Green MLAs have thwarted NDP government plans a few times this summer, renewing speculation that John Horgan might not wait until October 2021 to call an election.
DESPITE ALL THE TOUCHY-FEELY TALK in their 2017 Confidence and Supply Agreement with the BC Greens, there is little question that the New Democrats would love to avoid having to deal with those annoying climate crisis affirmers.
The tension was heightened in recent weeks when the Greens, with the help of the Liberals, forced the government to put two bills on hold, and to cancel a proposed extension of the government’s power to spend taxpayer money for six months following an emergency, without the approval of the legislature. (The BC Auditor General criticized earlier Social Credit and NDP governments for routine spending via so-called “special warrants.”)
The Mental Health Amendment Act (Bill 22) would have permitted youth admitted to an emergency room following a drug overdose to be involuntarily detained. The Clean Energy Amendment Act (Bill 17), among other measures, proposed dropping the made-in-BC requirement for the province’s future electricity purchases.
Both bills are going nowhere for now, but the Greens’ opposition to the clean energy amendment bill may seem at first a little surprising.
For one thing, it could save already burdened Hydro ratepayers money, by allowing BC Hydro to buy purportedly “clean” electricity from suppliers in other provinces and countries, through its trading subsidiary, Powerex.
Why do that? Because in accordance with the Clean Energy Act, under direction from the former BC Liberal government, BC Hydro signed contracts with BC private power producers to buy electricity at obscenely high prices. This move is costing BC Hydro customers a total of $16.2 billion over 20 years, or $200 extra each per year, according to a detailed 2019 analysis by former BC Treasury Board Director Ken Davidson. A little external competition might help ensure that we never pay such inordinate prices again.
Whether over-priced or not, a number of BC First Nations are among the current providers of clean electricity to Hydro, a point not lost on Green interim leader Adam Olsen—who was raised on Tsartlip First Nation in Brentwood Bay.
The Greens refused to support the bill without more consultation with First Nations and without a strong definition of “clean energy.” In a July 28 statement, Olsen helpfully reminded the NDP that the current legislative session is the first since the passage of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act.
“Many Nations have seized on economic development opportunities linked to clean energy generation,” Olsen said in the statement, “and we feel strongly that they need to be given a clear pathway forward that honours the time and investments that have been made.”
As it turns out, there may have been no need to rush at least the clean energy portion of Bill 17, which also contains several housekeeping amendments. Hydro’s present surplus of electricity means that removing the made-in-BC provision is unlikely to have any impact for the foreseeable future, according to lawyer William Andrews, in a July 28 summary for the BC Sustainable Energy Association.
“Would-be sellers of power to BC Hydro are naturally offended at being told they will have to compete with foreign suppliers when BC Hydro eventually requires new electricity supplies,” says Andrews, “especially since much of the US renewable energy generation is government-subsidized.” He adds that the issue is a “tempest in a teapot” until electricity demand grows substantially.
Bruce Ralston, Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources wasn’t thrilled about the Greens’ actions. “Disappointed to hear that BC Greens not willing to support Bill 17 that would keep hydro rates affordable for people and promote electrification of BC’s economy,” Ralston said in a July 28 tweet. “Clean and affordable energy is key to meeting our CleanBC goals.”
Being thwarted by the Greens three times this summer has renewed speculation that the NDP could call an early election, rather than wait till the prescribed date of October 16, 2021. A number of long-serving Liberal MLAs will not run again, including West Vancouver-Capilano’s Ralph Sultan and Langley East’s Rich Coleman. One local non-NDP seat may be vulnerable, the popular former Green leader Andrew Weaver having announced that he will not run again in Oak Bay-Gordon Head. Currently 42 seats are held by Liberals, 41 by New Democrats, two by Greens, and two by independents.
Though the next election is scheduled for October 16, 2021, it can happen earlier if the cabinet decides, or if the government loses a vote of confidence. The election occurs up to 38 days after the cabinet order, depending on the circumstances.
Weaver says the New Democrats are in a tough spot. “The Greens plus Libs can kill anything they want,” he said in an August 10 email to Focus. Added Weaver: “A number of members of government have expressed to me their frustration in dealing with my two former colleagues.”
Recent polling may encourage the NDP to move sooner rather than later. An Ekos poll released July 17 found that decided voters overwhelmingly support the New Democrats (46 percent), compared with support for the Liberals (29 percent), and the Greens (13 percent.) In the capital area, NDP support was 53 percent, Liberal 25 percent and Green 19 percent. The poll was conducted June 16-July 17, with a province-wide margin of error amounting to +/- 2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
As well, the Greens, under a new leader to be decided September 5-13, may take some time to define a new direction. But Weaver suggests there is a possible opening for the Greens. “The BC Liberals don’t know if they are right-wing conservatives or more centrist liberals,” Weaver said in the email. “In trying to be both they allow the BC Greens to clearly articulate a centrist voice, which is where most voters lie.”
George Orr has a different view concerning the best direction for the Greens. A documentary filmmaker, and previously a highly respected CBC-TV producer, reporter and journalism instructor, Orr ran for the Green Party in North Vancouver in the 2019 federal election. In an emailed statement to Focus, Orr said the BC Greens risk sinking under present economic waves.
Filmmaker George Orr
“By holding hands for the term of this government, the Green Party has yet to distinguish itself for its core values and principles,” Orr said. “But it strikes me that [Premier John Horgan] is occupied with solving his next electoral move and that the Greens’ dwindling profile will play less and less into that equation.”
“The only burr under his saddle may well be if the next Green leader can light a political fire large enough to remind British Columbians about the looming climate crisis,” added Orr.
Asked about the possibility of an early election, NDP Executive Director Raj Sihota downplayed the likelihood. “Of course political parties always have to be ready in a minority situation, but Premier Horgan has made it clear that the focus of his government will continue to be keeping British Columbians safe during this pandemic,” Sihota said in an August 11 email to Focus.
How will we know an election is coming?
With sharply-growing concerns about the climate crisis, a sudden outpouring of small-g green policies may portend an imminent election. The latest BC greenhouse gas inventory, published August 6, reports that the province’s 2018 emissions jumped to 67.924 megatonnes of CO2 equivalent, a 3.3 percent increase from 2017.
The CO2 observatory on Hawaii’s Mauna Loa volcano
Pandemic or no pandemic, worldwide carbon dioxide emissions continue to rise. The observatory on Hawaii’s Mauna Loa volcano, operated by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, has been measuring daily carbon dioxide levels since 1958. In May 2020, monthly atmospheric carbon dioxide reached the highest concentration ever recorded. Said senior scientist Pieter Tans in a June 4 statement: “Progress in emissions reductions is not visible in the CO2 record.”
In my view, shortly before an election call, the government will roll out a series of popular measures designed specially to steal votes from the Greens.
Free heat pumps for all? A Tesla in every driveway?
Russ Francis appreciates the government’s recent announcement of a $1,050 rebate for electric bike purchases—provided you turn in a car under the Scrap-It program. But $1,050 doesn’t go very far in buying a quality e-bike, and it compares with up to $8,000 in federal and BC rebates for a new electric car—including the Tesla Model 3.