Worthwhile Canadian Initiative (crosspost from Crooked Timber)

I’m writing from the other side of the planet, but there are enough Oz-related links to offer some thoughts on the Canadian election result.

First, taken in conjunction with the recent removal of Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, this is a big win for the planet. Abbott and Harper were the only two world leaders who were clearly climate denialists (despite some official denial-denialism) and now they are both gone. That leaves only the US Republican Party as a serious political force dominated by denial (of course, a big “only”). The chance for a decent agreement coming out of the Paris conference in December has improved significantly

Second, as the UK election also showed, the combination of multiple parties and First Past the Post voting is highly unpredictable. If things had shaken out a little differently, Harper might have managed it back into some kind of minority government, or we could be seeing the NDP rather than the Liberals winning on the basis of strategic voting. Applying this to the UK example, the idea that Cameron’s victory was in some sense inevitable is fallacious. Had a few things gone differently, we could all be talking about the mysterious appeal of Ed Miliband.

Third, the supposed dark magic of Oz spinmeister Lynton Crosby did Harper no good. If anything, Crosby’s dog whistle strategy motivated the majority to vote strategically against Harper. But I suspect that people like Crosby are better at selling themselves to politicians than at selling politicians to the public.

48 thoughts on “Worthwhile Canadian Initiative (crosspost from Crooked Timber)

  1. It’s strangely symmetric. Philosophically and in presentation, Justin Trudeau is to Stephen Harper what Malcolm Turnbull is to Tony Abbott.

    It’s also good to see that political dynasties don’t just exist in the United States and North Korea.

  2. @Uncle Milton

    I think perhaps you don’t recognise the commonness of political dynasties: consider Bangladesh, Botswana, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Singapore, Syria, and Togo.

  3. Dynasty? Nonsense, more a weird Liberal Party of Canada approach to selecting leaders: Any big name regardless of experience in politics or even of Canada (See Ignatieff) attracts Liberal power brokers, a bit like dangling a shiny object attracts an infant’s attention.

    I, personally, would have preferred to see a New Democratic Party victory or, at least, a Liberal minority but hey, I, like what looks like about 70% of the voting population of Canada, were ABC’s, Anyone But the Conservatives.

    Harper, at best, can be described a racist, religiously bigoted, misogynistic, fundamentalist Christian Zionist with poor judgement in everything from international relations to selecting personnel, a pronounced anti-science attitude and has been described by two provincial premiers as “a nasty man”.

    While Harper has given lip-service to climate change, all his actions have suggested that he is a firm climate denialist. I think Prof. Quiggin’s correct that Harper’s lost combined with the disappearance of Tony Abbot augurs well for the Paris conference.

    One real worry from the Canadian viewpoint, though, is whether the Canadian government (the bureaucrats) still have enough institutional knowledge to competently advise properly at Paris. Harper has effectively purged large parts of the civil service, especially anyone who could solidly advise on climate change (and a lot of other science come to think of it).

  4. Three good things about the policy platform of the new government in Canada.

    1. Middle class tax cuts.
    2. Legalisation of Cannabis.
    3. Support for assisted suicide.

    I’m sure I can find some negatives if I try. But there is no hurry.

  5. @jrkrideau

    Harper, at best, can be described a racist, religiously bigoted, misogynistic, fundamentalist Christian Zionist with poor judgement in everything from international relations to selecting personnel, a pronounced anti-science attitude and has been described by two provincial premiers as “a nasty man”.

    But apart from that, was there anything wrong with him?

  6. @TerjeP

    So middle class Canadians will be able to use their tax cuts to buy cannabis and if this causes their psychotic illnesses to become unbearable, their loved ones can help them kill themselves. Sounds like a great package.

  7. @Uncle Milton

    Whereas, if the legal prohibition of cannabis was continued, nobody would be able to use it.

    I’m reading John Birmingham’s Dopeland, in which there’s an anecdote told to him by two people who were offered marijuana by two other people they met in a pub. They were all getting stoned together when one of the two people who’d provided the stuff told the other to show his badge. They were police detectives. At first the other two people, the ones who told John Birmingham the story, were scared; but the detectives just laughed. It was a joke. Yes, the system is working well.

  8. @James

    Very impressive. According to Nick O’Malley, US correspondent for Fairfax Media,

    “Like Harper, Trudeau favours building the Keystone XL pipeline to export oil to the US”, and (three lines later in the story) “Trudeau vows a sharp reversal of Harper’s environmental policies, which emphasised oil and gas production.”

