Saturday, April 27, 2019

The Shift to the Right and Hope on the Road to Ruin

Prioritizing economic growth at the expense of the environment is a defining feature of modern day conservatives. In many parts of the world the right are untied in their contempt for science, resistance to climate action and disregard for environmental protections. Under the guise of being pro-business they systematically eliminate regulations designed to protect the public. It is often said that reality has a liberal bias and conservative governments the world over seem committed to proving this point. Brazil's new government under Jair Bolsonaro is a case in point as are electoral outcomes across Europe. Conservative federal governments including those in the US and Australia have flouted science and crushed the climate efforts of their predecessors. It is not surprising that the US and Australia are two countries with significant climate protest movements.

In 2013 Australia's green government died after climate champion, Prime Minister Julia Gillard was forced out as leader of her party and Tony Abbott subsequently defeated Labor in a general election. Since then climate change has been a political football in the country.

In 2016, with the help of Russian interference, Republican nominee Donald Trump narrowly defeated Hilary Clinton to become President of the United States. Soon after he was inaugurated he began to dismantle Barack Obama's climate legacy. Since then the Trump presidency has proven to be a nightmare.

We have seen the same process play out in Canadian provincial elections. In 2018 Doug Ford defeated Kathleen Wynn in Ontario reversing one of the most progressive provincial climate agenda's in the country.  Ford's victory was followed by the recent electoral victory of Jason Kenney and the United Conservative Party (UCP) in Alberta. Kenney defeated Rachel Notely and he has promised to end the policies of the greenest provincial leadership Albertans have ever known.

Right wing governments come to power by promising tax cuts but once in power they benefit the 1 percent and dirty energy. They appeal to the lowest common denominator as they leverage the politics of fear and division. They pander to nationalist sentiments that often include xenophobia and racism. Trump is well known for his Charlottesville defense of Neo-Nazis. Kenney's candidates included white nationalists and those that harbor anti-LGBTQ and anti-Islamic sentiments.

Like other conservatives Kenney won with a dishonest economic message that prioritizes the fossil fuel industry, jobs and the economy. Kenney cast aspersions on the green economy and ignored market realities. Conservatives are willfully blind to economic assessments that clearly favor climate action over inaction. Such agenda's hurt the economies of the nation's they lead. In Australia Abbott's pro-coal agenda spooked investors and Trump's tax cuts have massively increased the national debt.

Nonetheless, conservatives claim to be focused on the economy and business. In fact they all use the same catch phrase, "we are open for business" which is code for we will dismantle protections to serve an anti-environment agenda.

"Today our great province has sent a message to Canada and the world that Alberta is open for business." Kenney said after learning he would be the next premiere of Alberta.  Less than a year ago Ford said, "Ontario is open for business," during his victory speech. These are the same words as those uttered by President Trump. "America is Open for business," he told an audience at Davos in 2018.

Make no mistake about it whenever conservative politicians say, "we are open for business," they are in effect signalling an assault on climate and the environment.

It is interesting to note that right of center men are defeating left of center and centrist women (Abbott beat Gillard and Trump beat Clinton). A similar theme manifested in Canada with Ford's victory over Wynn and Kenney's win over Notley. There are no more women serving as premiers in Canada and provinces east of the Rockies through to Quebec are all represented by conservative majority governments. As it now stands Conservatives have won provincial elections in Alberta, Quebec, New Brunswick, Ontario and most recently PEI.   

However, the conservative win in PEI gives us reason to hope that conservatism does not need to be anti-science and anti-environment. The victory of Progressive Conservative leader Dennis King suggests that conservatives can win with a platform that includes climate action. 

In Ontario and Alberta conservative governments have killed environmental leadership, but PEI is a different story. As explained by the National Observer, the new premiere of the province may be  "[King] is a distinctly different leader than premier-designate Jason Kenney of Alberta or Premier Doug Ford of Ontario. Unlike other conservatives in the country, King has not pledged to fight the federal carbon price, and has even pledged to turn P.E.I. into a carbon-neutral society."

However, other conservatives are not as receptive to the facts. Our times require change but this is the one thing that conservatives have trouble doing. Conservatives that continue to refuse to incorporate reality into their policy agendas may find themselves out of a job.  

In the 2018 midterm elections the electorate in the US delivered a stunning rebuke to the Trump administration and Republicans when the Democrats took control of the House of Representatives in a blue wave. In the forthcoming general elections scheduled for May 18th polls indicate that Australian voters appear poised to turf the ruling party and vote for climate action. Climate change may also be a key election issue in the Canadian national elections that will be held on October 21st.

The day will dawn when conservatives will be forced to renounce their cynical resistance to the facts about climate change.  However, with less than 12 years before we run out of time, that day cannot come soon enough.

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