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article imageOp-Ed: Canadian NDP learns to live with Oil Sands development

By Ken Hanly     Aug 15, 2015 in Politics
Ottawa - When left-leaning parties appear close to obtaining power, it seems inevitable that they should move to the centre of the political spectrum or even adopt right-wing policies. This is happening in Canada with the federal New Democratic Party.
Former New Democratic Party leader, Ed Broadbent, was skeptical that Thomas Mulcair would be able to hold together the NDP caucus. Mulcair comes not from an NDP background but was a cabinet minister in a Quebec Liberal provincial government. Broadbent thought it would be a huge mistake to replace NDP ideology that stressed support for the worker and welfare issues by a strategy of adopting policies simply because they would help members be elected. Mulcair stresses the NDP should concentrate upon being electable rather than stressing ideology. So far Broadbent has been wrong in that Mulcair has been able to keep his caucus functional in spite of his change in emphasis and an influx of a huge number of new MPs after the last election. The election resulted in the NDP becoming the official opposition ahead of the Liberals a huge victory for Mulcair. While for a time it looked as if the Liberals were making a huge comeback they now are stuck in third place in recent polls with the NDP still slightly ahead of the ruling Conservatives.
The latest CBC poll-tracker results, from August 11, show the NDP with 31.9 percent of the vote; the Conservatives, 30.1; the Liberals, 27 percent, all lower than in the last poll. The Liberal support increased after the first leaders' debate but has now fallen back slightly. The big gainer since the last reading was the Green Party led by Elizabeth May which had 5.6 percent support. The Quebec-based Bloc Quebecois had 4.5 per cent. The results are based on an average of several different polls. The seat projections show the Conservative still getting the most seats at 125, with the NDP close behind at 118, and the Liberals 92. The Bloc Quebecois would get one seat, and the Green Party two.
Every party these days seems to have decided that they should project their policies as supporting the "middle class." No doubt this is based upon the view that promoting policies that appeal to this largest group of voters would garner the most votes. The NDP has joined the crowd. No more targeting the poor or working class, since they are a smaller target group and restrict the range of the party's appeal. On issues such as trade, foreign policy, energy development, the NDP has watered down policies to appear less threatening or radical. The party is much less friendly these days to any potential candidate or existing members who take positions that are quite critical of Israel. Now that Alberta boasts an NDP provincial government even the Oil or Tar Sands development is seen in a different light.
Mulcair has moved even to the right of the Liberal party on issues such as income inequality. He rules out increasing taxes on the wealthy, while Justin Trudeau is in favour of an increase. Mulcair sounds like a typical conservative when he criticizes New Brunswick for raising taxes on the wealthy: “How is New Brunswick going to be able to attract and retain top-level medical doctors when they’re going to be told, ‘Oh, by the way, our tax rate is now going to be close to 60 per cent?’”
One of the NDP's star left-leaning candidates is author and activist Linda McQuaig. McQuaig started a huge controversy by stating what for many environmentalists is an obvious fact, recognized as long ago as 2012 by James Hansen, climatologist and former director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies who said: "If Canada proceeds, and we do nothing, it will be game over for the climate. Canada's tar sands, deposits of sand saturated with bitumen, contain twice the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by global oil use in our entire history. If we were to fully exploit this new oil source, and continue to burn our conventional oil, gas and coal supplies, concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere eventually would reach levels higher than in the Pliocene era, more than 2.5 million years ago, when sea level was at least 50 feet higher than it is now. That level of heat-trapping gases would assure that the disintegration of the ice sheets would accelerate out of control. Sea levels would rise and destroy coastal cities. Global temperatures would become intolerable. Twenty to 50 percent of the planet's species would be driven to extinction. Civilization would be at risk."
McQuaig made reference to a recent study by British researchers in the journal Nature that concluded that: " three-quarters of all Canada's oil reserves and 85 per cent of its oilsands can't be burned if the world wants to limit global warming. The report also concludes that no country's Arctic energy resources can be developed if global temperature increases are to be kept manageable. It adds that about one-quarter of Canada's natural gas reserves and four-fifths of its coal would also have to be left in the ground." This type of environmental discourse may be fine within environmental circles but is to be avoided at all costs within political discourse where the parties are emphasizing "electability."
McQuaig made the mistake of bringing these types of narrative into the political arena during an election campaign. McQuaig said during a panel discussion that a "lot of the oil-sands oil may have to stay in the ground" in order for Canada to meet its climate change targets. This was music to the ears of our Prime Minister Stephen Harper who immediately claimed that the NDP was against Canadian resource development. Instead of defending McQuaig the NDP issued a statement that McQuaig was not citing official NDP policy but referring to the report in Nature.
Mulcair, for his part, said that a Federal NDP government would support Alberta's oil sands development but with much stricter environmental controls than exist at present on any new developments. Mulcair has soothing rhetoric designed to placate both sides and make him electable: “We’re in favour of creating markets for our natural resources, we’re in favour of developing them, but that has to be done sustainably. And sustainable development is not a slogan, it’s something that has to become very real.” Mulcair also defends his policies and contrasts them with Harpers' policies on the appended video.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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