsewhere in eastern Europe. (The roots of the left-wing degeneration are explored in my article of September 2017: Reflections on the Russian Revolution of 1917.)
The recent phenomenon of ecosocialism has not changed the decline or the patter. The ecosocialist doctrine has failed to project a vision of a future ecological society and how to get there. It pays scant attention to the deadly rise of imperialist war and militarism.
To achieve an ecological society, the broadest and most multi-class movement in history must be built. It must implement drastic reductions in all the waste and excess produced by market-driven capitalism. All this must somehow avoid the kind of descent into class and civil war which the dying imperialist system will try to impose. This is the theoretical and practical challenge confronting the environmental movement and its radical, pro-socialist wing.
A new and positive development towards a left-wing party in Canada occurred in 2006 with the formation of Québec solidaire. But after a promising start, the party has shown little interest in joining with left-wing forces in English-speaking Canada. Québec solidaire does not participate in federal politics, believing that its goal of a socially progressive Quebec can be won Catalonia-style through independence.
Further development of left wing parties in the United States and in European countries is the likely catalyst needed to inspire activists in Canada and Quebec to break with the status quo and found a party of the left. Certainly, the groundswell of support last year for Senator Bernie Sanders in the United States  and the continued groundswell in support of Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn in Britain inspired many in Canada. For now, we watch, wait and prepare to leap into the political openings that the younger generation—facing a daunting world of imperialist militarism, global warming and rising social inequality–will surely create for us all.
 Singh added another theme when he spoke to a rally in Ottawa against Trans Mountain on May 22. He said federal government money should be used to create “clean energy jobs”. Creating ‘green jobs’ is a theme of liberal environmentalists, but it’s a misleading term. It is not fossil fuels by themselves that are causing the global warming emergency. It is the relentless expansion of the produce/consume/discard cycle of capitalism, regardless of how this expansion is powered.
Read other articles by Roger Annis on the global warming emergency, on the ‘Feature articles‘ page of ‘A Socialist In Canada’ website. And read ongoing news of the battle over the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion on the ‘Canada newsroll‘ page of the same website.
Background on Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion proposal:
* If Kinder Morgan’s numbers don’t add up, should the pipeline be stopped?, by Jennifer Wells, business columnist, Toronto Star, May 25, 2018 [Interviewing economist Robyn Allan, former CEO of the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia.]
* Canadian taxpayers held hostage by Kinder Morgan, by Andrew Nikiforuk, The Tyee, May 23, 2018 Texas-based firm has no intentions of paying for Trans Mountain pipeline expansion on its own.
* Kinder Morgan and the ‘rule of law’, by Will Horter, The Tyee, May 23, 2018 … Building on a few other whoppers — Kinder Morgan will lower gas prices, Canada needs new tar sands pipelines in order to address global warming, Justin Trudeau’s promise to ensure a renewed, nation-to-nation relationship with First Nations — we now discover the biggest lie of all: Trudeau cites the “rule of law” in support of his claim that his government’s Kinder Morgan approval was a science-based decision made after carefully weighing all the evidence…
What Ontario workers can expect from a NDP government, by Gerard Di Trolio, Rank and File.ca, June 1, 2018