Trudeau win marks new era in Canada green policies, but not on Keystone

Analysis: PM-elect has promised to be more proactive on climate change mitigation, but oil extraction will continue

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau’s resounding victory in Canada’s election may signal the beginning of a new era in the nation’s climate change policy, but anyone hoping for a reversal on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline may be disappointed.

Although incoming Prime Minister Trudeau has often said he is supportive of Canadian resource extraction, his party’s platform contrasts sharply with that of outgoing Conservative premier Stephen Harper. A Liberal government in Canada is likely to result in greater engagement with the international community when it comes to talks aimed at curbing global warming, a sharp departure from the stance of Harper, who dismissed the Kyoto Protocol as a “socialist scheme” and pulled Canada out of the global climate accord.

Greater investment in the clean energy sector was also part of the party’s election manifesto. As such, the party’s elevation to government — Liberals are on course to take at least 184 parliamentary seats out of a total of 338 — has been broadly welcomed by environmental groups.

But like his predecessor, Trudeau has said he supports the Alberta-to-Texas Keystone XL pipeline — a project that would drive more Canadian tar sands oil directly to the American South. Thomas Mulcair, head of the New Democratic Party — the third runner-up in the 2015 election — opposes Keystone XL.

Elsewhere, such as in the case of the of the controversial Northern Gateway pipeline — which would run from Alberta to British Columbia — Trudeau has voiced objection, telling energy giant Enbridge that it needs to come up with a “better plan” than running the pipe through “one of the most vulnerable and beautiful ecosystems in the world.”

Moreover, although acknowledging that the oil sands are an “important driver” in the Canadian economy, the Liberal leader has said that the country must eventually “get beyond” its reliance on the sector and argued that Harper had failed to collaborate effectively with other nations on climate change mitigation.

“Mr. Harper has turned the oil sands into the scapegoat around the world for climate change,” said Trudeau during an August leaders debate. “He has put a big target on our oil sands, which are going to be an important part of our economy for a number of years to come, although we do have to get beyond them. And his lack of leadership on the environment is hurting Canadian jobs and Canadian relations with other countries."

Chris Turner, a Canadian journalist who stood as a Green Party candidate in the 2012 parliamentary by-elections, told Al Jazeera during the 2015 campaign that Harper had spent much of his tenure in Ottawa “actively cheerleading for accelerated natural resource development.”

“Harper has a 10-year track record of dismantling environmental protections,” said Turner.

The Liberal Party’s platform, in contrast, is short on specifics when it comes to environmental policy. But the party has vowed to set emissions-reduction targets and collaborate with other nations at an upcoming global climate conference in Paris. Harper had intended to send delegates to the Paris talks, but Trudeau plans to attend personally.

Greenpeace Canada issued a measured yet positive statement in response to the Liberal victory on Monday night, saying the new government “has an unprecedented opportunity to reject boom and bust polluting industry by stopping tar sands expansion and making Canada a leader in renewable energies.”

“Canadians voted for change, and change isn’t only about who sits in the prime minister’s office,” said Greenpeace Canada Executive Director Joanna Kerr in the statement. “After nine years of Conservative rule, we need a federal government committed to reinvigorating our democracy, restoring environmental protections, and taking bold action on climate change."

Harper’s defeat comes just one month after Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott — another world leader who had incurred the ire of environmentalists — lost a power struggle within his own party and was ousted from office. His replacement, Malcolm Turnbull, is generally viewed as a less conservative voice when it comes to reining in carbon emissions.

Australian economist John Quiggin wrote in an article Tuesday on the politics blog Crooked Timber that the combined defeat of Abbott and Harper was “a big win for the planet.

“Abbott and Harper were the only two world leaders who were clearly climate denialists (despite some official denial-denialism) and now they are both gone,” Quiggin wrote. 

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