Little leadership in BC Liberals’ Climate Leadership Plan

Friday afternoon, particularly in the true heat of summer, is most every government’s preferred graveyard to bury difficult news – especially if it is already sweating the details as it pulls out the shovel.

The presumption is that people are readying for the fun and frolic of the weekend and that it’s just clever enough – but not too clever by half – to release what grudgingly has to be released in the least observable way. This is a supposed secret of media manipulation.

So it was on August 19, sun high in the sky, ferry lineups bulging and patio beers beckoning, that a signature provincial strategy saw the light of day while there were mere hours of light left in the day.

The attempt at stealth did not fool many.

The curiously named Climate Leadership Plan owes little to the hopeful, hubris-laden concept in the title suggesting the world is being taken down some sort of provincially blazed new trail. It is more of a Climate Followership Plan, a Climate Deferred Payment Plan or a Climate Would-Love-To-But-Can’t-Quite-Now Plan.

Its saddest effect is a repudiation and rebuke of the distinguished and diversified panel the province itself convened only last year of business leaders, First Nations, environmentalists, academics and political figures to point the way.

It bears repeating to bear in mind: about the only thing these people had in common was they were carbon-based forms of life, yet their focus on carbon-based emissions crossed partisan lines to produce politically pragmatic recommendations about environmental stewardship. Goodbye eco-warrior, hello eco-friendly.

With good reason, the panel process was trotted out as a model for consensus-building in modern politics at the recent COP21 climate-change conference in France. We were led to believe our exemplary earlier effort on the file was getting a fresh coat of green paint.

Like many brave and praised ideas with vast potential, that was the last we heard of it.

The August 19 announcement bore little resemblance to the document the panel produced, and in its shoes I’d be steamed and feeling manipulated.

On smaller points there are some modest ambitions: eventual programs, sources of encouragement, that sort of thing. On the bigger fish, the province cut bait.

Emission targets for 2030 – we have surrendered the 2020 goals – are now pushed into 2050, as if all of us will be here to celebrate.

The biggest wild card in the plan was a decision to pass on the opportunity to raise the ante for other provinces by setting a higher price on carbon. We set the price first in 2008, and the panel proposed a doubling of the $10 per tonne of emissions. Decisiveness has morphed into letting others decide.

In Olympic parlance, there is no medal for middling. Further, our forest management programs will need performance-enhancing drugs, because heavy industry gets off light and with favourable judging in the plan.

What appears to have intervened on the trek to glory is not anything that happened, but something that didn’t: a liquefied natural gas (LNG) project that was – we heard ad nauseam last provincial campaign – bound to take us to the promised land.

Instead, we have a land of promises.

The world energy market is hardly a pleasant place to invest at the moment, and through no particular fault but some particular obsession of her own, B.C. Premier Christy Clark placed her chips on the wrong part of the table. In the cyclical energy business anything is possible, but LNG is not an odds-on favourite. Companies are walking away from LNG projects, and Clark obviously didn’t want to hand them an opportunity to rationalize sprinting away.

Either the BC Liberals are preparing a motherlode of policy promises in the campaign – on the knowledge economy, on housing, on health and education spending, on transparency, and on the long-since-controversial qualities of saving the planet – or they really believe the NDP is unelectable.

B.C. needs more than a provincial election campaign of victory by default.

Kirk LaPointe is Business in Vancouver’s vice-president of audience and business development