    If this is all true, the new Prime Minister appears to have trialled his own cannabis policy.

  9. My impression is that Trudeau’s support for Keystone XL is like the Qld Labor government’s support for Adani. They don’t want to be blamed when the project inevitably falls over, but (unlike their predecessors) they won’t lift a finger to save it.

  10. In related good news, according to The Guardian, the Australian Government has revealed it has dumped its $4 million funding offer to Bjorn Lomborg’s “Copenhagen Consensus Centre”.

  11. @Uncle Milton
    But apart from that, was there anything wrong with him?

    What do you mean? Those were his good points.

    Here’s a short list of just some of the things he (and I mean he as he was a total control freak) did to science in Canada.

    His effects on other aspects of life in Canada were similar

  12. I predict that nothing substantial will change under Trudeau. I base this prediction on the fact that modern elections in the West now change nothing substantial about the direction of politics or the economy. No matter who gets elected, corporate-oligarchic capitalism continues in exactly the same direction.

    Did anything substantial change under Obama? Was US involvement in the wars of the Middle East stopped? Was the secret state abolished and the Patriot Act reversed? Was the increase in inequality reversed? The answer to all these questions is a resounding NO.

    When Labor gets into power in Australia does anything substantial change? Do we stop putting migrants in concentration camps? Do we stop pushing for coal mines? Does the increase in our inequality and oppression of indigenous people get reversed? The answer to all these questions is NO.

    When Syriza got into power in Greece did anything change? NO. They completely failed to change anything as corporate Europe through their EU puppet theater prevented any change of substance happening and anything which could help the people.

    The corporations and oligarchs are in complete control of the developed world economy. Crony capitalism (in various forms) is actually in complete control of the world. Russia and China, for example, have fallen to their own brands of crony capitalism.

    Power has already devolved from our parliaments to corporate interests. They own the political parties and they run our society. Australian Labor has not stopped supporting coal. The Canadian Liberals will not stop supporting tar oil.

    But I don’t pity people who can’t see this. I envy them. They blithely go about their business believing that all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds. Meanwhile, the political economy of the world hurtles towards outright doom like a comet about to plunge into the sun. We are the dust in its tail.

  13. @Ikonoclast

    If somebody predicts ‘the Trudeau government will change nothing’ and then the Trudeau government changes something, the prediction is proved wrong. The fact that the prediction can be proved wrong shows that it is not vacuous.

    If somebody predicts ‘the Trudeau government will change nothing substantial’ and then the Trudeau government changes something, the person who made the prediction can always something ‘Ah, yes, they changed something, but it wasn’t substantial; I didn’t say they wouldn’t change anything, I only said they wouldn’t change anything substantial; they haven’t changed anything substantial and so my prediction has not been proved wrong’. If there is nothing that can ever prove the prediction wrong, then it’s vacuous.

    A prediction like ‘the Trudeau government will do nothing that reduces the power of large corporations’ (for example) is somewhere in between; if somebody points to something the Trudeau government does and says that it has reduced the power of large corporations, the person who made the prediction can argue that in fact the power of large corporations has not been reduced. That would make it more complicated to prove the prediction wrong; still, I would not say the prediction was entirely vacuous.

    Some people prefer making entirely vacuous predictions so that they can never be proved wrong; personally I consider this a form of cheating.

  14. @J-D

    Well, of course I am going to use the word “substantial”, otherwise you can tell me that Trudeau has changed his socks.

    In the entire text (and thus context) of my post, I did give an example. I wrote; “The Canadian Liberals will not stop supporting tar oil.” This meets your criteria for a prediction that is somewhere in between and thus not “entirely vacuous”. Since I have not made an “entirely vacuous” prediction, I can happily assume that you don’t consider I am “cheating”. Thank you, that’s most magnanimous of you! 🙂

    A Mother Jones article suggests in part;

    “… Trudeau supports the Keystone XL pipeline—Canada’s bid to find new markets for its vast carbon reserves in the Alberta tar sands—a position that puts the Liberal leader at odds with campaigners and with Barack Obama.

    Trudeau has close ties to Keystone. David Gagnier, his campaign co-chair, was forced to step down last week after it emerged he had written a memo to TransCanada, the company building the pipeline, offering lobbying advice.

