B.C.’s Clark Pivots Against Coal as Election Day Closes In
There were several ways to read British Columbia Liberal Premier Christy Clark’s mid-election pivot against coal exports from her province. The National Observer sees her remarks on the campaign trail last week as “changing the debate” on coal and climate. Not all interpretations have been so kind.
After years of routinely boosting her province’s fossil energy sector, Clark, who faces voters in a general election on May 9, “called on Prime Minister Trudeau to enact a complete ban on all thermal coal exports from B.C. ports,” the Observer reports. Her published letter to the PM “makes clear she understands coal is climate enemy number one and an energy source in permanent decline,” the Observer states.
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“Her letter has changed the debate over coal in B.C. forever,” the paper adds. “You don’t walk back bold statements like this.”
Then yesterday, Clark doubled down on her anti-coal stance, telling listeners during a campaign swing through the British Columbia interior that “if the federal government won’t, the Liberals would impose a carbon price of about $70 per tonne on thermal coal if they are re-elected in the May 9 election,” according to Global News. Reports suggested that Clark’s promised tax would apply only to coal shipped through the province, not to that produced in several mines in the province.
But Clark may just be reading her electorate’s mood. “Clark is bowing to pressure from constituents,” said Ariel Ross, coal campaigner for Vancouver-based Dogwood Institute. “It took a long time, but we’re finally here.”
The pro-business, U.S.-owned Vancouver Sun, meanwhile, cast the remarks as Clark grandstanding against the United States’ imposition of renewed countervailing duties in response to its long-standing claim that public ownership of Canadian forest lands constitutes an illegal government subsidy for exported lumber.
According to that paper, Clark was willing to accept the proposed Fraser River coal port until the Trump administration threatened the province’s softwood lumber exports. “We had an obligation to be good trading partners with our trading partners in the United States,” Clark told reporters at a Vancouver area paper mill. “They are no longer good trading partners with Canada. So that means we’re free to ban filthy thermal coal from B.C. ports, and I hope the federal government will support us in doing that.”
Clark, who is under acute pressure over her government’s record of accepting large donations from corporations it has subsequently lavished with large contracts, may also have hoped to drive a wedge into support for her nearest rival in next week’s provincial election, the New Democratic Party’s John Horgan. The NDP, the Observer notes, has hedged on the new coal port proposed for the Fraser River, refusing to condemn it.
The third-place B.C. Green Party, led by climate scientist Andrew Weaver, has long opposed coal exports through the province. The Greens are the focus of an aggressive NDP campaign aimed at dissuading potential supporters from “vote-splitting” which, New Democrats contend, threatens to return Clark to power.
Whatever Clark’s political triangulation, Dogwood’s Ross welcomed her decision. “With an election in just two weeks, the B.C. Liberals need to be able to point to at least one environmentally friendly policy,” she said. “Still, I’m glad to see the Premier take one simple step to stop dirty American coal trains from polluting B.C. communities. This is a great opportunity for all the parties to join the twenty-first century and close the chapter on this dying industry.”