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Jeffrey Simpson (Bill Grimshaw)
Jeffrey Simpson (Bill Grimshaw)

Jeffrey Simpson

A Wildrose win? Lots of climate thorns and no petals Add to ...

Seventy-seven years ago, in 1935, Alberta elected a government with a unique take on economics. Within a short time, this take and the Social Credit government that promoted it received widespread and mocking attention across the country and, to some extent, outside Canada.

On Monday, Alberta history could repeat itself, in the sense that the Wildrose Party might be elected on a platform of debunking the science of climate change accepted by governments almost everywhere – just as former premier William Aberhart’s government stood out as the only one in the world in the 1930s that believed in social credit monetary theories.

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As for those Albertans who worry their province’s environmental record outside its borders is under siege, or at least critical scrutiny (obviously, many don’t care a fig) – they won’t have seen anything if Wildrose wins.

Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith has repeatedly said the science of climate change is not proven – that is, that the atmosphere is warming largely because of emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. Because she doubts climate change exists, Ms. Smith has criticized many of Alberta’s policies for limiting the increase in emissions, including four carbon sequestration projects and a $15-a-tonne tax on emissions.

These policies are widely viewed as inadequate outside Alberta by those who take climate change seriously, but to Wildrose’s leader, the policies are expensive and unnecessary.

If elected, Ms. Smith would become the only democratically elected leader in Canada holding the view that climate change science is so unreliable that nothing concrete should be done. Around the world, no national government (except perhaps Saudi Arabia and Iran) holds that view, not even the Harper government in Ottawa.

Governments differ on how to reduce emissions and which countries should do more. But countries (including China, India and Brazil) do not disagree that the climate is warming, that the science is quite solid, human activities are the cause and that something should be done. The something – not the science – remains in doubt.

True, coteries of dissident scientists do exist, although there are very few in Canada relative to the overwhelming number of Canadian scientists who accept the reality of global warming and its causes. True, too, very insistent Canadian media voices debunk climate change, mostly on the far right of the media spectrum. Presumably, these dissident scientists and media voices encourage Ms. Smith in her views. To them, and to her supporters, she will be a heroine for doubting the science of climate change.

People outside Alberta do not fundamentally care what the province does about purely provincial matters. Alberta can essentially do what it likes in health care, education, skills training, even tax policy. But development of the bitumen deposits is another matter, because the national economic impact is so great, the emissions (current and projected) are so significant and the reputational impact on Alberta and Canada so evident.

It is one thing for Alberta governments to defend the province’s climate change actions – to claim that critics do not appreciate what the province has been doing – while still accepting, as all Alberta governments have, that climate change is a reality. It would be quite another for an Alberta government to tell all other governments in Canada and national governments around the world that they are wrong and only it is right about the science of the matter.

Polls have shown a large minority of Albertans don’t believe in climate change or are skeptical about it. Presumably, Ms. Smith’s views appeal to this large minority, whose voices influence the federal Conservative Party.

Climate change policy will not affect the outcome next Monday. The issue has fallen off the political screen nationally, and it was always only a small issue in Alberta politics. People in Alberta will not vote because of what people outside the province might think about something they might or might not do. In that, they are like voters everywhere.

Albertans will vote on local matters and personalities, as happens in democracies. But on this one issue, climate change and its science, how they vote will have long-term consequences for the province outside its borders, whether they like it or not.

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