Jillian Oliver is a media commentator and former senior adviser to the BC Green Party.
In the wake of years of cascading climate disasters, Australians on Saturday booted out their pro-fossil-fuel prime minister Scott Morrison and handed either a slim majority or minority government to the centre-left Labor Party. But the change-makers in the election are a mix of climate-focused Greens and “teal” independents – business-friendly candidates fed up with Mr. Morrison’s regressive views on climate change.
The Greens picked the progressive lane, campaigning on a wealth tax and a pledge to incorporate dental care into medicare. They now hold 12 seats in the Senate and will be instrumental in passing legislation. The teal independents ran with a distinct brand, focusing on the missed business opportunities that come with transitioning to a sustainable economy. (The colour teal blends blue, the traditional colour of the centre-right Liberals, with green, representing the environment.) Voters rewarded them with nine pick-ups in the House of Representatives, seats mostly formerly held by Mr. Morrison’s Liberals.
The results should be a wake-up call for Canada’s federal Conservatives, whose leadership candidates are pledging to roll back Canadian climate policies if they were to form a government. Their presumed frontrunner, Pierre Poilievre, has said he wants to “build pipelines in all directions” and eliminate Canada’s price on carbon. His main challenger, Jean Charest, would not honour Canada’s emission-reductions commitments to the UN and instead reinstate weaker climate targets from more than a decade ago.
Canada’s Conservatives are divided over the issue. One in five party supporters say they are not concerned about climate change at all, but 21 per cent say they are very concerned and 37 per cent say they are somewhat concerned. What happens to that 58 per cent of party supporters as the Conservatives double down on a regressive climate agenda?
Canada has experienced many of the same extreme weather events as Australia. Flooding and wildfires have become seasonal norms here. This is helping push climate change higher on the list of Canadians’ concerns. As gas prices skyrocket, the demand for zero-emission vehicles is growing, reaching a record 13 per cent of cars sold in B.C. last year. The current surge in gas prices is eliminating the case for natural gas as a “bridge fuel” as it becomes cheaper to switch directly to cheaper renewables.
Australian Prime Minster Anthony Albanese is seizing on the election results to mount a push for economic transition: “Together we can … take advantage of the opportunity for Australia to be a renewable-energy superpower,” he proclaimed on election night. Such sensible, patriotic framing will resonate as voters tire over the chaotic “climate wars,” mounted both at home by pro-fossil-fuel politicians and abroad by corrupt petrostates like Russia.
This is an astonishing sea change in a country that is at least as dependent on fossil fuels as Canada. Twenty per cent of Australia’s export earnings come from fossil fuels, but business-minded candidates such as the teal independents are realizing that clinging to an industry that is primarily responsible for billion-dollar climate disasters is senseless. Instability, both from natural disasters and volatile commodity prices, is as bad for business as it is for our health, well-being and safety.
Worse, the longer Canada’s Conservatives ignore climate science – even as more Canadians feel the effects of climate change in their everyday lives – the less incentive the party has to stick to a sane policy agenda on other critical issues. As we’ve seen with the Republicans in the United States, when you close the door on facts and responsible debate, all you’re left with is anger, hatred and conspiracy theories.
It might not be long before Conservatives who can’t stomach a U.S.-style, fact-averse tilt look for real political alternatives. Ed Fast’s resignation last week as the Conservative finance critic following his criticism of Mr. Poilievre’s sketchy economic proclamations could be a first sign of this. If the party wants to remain relevant to sensible voters, it needs a hard reset on its approach to climate change.
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