Construction on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, which was a major issue in this week's climate change debate in New Westminster-Burnaby. (Trans Mountain)

New West-Burnaby candidates face off on climate change

Discussion over TMX and fossil fuel subsidies saw plenty of barbs traded between candidates

By Dustin Godfrey | September 9, 2021 |5:00 am

New Westminster-Burnaby candidates faced off this week in a debate over climate change and policy, albeit with the notable absence of the Conservative candidate.

The debate, organized through a collaboration of local climate groups, heard from NDP candidate Peter Julian (incumbent), Liberal candidate Rozina Jaffer, and Green candidate David Macdonald on issues around Trans Mountain and a “just transition” into cleaner energy sources, among other issues.

The former topic saw some of the most pointed remarks, with Macdonald and Julian hounding Jaffer over the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

Differences over TMX

Jaffer was alone in defending the project in front of a crowd that was unlikely to be sympathetic to her position. She said the project was necessary to maintain the Canadian economy and to avoid a “painful” transition to clean energy.

“We have to make sure [a just transition] is done in a fair way. We are working with industry to make sure that we, as Canadians, are going to benefit from that green transition,” Jaffer said, also suggesting the oil and gas industry is seeking to end emissions as well.

“Whether we like it or not, we’re still very dependent on fossil fuels. … All the money that’s being raised from TMX is actually going to the Canadian environment sector to try to come up with energies that are cleaner.”

But Julian countered that the pipeline isn’t the boon the Liberals have claimed it to be, citing claims the pipeline will be a net loss to the federal government. Julian said he’s asked the Parliamentary Budget Office 3 times to independently look into the costs and financial benefits of the pipeline purchase.

“We paid a billion dollars more than we should have, even if you’ve taken into consideration all of the assets,” Julian said, adding that total costs could reach up to the $20-billion mark. “The parliamentary budget officer has acknowledged that we’ll never make money on Trans Mountain.”

(In 2020, the PBO said the pipeline would have a positive net value in “2056 and beyond.” That is based on an estimated $12.6 billion in construction costs, offset by commitments from oil producers to fill their share of at least 80% capacity of the expansion project or otherwise to pay the toll associated with their share. This is also “highly contingent” on climate policy from the federal government, and producers can escape their contractual obligations if construction costs reach a certain level.)

Macdonald, meanwhile, said he expected a minority government to form either by the Conservatives or the Liberals. The “bare minimum” for a party to get his support to form government is to end fossil fuel subsidies and to cancel the Trans Mountain expansion, he said.

“I would be prepared to bring down the government to immediately force another election, an election unlike this one. In this election, mainstream media seems clueless as to what the critical issue should be,” Macdonald said.

“I would be prepared to force both the Liberals and the Conservatives to fight the next election with a focus being on the climate crisis.”

Provincial vs federal NDP

But Macdonald also had barbs for Julian, saying the BC NDP Premier John Horgan and former Alberta NDP premier Rachel Notley have “doubled down” on fossil fuels. Horgan has sought to expand liquefied natural gas production in the province, while Notley promoted the tar sands in her province.

“Can you trust them to fight climate change?” Macdonald said. “Has Jagmeet [Singh] cleared the suspension of subsidies for fossil fuels with Mr. Horgan and Ms. Notley?”

Julian did not address the apparent disparity between provincial and federal NDP policies, but he said he has made fighting climate change a priority.

“The first item of business before the Parliament that started late in 2019, in the fall of 2019, was to table motion No. 1, a ‘Green New Deal,’” Julian said, adding that while it was largely endorsed by NDP MPs, it also got some support from Liberal and Green MPs.

If re-elected, Julian added that it would be his first action once again, saying he has toured Canada to promote a Green New Deal.

Jaffer, meanwhile, said she became concerned about climate change “30 years ago with a documentary called [An] Inconvenient Truth.”

“That movie was, I think for me, a wakeup call about what we have been doing to the environment and why we need to stop [doing that] do the environment,” she said of the 2006 documentary.

“I honestly think that we’ve been far too apathetic. We haven’t worked fast enough, and we haven’t moved hard enough to get there.”

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Dustin Godfrey

Reporter at Burnaby Beacon

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