Spinning and fiddling as the world burns

Christy Clark shares the stage in Paris with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other Canadian Premiers. | Photo courtesy of the Province of British Columbia

Christy Clark shares the stage in Paris with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other Canadian Premiers. | Photo courtesy of the Province of British Columbia

Christy Clark says the darndest things. B.C.’s premier routinely gets away with jaw-dropping spin.

A few days ago, for example, addressing the media about the legacy of Bill Bennett, the province’s former Social Credit premier who passed away last week at age 83, Clark praised him as someone who stood up for the “little guy” and who was loved because he wasn’t part of “the one percent” or a “downtown Vancouver insider.”

Whatever your thoughts on Bennett’s life and career, Clark’s description of him is surreal. Bill Bennett was born into the one per cent, the son of W.A.C. Bennett, B.C.’s longest serving premier. Bennett fils was the consummate defender of downtown Vancouver business interests, serving corporate interests faithfully as a ruthless anti-labour politician, and then profiting shamelessly from his connections after he retired from public office. In a notorious case, Bennett was even found guilty of insider trading by the Securities Commission, resulting in a 10-year suspension from the market.

Of course, it’s transparently self-serving for Clark to lionize Bennett as an outsider defending the little people; that rhetoric helps to cast her premiership in a better light, obscuring the fact that she’s also faithfully carrying out the agenda of big business.

Nowhere is a progressive or populist veneer more useful than in covering up Clark and the B.C. Liberals’ betrayal when it comes to climate change. Despite relatively ambitious legislated targets for greenhouse gas emissions, brought in by her predecessor Gordon Campbell, the Liberal government under Clark has done sweet nothing to meet its commitments. The premier continues to coast on outdated rhetoric about B.C.’s climate leadership, while doing everything she can to expand fossil fuels based industries and exports.

So when the recommendations of the premier’s own “climate leadership team,” including an increase in B.C.’s carbon tax, were released on the eve of the historic UN climate summit in Paris, Clark promptly refused to commit to implement any of the proposed policies. In declining to commit to any actions proposed by the very leadership team she had appointed, Clark deployed some of her characteristic evasion and spin:

“We’ve received the recommendations. We haven’t sort of endorsed them. We need to really talk to people. There’s a lot of recommendations, not just the one you’ve mentioned, so let’s consult, and then decide where we’re going to go next and when we want to get there. …We are leaders now. Nobody has caught up to us. … but we want to stay leaders, so we want to act on that and act on the elements that we think could work.”

In other words: nothing.

Remember, these vacuous words are in response to the recommendations of the climate leadership team whose members Clark herself announced to fanfare earlier this year, and their terms of reference included the caveat that their suggested measures for reducing B.C.’s emissions couldn’t harm the projected growth of industries like LNG.

Clark flew to Paris with the rest of Canada’s premiers and more than 350 other delegates, many of whom simply basked in the “sunny ways” of our new post-Harper non-rogue nation status, took some selfies, shared some photos of the Eiffel Tower, and then flew home. In terms of concrete actions, there was precious little.

One concrete action that did happen in B.C. while politicians fiddled in Paris takes us in precisely the wrong direction: Port Metro Vancouver approved the coal port expansion at Surrey Fraser Docks, which will see huge ships up the river to carry thermal coal exports to Asia. As if B.C.’s LNG obsession wasn’t enough, the Clark government continues to allow expansion of coal, the dirtiest fossil energy source around.

The Dogwood Initiative blasted the Port’s approval as “an international embarrassment,” coming as it did on the opening day of the Paris talks, “The entire world is looking to Paris for meaningful action on climate change, while at home in B.C. we’re promoting the export of the world’s worst carbon fuel to Asia.”

Embarrassing? You bet. But in B.C. we are dealing with a government immune to feelings of embarrassment.

Only a revival of this province’s movements for social change can put an end to this dismal state of affairs. Short of that, the one percent insiders will keep winning, and their politicians will keep spinning.