Overcoming Two Solitudes

Canada has experienced regional differences that worked against Canadian unity.  Hugh MacLennan’s novel, “Two Solitudes”, recognized the opposition to use of the French language by Quebecers in a predominately English speaking country. With patience and honesty and reasonable concessions, Canadian politicians were able to reduce these “solitudes” over many decades.

Climate change requires us to face the emergence of new political solitudes.

The previous Federal Government did nothing to significantly limit climate change by reducing GHG emissions. Instead it worked to promote the exploitation of fossil fuels.  During most of its lengthy mandate (approximately ten years) it received substantial support from voters in the Western provinces, particularly Alberta.

The economies of the Western provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan are heavily committed to the extraction and export of fossil fuels .  British Columbia Government is committed exploit its reserves of natural gas by exporting Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) to Pacific Rim countries.

The central Canadian Provinces, Ontario and Quebec, want positive action to reduce GHG emissions. This reduction is the only way Canada can contribute to limiting global warming to the 2? C target agreed to at COP 21.

Yet positive and timely steps on reducing emissions will be strenuously opposed by the Western provinces. The Liberal Government will work to soften the impact of its insistence on GHG reductions to avoid a confrontation with the provincial governments of Alberta and Saskatchewan.

If a confrontation is unavoidable, the Liberals have a small number of seats in these provinces,  so they have not much to lose.

BC is a different.  The Federal Liberals wish to keep the support received in the last election.  Can they do this if they oppose plans of the BC Provincial Government (also Liberal) to approve a LNG plant that will itself generate large GHG emissions?

If the Federal Liberals don’t oppose BC’s LNG plans, they risk losing voters whose choices will be influenced by Canada’s performance on climate change.

Perhaps that explains why Catherine McKenna, the Federal Environment Minister, said that “tough federal measures to fight climate change such as carbon pricing are coming to Canada” but at the same time cautioned against moving too fast as that “would disrupt the country’s national unity.”

By the time of the next Federal election, the honeymoon with the Federal Liberals will be long gone.  And the new political solitudes, described by McKenna as “east” and “west”, that have arisen over climate change policy will still be with us.


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