NDP boosts attacks on fossil fuels

Jagmeet Singh’s New Democrats have discovered climate change.

The party had been reluctant to take too uncompromising a stand on global warming for fear of alienating potential voters. That reluctance has gone. Now, the NDP is calling for an end to the entire fossil-fuel industry in Canada.

“The future of our country cannot involve fracking,” Singh said Monday in Ottawa, referring to a controversial method of drilling for oil and natural gas.

“It cannot involve the burning of any fossil fuel.”

He said Canada must adhere to carbon reduction targets that are much stricter than those proposed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government if it is to seriously fight climate change.

And he declared that he now opposes ambitious plans by British Columbia’s NDP government to build a massive liquefied natural gas project in the province’s north.

That project, which has cleared B.C.’s environmental assessment process and has been approved by most Indigenous communities along the route, would pipe natural gas from the province’s northeast to Kitimat on the Pacific Coast. There, it would be cooled into liquid form and exported by tanker to Asia.

Singh, who represents the B.C. riding of Burnaby South, had supported the project. Now he doesn’t.

In part, the federal party’s change of heart results from callow political calculation. Last week, the NDP lost a federal byelection on Vancouver Island that by all rights it should have won. Tellingly, it lost to the Greens.

Former MP Svend Robinson, a significant figure on the NDP’s left wing, who is running for the New Democrats in October’s general election, ascribed the loss in part to his party’s fuzzy position on climate change.

Singh appears to have taken Robinson’s advice to heart.

But the NDP’s decision to embrace a more radical approach to climate change also reflects long-standing fissures within the party.

On the one hand, are those who argue the party’s strength lies in its embrace of democratic socialist solutions — even those that do not seem immediately popular.

On the other, are the so-called pragmatists, who say the party must tack to the centre if it is to ever win power nationally.

During the 2015 election campaign, the pragmatists around then-leader Thomas Mulcair were firmly in charge. The party’s platform spoke of fighting climate change, but gave few details on how this might be done.

The main remedy was a plan for a government-subsidized home-renovation program to make buildings more energy efficient. There was no talk of curbing carbon emissions from the Alberta oilsands.

When one NDP candidate, Toronto Centre’s Linda McQuaig, observed publicly that some of Alberta’s heavy oil would have to stay in the ground if Canada’s carbon emissions were to be significantly reduced, the party apparatus went nuts. McQuaig’s comments were immediately disavowed.

At that point, with Rachel Notley’s NDP governing Alberta, the federal party still had hopes of winning seats in that province. Dissing the oilsands, it was thought, would not help.

A later attempt by some NDP stalwarts to focus on climate change through the so-called Leap Manifesto was not well-received by the party’s centre either — and for similar reasons.

In particular, the manifesto’s call to ban any new fossil-fuel energy projects, from pipelines to fracking, was seen as too radical.

No more. Now, with his call for a Canada free of fossil fuels, Singh has outleapt the leapers.

Thomas Walkom is a columnist with Torstar Syndication Services.

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