Svend Robinson made a noisy return to electoral politics last week. The erstwhile long-time Vancouver-area MP had no sooner received the NDP nod to run in this year’s federal election than he was making news.

He told former leader Thomas Mulcair to quit taking shots at his successor. He also adopted a pro-Maduro stance that was way left of the cautious caucus position on the Venezuelan crisis. But it was his call for an end to any new investment in oil and gas infrastructure that could have a more lasting political impact.

“We have to recognize that fossil fuels and any new infrastructure is taking us down a road to climate disaster,” Robinson said in an appearance on CTV’s Power Play broadcast. “This is an industry which we have to recognize is on the way out…We’ve got to leave most of the oil and gas in the ground and we’ve got to move to renewable energy.”

During his first go-round as an MP from 1979 to 2004, Robinson did not shy away from upstaging his party leader or confounding his caucus colleagues. His re-entry was more of the same. Robinson is running in Burnaby North-Seymour, terminus of the Trans Mountain pipeline. Leader Jagmeet Singh is contesting a by-election in neighbouring Burnaby South.

Although Singh and the NDP caucus have voiced opposition to Trans Mountain, they’ve hedged on the proposed Coastal GasLink pipeline, the one that attracted international attention when the RCMP arrested 14 protesters trying to block a route through Wet’suwet’en First Nation territory.

Ambivalence on the Coastal GasLink is understandable politically, given that B.C.’s NDP government is promoting it as part of a gigantic LNG project. But Robinson’s noisy re-emergence on the national scene may force the federal NDP to firm up its position on fossil fuel development and climate change in time for a federal election campaign that’s so far shaping up as a mainly phoney war over the carbon tax.

Liberal plan lacking

Despite all of the evidence of the need for drastic action, the Conservatives and the Liberals are offering Canadians a choice between going defiantly in reverse or timidly forward.

How gingerly?

In the face of a steady stream of scientific reports, despite climate change driving the latest visit of the polar vortex, and notwithstanding new alarms raised by the latest international climate summit in Poland, we’re getting no closer to meeting the flabby GHG emission reduction targets the Liberals inherited from the Harper Conservatives.

The target to which Canada has committed is 513 megatonnes (Mt) by 2030. We were at 704 Mt in 2016. According to a pre-Christmas update from Environment Canada, every initiative now underway, plus a vague suite of “Additional Measures” that may be brought in later, will cut emissions to 592 Mt, 79 Mt above the target agreed to by the Harper and Trudeau governments.

Fossil fuels and the new infrastructure to increase fossil fuel production is a big part of the problem. Even with implementation of the “additional measures” emissions from the oil and gas sector are projected to increase by 12 Mt between by 2030. But it’s not the only culprit. Heavy industry – mining, smelting, refining and the production of stuff like aluminum, pulp and paper and cement – is also projected to increase emissions. The same goes for farming, which emits almost as much as heavy industry.

So it’s a big problem, one that cries out for an agenda more ambitious than the one put forward by the Liberals. The NDP has been playing footsie with such an agenda for years. The Leap Manifesto came up at the party’s most recent convention in 2018 after causing a major stir when it was debated at the 2016 convention in Edmonton – the one that led to Mulcair’s downfall as leader.

I wrote about Leap at the time, expressing the fond hope that discussion and debate would lead to a coherent policy on climate change and pipelines for the NDP to carry into the 2019 election. (See below for highlights of Manifesto).

So far it hasn’t happened. Caucus members rail against Trans Mountain, complain that the 2030 emission targets are too modest and talk vaguely about the need for more green energy. But what those targets should be, a realistic plan on how Canada can achieve them and a strategy for phasing out our economy’s dependence on fossil fuel development and export? Nada.

The Leap Manifesto does not have all of the answers, but it at least it helps move the debate forward, beyond the do-nothing Conservatives and the do-little Liberals. Now that Svend Robinson has let the cat out of the bag on leaving oil and gas in the ground, the party needs to campaign on a climate change plan that tackles some of the hard questions. Opponents will tag them with Robinson’s comments anyway so, as the old saying goes, they might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb.



Here are some of the key ideas in the Leap Manifesto:

  • respect the rights of First Nations, starting by fully implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples;
  • move to 100% renewable electricity within 20 years;
  • transition to a fossil free economy by 2050;
  • end infrastructure projects that lock us into increased extraction decades into the future;
  • end trade deals that interfere with our attempts to rebuild local economies, regulate corporations and stop damaging extractive projects;
  • expand non-polluting economic activities such as day care, education and the arts;
  • implement a system of universal basic income
  • raise new revenue through a carbon tax, higher taxes on large corporations and wealthy and a financial transaction tax.