    Moments after his victory, Trudeau came under pressure to do more to fight climate change. Elizabeth May, the Green party leader, told the broadcaster CBC she had asked him to think about the topic during a short election night conversation.

    Suzuki told CBC he chided Trudeau for playing politics.

    “I said, ‘Justin, stop it,'” Suzuki told CBC. “‘You’re just being political. I know that you want to make headway in Alberta so you’re for the continued development of the tar sands, you’re for the Keystone pipeline, but you’re against the Northern Gateway [pipeline]. You’re all over the damn map!'”

    In Suzuki’s version of the conversation, Trudeau did not appreciate the critique or hearing that keeping warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), the internationally agreed goal of the climate talks, would mean that 80 percent of the crude in the tar sands would have to stay in the ground.”

    All of this suggests to me that Trudeau and the Liberals will keep supporting Tar Sands mining and the oil pipelines. There is too much established corporate money in these projects and in donations to the Libs to allow the Libs to shut it down. So my prediction is clear and potentially falsifiable. I predict that Trudeau and the Can Libs will do 2/3rd of 5/8ths of Sweet F.A. to stop Tar Sands oil.

    You might want to check this article in the Vancouver Observer:

    “Alberta oil and gas millions fuel BC Liberal machine”

    How likely is it that Trudeau will upset this apple cart?

  15. More possible good news from Australia is that I heard the new Minister for Cities is at a scholars forum on greening cities. This should be an interesting change from the previous Prime Minister who was focused on roads, to a focus on cities. Lucy Turnbull has had a great interest in cities for some time so she will be a good ambassador for this new cities initiative. Especially as cities are becoming on of the focuses for climate change as at least some cities are ahead of national governments. Melbourne city council is organizing a bulk solar buy, and cities are also a source of philanthropy like the Rockefeller 100 Resilient Cities. This is sort of funny, as there is a dearth of metropolitan planning on Melbourne but the Rockefeller grant covers metropolitan Melbourne instead of the City of Melbourne so the foundation has skipped ahead of the State government.

  16. Ikonoclast :

    In Suzuki’s version of the conversation, Trudeau did not appreciate the critique or hearing that keeping warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), the internationally agreed goal of the climate talks, would mean that 80 percent of the crude in the tar sands would have to stay in the ground.”

    Wikipedia says that only about 10% is recoverable anyway, leaving 90% in the ground, so what’s the problem?

  17. I have to say, I don’t regard Suzuki as a credible source on anything


  18. JQ, I assume you would find this a credible source.


    Diverting the discussion to Suzuki is neither here nor there. So far as Suzuki goes, well I guess even fakirs can be right sometimes. If Suzuki is saying “The tar sands all need to stay in the ground.” then he is correct no matter how loopy he might be in other ways.

    If the Canadian Liberals are genuine about AGW, then they will immediately announce a plan to phase out all tar sand operations by 2020, as the above report indicates is necessary. If they do anything less then they are ipso facto not serious and not dependable on climate policy. I predict the Canadian Liberals will NOT phase out ALL tar sand operations by 2020 even if they are in power until 2020 or longer. (That prediction ought to be clear enough for J-D, BTW.)

    What we will see once again is that it is capital (as corporatocracy and plutocracy) which runs the world, not our captured petty-bourgeois democracies with their two-party / one-ideology (neocon) structures. The outcomes cannot be changed until the ownership structure is changed.

  19. I don’t know whether the Trudeau government in Canada will carry out its undertaking to legalise cannabis, but if it does it will be a good thing for many people in Canada, even if Ikonoclast does not care. But perhaps Ikonoclast is prepared to predict that it will not carry out the undertaking?

  20. @J-D

    I join your club on this one. I don’t know either whether the Trudeau government in Canada will carry out its undertaking to legalise cannabis.

    Marxist economist, Richard D. Wolff has made a prediction about cannabis legalisation in the USA. Before making the prediction, he made the caveat that economists, as a general rule, should not make predictions and that he maybe was being unwise in making this prediction. Three states in the USA now allow legal sale of cannabis for recreational purposes. They are reaping a lot of taxes on these sales. Wolff has predicted that all the other states will look enviously at these tax receipts and will soon move to secure such receipts for themselves by also legalising sale of cannabis for recreational purposes. Based on that logic, we might see Canada follow suit. However, I am not sure what will happen in Canada and I am not prepared to make a prediction on that.

  21. @Ikonoclast

    Three states in the USA now allow legal sale of cannabis for recreational purposes

    Actually, four: Washington, Colorado, Oregon and Alaska.

