Posts Tagged ‘thermal coal’

Christy Clark, Andrew Weaver and thermal coal

April 30, 2017

Just before the main election debate for BC party leaders, Christy Clark sent Justin Trudeau a dirty coal letter. Whether or not the two were in cahoots, it is highly political. It seems crafted to save seats in the BC legislature, not BC jobs.

It says, “I am writing you today to ban the shipment of thermal coal from BC ports.”

As an old saying goes, “Who’d have thunk it?”

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Of course, Clark excels at dramatic timing, and she used it to grab the limelight on debate day while prodding Trudeau to do a hatchet job. Still, it is a stunning gambit when a cheerleader for coal, bitumen and LNG turns green.

Clark’s commitment is suspect, but in essence the promise is welcome.

That said, the ban has a cost if Trudeau accepts the mission. It will cost the jobs of Canadians and Americans who mine thermal coal, not just Canadians who ship it.

And Clark vows to enforce it herself if Trudeau falters, using a high tax on exports of thermal coal, even from Alberta. To her credit, at least she is honing her trade-war tactics on nice Canadian neighbours before nipping at Donald Trump to make him behave.

In that vein, Clark implies she has crafted a bargaining chip to combat Trumpian lumber tariffs. However, her ban has left nothing to tempt the Americans to be fair. Perhaps the whole thing is play-acting as an election ploy or bargaining ploy. Whatever else, it is bunkum.

In reality, the American lumber lobby that ceaselessly preys on our lumber sector is anything but playful. If Clark instigates a hostile alliance of US coal and lumber, we might end up with BC lumber shut out of the US market.

Fortunately, American homebuilders want our lumber for their own sake. Also, Canadian companies have hedged by buying into the American lumber industry. That is comforting, but less so for Canadian workers than for shareholders.

Ms. Clark has opened quite the can of worms, which are muddy and tangled and who knows what else. Is there a reset button to push?

Possibly.

With her opportunistic approach to thermal coal, Clark contrasts with the steady Andrew Weaver, leader of the BC Green Party. He has funneled the passion of a values-driven movement into a viable political force. He espouses substance, but his affable nature gives him just enough style.

After the throne speech in 2014, Dr. Weaver proposed an amendment that the government explore all means to “halt the expansion of thermal coal exports in British Columbia.” Sadly, MLAs reacted as party automatons, so Weaver got squelched, 73 to 1. Ouch!

In his post-political way, Weaver stayed collaborative. If more MLAs had stood up for their constituents and aimed for consensus, we could be well along by now.

After all, BC’s grassroots movement that rejects dirty coal is very large and informed, and local governments pitch in. The momentum was free for the taking long before Clark got the impulse to surf it.

In what might have been, the phase-out of thermal coal exports from BC ports would be humming along. Meanwhile, the work ethic of former coal workers would be fueling the new economy, as described in Weaver’s platform. That ship has sailed, but a new cruise is possible, perhaps with a new skipper.

Weaver’s response to the recent Clark letter amounts to support in principle. It means the two leaders are well placed to share expectations and meet them together. Voters willing, they could soon begin with a thermal-coal transition plan, with a focus on jobs but a range of economic and ecological outcomes.

They would best forego any irritating direct linkage with softwood lumber. Instead, our province could take the goodwill from the diplomatic phase-out of thermal coal and bring it into a culture of teamwork with the state of Washington, including joint action to conserve and restore the Salish Sea.

All along, Weaver has known that Clark’s intended George Massey Tunnel removal would, by design, enable a mega increase in BC’s shipping of thermal coal, but he wisely does not cry “Hypocrite!”.

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For alternative views, see the insightful analyses thermal coal export ban promise by Charlie Smith in the Georgia Straight and Kevin Washbrook in the National Observer. Smith has also written an enlightening column that, in effect, compared the views of the BC party leaders on the promise.

The NDP has been quiet on this issue. John Horgan has pointed out that Christy Clark had years to act on thermal coal and that Clark’s threats of retaliation are an irresponsible approach to the softwood lumber issue.

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