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Labour, NGOs combine on climate change as election issue

The Prince Rupert Ridley terminal coal port, seen here September 27, 2011.

JOHN LEHMANN/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

With an election coming this spring, environmental groups, unions and other provincial organizations are pushing to get the issue of climate change on the political agenda.

Judging by what happened during the U.S. presidential election, that is going to be a challenge, says Marc Lee, co-director of the Climate Justice Project, which is run by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

But he and a lot of others think it can be done.

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More than 50 organizations – including the BC Teachers' Federation, Pembina Institute, Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs and most of the leading environmental groups in the province – have signed an open letter urging all political parties to support legislated greenhouse gas reduction targets and to set out their climate action policies in election platforms.

"Watching the U.S. elections last year was an exercise in frustration," said Mr. Lee, who released the letter Wednesday. "Essentially climate change was happening all around them and yet [the candidates] were reluctant to raise the topic."

Mr. Lee said "carbon is becoming a bigger issue" in B.C., with the province looking at possible construction of several new liquefied natural gas plants, major growth of coal port facilities, the proposed Enbridge Gateway project and potential expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline.

"There is a fairly broad base of civil society, not just environmental groups, that care about these issues," Mr. Lee said.

He said he hopes the letter will encourage "a robust discussion" about B.C.'s role in fighting climate change.

In 2007 the Liberal government committed the province to reducing GHG emissions by 33 per cent by 2020. But as of 2010, emissions were down just 4.5 per cent from 2007 levels.

If all the energy projects that are now proposed go ahead, B.C. will have no hope of coming anywhere near its targets, Mr. Lee said.

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"Even though we have these legislated greenhouse gas emission targets, the government – and I would argue the opposition as well – seems intent on blowing those targets out of the water through LNG development and increased fracking in northeast B.C." Mr. Lee said.

"This is a terrible mistake," states the letter. "The impacts of climate change are now even more evident across the world in the form of extreme weather events, from flooding in some regions to wildfires and drought in others."

Emma Gilchrist, a spokeswoman for the Dogwood Initiative, said in an e-mail her organization is working on mobilizing the environmental vote in the next election.

The Dogwood Initiative, a non-profit that has been campaigning to stop oil-tanker traffic on the B.C. coast, said hundreds of volunteers have already started going door-to-door in key ridings in a Knock the Vote campaign.

"We are capable of mobilizing our supporters," she said. "And we will double down on our efforts in specific polling divisions in specific ridings where the races will be closest."

She said the group has identified 16 B.C. ridings in which the Dogwood Initiative has more supporters than the margin of victory in the last provincial election.

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Kevin Washbrook, director of Voters Taking Action on Climate Change, said his organization is pushing to make the proposed expansion of coal port facilities into an election issue.

"We need a frank discussion about how to meet our material needs without contributing to a runaway climate disaster," he said in an e-mail.

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About the Author
National correspondent

Mark Hume is a National Correspondent for The Globe and Mail, based in Vancouver, writing news and feature stories on a daily basis about his home province of British Columbia. His weekly column, which often challenges the orthodoxy on environmental issues, appears every Monday. More

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