  22. @J-D

    Legalise a drug and let the world burn from AGW! No, sorry not a substantial change. Just window-dressing for escapists.

  23. @Ikonoclast

    As it is now, only 11 states outlaw cannabis for all purposes. The movement to legalise for recreation will become inexorable once the hold-out states see what they are missing out on in sales tax.

  24. While policy is important, it is the price of oil that will really determine what happens to oil sands. My reading is that the current price is far below what is needed to make new oil sands projects viable (abput $80/bbl) and below what is needed to keep most existing projects viable in the medium term (about $50/bbl). If current prices are sustained, I’d expect that no new projects will happen, and the projects that are under way but some distance from completion will be mothballed. I don’t know how long existing projects can keep pumping before they run into difficulties.


  25. @Ikonoclast

    If what you originally meant was ‘the Trudeau government will not halt AGW’, it would have been clearer if you had written that. Very few people, reading the words ‘the Trudeau government will make no substantial changes’, would succeed in decoding that as meaning ‘the Trudeau government will not halt AGW’.

  26. chrisl :
    Whatever happened to peak oil?

    It’s happened (or is about to) but not in the way Peak Oil fans, nor with the disastrous consequences that both Peak Oilers and climate change denialists (you are one, IIRC) assumed would accompany the end of fossil fuel based growth

  27. @John Quiggin

    “While policy is important, it is the price of oil that will really determine what happens to oil sands.”

    This discounts direct democratic regulation for outcomes. It indicates either ideological support for the “invisible hand” of the supposed free market (and a discounting of the value of real democracy if it could exist) or a realpolitik surrender in the form of TINA to the actualities of the corporate-oligarchic market. The really existing market is not a free market. It is a highly rigged market controlled by corporate monopoly power and heavily propped up by government subsidies for oil (in the case under discussion). Propounding that this kind of market will give us AGW solutions via prices has little credibility IMO.

    When will subsidies to Canadian oil be stopped? (IMF Pegs Canada’s Fossil Fuel Subsidies at $34 Billion – Reported in The Tyee.)

    The reality is that tar sand oil production could be stopped tomorrow if a government and a people so democratically willed it. The climate system reality is that it needs to be stopped tomorrow to halt dangerous climate change. The further and sad political-economic reality is that it can never be stopped tomorrow under a corporate capitalist system with captured political parties obeying the dictates of corporate capital.

    Does this system (“Really Existing Capitalism and Democracy”) act to FORESTALL grave environmental crises like AGW and species extinctions? The answer is “no”. Does it react at all? The answer is “yes” but “far too belatedly”. This is a system which does not react in time. To keep supporting it, after its abysmal track record for the last two decades indicates a failed political economy analysis, again IMO.

  28. I must admit I thought Peak Oil meant we would run out of the stuff, not that it would be too cheap to extract…
    Dazed and Confused….Cause sometimes words have two meanings

  29. @chrisl

    The commentator called “Gail the Actuary” has been predicting price falls would cause peak oil. She now feels vindicated I believe. I am not sure her prediction model is really all that robust. Also, I am not sure that current prices are the end of the story.

    Gail’s model is interesting. If I can give a thumbnail sketch she says;

    – Oil is an irreplaceable energy source.
    – Renewable energy leverages on oil at best and will be next to useless on its own.
    – Therefore the economy will suffer an energy crash and contract as oil gets tight.
    – The contraction will be a depression and people and businesses will not be able to afford expensive oil.
    – All or most oil found now is expensive because the cheap stuff has already been exploited.
    – Oil prices will drop (people can’t buy much) and exploration will grind to a halt and existing fields will dry up.
    – Therefore the global economy collapses completely.

    Currently, Gail superficially looks like she has been right but there are in fact multiple mistakes in her analysis.

    1. Oil IS replaceable as an energy source. *
    2. Renewable energy can and does deliver a usable energy profit AND the electrical economy is far more energy efficient (which lowers the need for a high EROEI).
    3. The recent crash (GFC) and flat economy post-crash were and are caused by other factors not an energy shortage.
    4. The oil price drop was partly because of shale plays and tar sand oils (all heavily subsidised) and partly a Saudi-US conspiracy manipulating oil prices to attack the Russian economy.

    However, the high cost of oil CAPEX is due to most easy fields already being prospected and new fields now being harder to prospect and produce from.

