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Former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell speaks at a Board of Trade Luncheon in Vancouver, February 10, 2012. (Jeff Vinnick For The Globe and Mail)
Former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell speaks at a Board of Trade Luncheon in Vancouver, February 10, 2012. (Jeff Vinnick For The Globe and Mail)

Gary Mason

B.C.’s once-lauded green agenda now in disarray Add to ...

It was not that long ago that B.C. was being hailed as a leader in the fight against rising greenhouse gas emissions. Former premier Gordon Campbell was the toast of enviro-crusaders everywhere, his bold reduction targets held up as an example of the kind of brave political leadership required to save the Earth from burning up.

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Mr. Campbell, of course, was pushed from office prematurely, the victim of one of the biggest public policy blunders in recent memory – the harmonized sales tax. Today, not only is the HST gone, but the former premier’s vaunted green agenda is in disarray as well, with many of its elements assigned to the burgeoning scrap heap of ill-conceived initiatives for which he was responsible.

The “hydrogen highway” he envisioned along the West Coast of North America – with refuelling stations for the thousands of H-burning vehicles that would use them – was never more than a catchy slogan. The fleet of 20 hydrogen-powered buses he had delivered to the resort community of Whistler in 2009 may soon be gone.

It turns out they are not exactly compatible with northern climates. They break down constantly. They are far costlier to operate than their diesel-burning cousins. The $90-million pilot project has mostly been a bust.

And no one talks any more about the Western Climate Initiative, the umbrella organization of Canadian provinces (led by B.C.) and U.S. states that was going to set up a cap-and-trade system for emissions. An idea that Mr. Campbell touted as revolutionary seems to have bitten the dust.

Recently, the B.C. government announced it was folding its controversial Pacific Carbon Trust into the Environment Ministry. Another Gordon Campbell project, the trust was a disaster from the start, with everyone from the Auditor-General to acclaimed environmental academics such as Mark Jaccard calling it mostly bogus.

Despite widespread criticism that the carbon offsets it sold have not had the promised impact on emissions, the government has continued to operate this boondoggle because it is a revenue generator. By 2015-16, the trust is expected to have an accumulated surplus of $37-million.

That it makes the money from schools and hospitals, among others, is appalling, and yet another sign of the Liberal government’s cynical, misguided and mostly chaotic environmental protection strategy.

No one believes B.C. will meet the target, established in 2007, of cutting its greenhouse-gas emissions 33 per cent by 2020, especially with Premier Christy Clark’s big economic gamble on liquefied natural gas. A B.C. government report has indicated it expects a robust LNG industry could at least double the province’s GHG emissions. This has Ms. Clark talking about getting some type of carbon offset credit for helping countries such as China reduce their reliance on more environmentally harmful energy sources such as coal in favour of cleaner LNG from B.C.

But Ms. Clark is already being called out as a hypocrite for wanting credit for any LNG shipped abroad but not accepting environmental demotion points for the GHG emission damage from B.C. coal.

Mr. Jaccard believes the government is getting ready to rewrite its tough emissions laws to accommodate the massive increase in GHG emissions the LNG industry is expected to create. He has given up on the province’s GHG-fighting plans, saying it is obvious the government is no longer serious about them.

“While states like California are steaming ahead with its emissions policies, Christy Clark seems to be interested in making vague statements about still having targets,” Mr. Jaccard told me on Tuesday. “But the fact is she won’t meet those targets, not a chance. If anything, she is going in the opposite direction.”

The B.C. climate legislation has no consequences for not meeting the emissions goals, so it was always going to be easy for the government to ignore them in the name of political expediency. At the moment, the economic health of the province is more important to Ms. Clark than its environmental well-being.

Her much-touted jobs plan has stalled. The NDP Opposition claims that since the Liberals announced their jobs strategy two years ago, B.C.’s employment record has become the worst in the country. This puts even more pressure on Ms. Clark to ignore the emissions objectives to make her big LNG bet a reality.

Gordon Campbell’s bold green dreams are dead.

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