New Democratic party candidate Linda McQuaig caused a bit of a stir in the first week of the federal election campaign when she said that in order to meet the national carbon emission reduction targets, we’d likely have to leave most of the oil sands oil in the ground, undeveloped.
Writing in the Toronto Star on Tuesday, Seth Klein of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives said the reaction to what he called McQuaig’s “innocuous and true statement” is just further evidence that “our politics do not allow for serious — and truly honest — discussion of the most pressing issues of our time.”
Klein then decries the fact that all sorts of politicians from all sorts of parties are not embracing all sorts of policies that Klein thinks are not just good ideas but absolutely correct ones. Therefore, our politics is bad.
Well, it isn’t actually.
By the way, Seth’s not alone in making this claim. You’ll see a similar argument with local flavour from Tom Baird over at theindependent.ca.
Before you start reflexively taking a position on all this, do what it seems that neither Seth nor Tom apparently did: listen to what Linda McQuaig said and the context in which she said it.
You can find a segment of an all candidate’s forum on CBC’s story about the McQuaig comments. She made them while appearing on Power and Politics on Friday along with candidates from the other parties. The candidates were discussing the Macleans debate that had taken place the night before.
Conservative candidate Michelle Rempel spoke last among the candidates on the show. They were talking about a section of the debate that focused on the national economy. Rempel said that the economy was doing very well and that, according to the Conference Board of Canada, the slow-down we are seeing was primarily in the energy sector. At that point, Rempel bridged to a discussion of what the opposition parties were saying about the energy sector. She noted that one of the candidates on the panel had called for a moratorium on oil sands development.
That’s at four minutes into the clip.
Rempel finished by pointing out that it was the opposition parties who were talking about what she called risky policies that would further slow the economy. Meanwhile, the Conservatives under Stephen Harper had done wonderful things.
Power and Politics host Rosie Barton then gave McQuaig a chance to reply since they established fairly quickly that McQuiag was the unnamed candidate Rempel was talking about. Here’s where things got really interesting.
McQuaig started running from the position.
That was Peter Lougheed, according to McQuaig.
She then said:
“A lot of people recognise that a lot of the oil sands oil will have to stay in the ground if we're going to meet our climate change targets.”
Asked about her own view - as opposed to what “a lot of people” though - McQuaig said she believed most of the oil would likely have to stay in the ground in order to meet the targets but that we’d know ho much once the country had a proper carbon change accountability system. In other words, once we know how much of a problem we have, we can then see how much oil we won’t develop.
Incidentally, that’s what McQuaig said, in full. CBC edited out the front end of her comment where she made the vague attribution that “ a lot of people” believe the oil sands will have to stay in the ground.
What should be plain to you right now is that far from speaking plainly, as Seth and Tom would have it, McQuaig refused to take a firm position based on truth or facts or anything of the sort. It’s not as though Linda was shouted down or ridiculed. She didn’t actually make the statement in the first place that both Seth and Tom think she did.
Indeed, when faced with the opportunity to state firmly her own beliefs, McQuaig tossed in Peter Lougheed as a red herring. Twice. Lougheed didn’t call for a moratorium on oil sands development, full stop. He wanted to halt expansion temporarily until development could proceed at a more measured pace. Lougheed was concerned that the royalty regime at the time was short-changing Albertans. He was talking money. McQuiag was talking about something else.
McQuaig’s comment about Lougheed was – at the very least - dishonest. Look at the clip and you can see she was quite obviously trying to run away from her own view and tossed former Alberta Conservative premier Peter Lougheed out as a smoke screen to cover her retreat.
When Rempel goes back to her points again, McQuaig insists she is merely in favour of setting climate change standards. She also goes back to the Lougheed comment and transitions to an attack on the senate, of all things. This is not someone who is resolutely speaking truth, let alone truth to power. This is someone doing what all the other candidates were doing: running their lines.
No sooner was McQuaig off the air than she and the entire federal New Democratic Party scurried away from the oil sands moratorium issue like they ran away from allegations of harassment by two Liberal MPs and as fast as they cashed cheques to use public money improperly to cover the cost of political offices in Quebec.
Seth and Tom can’t truthfully complain that our political culture won’t let people speak truth when the person they are defending actually wasn’t speaking the truth or anything that vaguely resembles it.
Linda McQuaig had an opportunity to state a fact forcefully and completely, if she wanted to. No thugs in black shirts dragged her from the set or stood poised to do so. No band of thugs with petitions stood ready to condemn shout her into silence amid accusations for merely saying something they’d didn’t agree with. In other words, she wasn’t in Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, or on a university campus in Canada.
Linda could have done what Bank of England governor Mark Carney did last year. He pointed out that if we wish to meet the targets current set by politicians for the environment, we would have to leave not just the oil sands but most of our petroleum resources undeveloped.
Carney had no trouble speaking truth to power because what he did was truthful. He was merely pointing out that setting targets at the levels currently envisioned logically require certain steps today. The step he was specifically dealing with was the devaluation of assets involved in petroleum extraction, production, and distribution. It’s a logical consequence of what McQuaig and others are running away from
Seth and Tom are right, at least in so far as both would like to have a substantial discussion of issues in an election.
Too bad we can’t have it when people with the chance to speak about what they believe, they decide it is better to take a pass.