    * Note: Coal, gas, nuclear and renewables combined could replace oil in the short to medium term (ignoring negative externality effects).

  30. I must admit I thought Peak Oil meant we would run out of the stuff, not that it would be too cheap to extract…

    Energy systems are networks, and as supplies collapse so do the systems around them. First the price rises, then the substitutes come to dominate, and then the price collapses: you can’t give whale oil away, these days.

  31. @Collin Street

    We are not yet at the point where substitutes to oil dominate, so this cannot be the explanation for the recent falls in oil prices. The oil price drop was partly because shale oil and tar sand oils (all heavily subsidised) increased supply. The Saudis also increased their conventional oil supply, to send shale oil and tas sand oil competitors broke, but also (no doubt with US encouragement) to harm Russia’s oil export dependent economy. At the same time (roughly) demand stayed down due to the GFC or great recession and the sluggish performance of the world economy since then. This recession was not due to an energy supply bottleneck, it was due to a financial economy boom/bust cycle coupled with pro-cyclical (austerity) government budget policies in the recession part of the cycle.

  32. @chrisl

    You are indeed confused, obviously, since you believe in (or hold beliefs that make no sense without) a gigantic conspiracy theory involving nearly all the scientists and governments in the world to bring about a New World Order through a $50/tonne price on carbon.

    In this specific case, the problem is neither “running out” nor “too cheap to extract”, but weak demand caused by a combination of fuel-efficiency policy, competition from renewables and general social change.

  33. ” United States domestic production has nearly doubled over the last six years, pushing out oil imports that need to find another home. Saudi, Nigerian and Algerian oil that once was sold in the United States is suddenly competing for Asian markets, and the producers are forced to drop prices. Canadian and Iraqi oil production and exports are rising year after year. Even the Russians, with all their economic problems, manage to keep pumping.”

    Supply and demand

    Competition from renewables and general social change not so much

  34. Speaking of peaks, the world appears to have passed peak steel. UK metal man Andew Cooke has spoken of “permanently lower demand”, which is the definition of passing peak steel. And we probably hit peak aluminium in 2013. Peak coal, peak steel, peak aluminium, probably peak oil – things have been rather peaky lately, and that’s a good thing.

  35. “Supply and demand
    Competition from renewables and general social change not so much”

    I’m guessing that this is another of those confused thoughts that some people have all the time; and yet unfortunately they never notice how often their thinking has been wrong even after they have revealed this characteristic behaviour, as in the thought that Chrisl had about peak oil.

    Are we anywhere near peak hubris about the superiority of our so-called civilization?

  36. @Julie Thomas

    “Are we anywhere near peak hubris about the superiority of our so-called civilization?”

    Yes, I think we are at peak hubris. There are a lot of difficult challenges coming up.

    1. Our current economic system is past its use-by data. Capitalism (along with the more important factors of science-technology and democracy) played an important role in freeing some peoples from slavery, serfdom and material want. But it did this at the cost of imperialism and theft mainly from indigenous peoples in other lands.

    Now, under later stage capitalism, its true systemic limits are becoming obvious. Capitalism can only thrive when new lands, new markets (including labour markets) and new parts of the environment are opened up to exploitation and pillage. It’s not a system which can work in a fully occupied and exploited world. It’s not a system which produces equitable outcomes. It’s not a system which values and factors in sustainability. It’s not a steady-state system, it’s an expansion system.

    2. Scientific hubris is also taking some hard knocks. The idea that science can conquer nature now has to be shelved. The “science system” like the economic system is a sub-system of nature. Nature still contains humans and all their activities including science. We cannot defeat or escape nature and natural limits. While we should not return to anti-science, religious fundamentalism or medievalism, we need to implement science and technology with more respect for nature. Respect in this sense means respecting nature’s complexity and inter-connectedness especially with regard to the issue of unintended consequences. It means taking care to reduce disruptions to natural cycles as little as possible. In fact, it will need to mean leaving a large wild, un-managed component in nature.

    The current dominant and indeed triumphant ideology of neoliberal corporate-oligarchic capitalism suffers from overweening hubris. It is arrogant in the extreme and summarily dismissive of both the natural world and the needs of the majority of humans. This system is riding for the mother of all falls. It will take one or a set of “salutary disasters” to bring home to people that we cannot destroy nature (the biosphere in this case) and expect to survive. Values will be forced to change markedly when we realise we face an existential crisis i.e. the very survival of homo sapiens.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s