Juggling the balls of climate change

 

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New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant’s determination to be on the right side of history may be one of the signature features of his term in office.

And, why not?

Political leaders far older than he struggle daily to balance the competing and often conflicting demands and expectations of the people they represent. It is only the hubris of youth that convinces such jugglers that they, above all others, can keep all the balls in the air and, so, astonish and mollify a disparate and peevish crowd of voters.

Sometimes, it works just fine.

Former U.S. President John F. Kennedy (elected at age 44) had his Camelot and moonshots, his Peace Corps.

Current Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (elected at age 44) has his clean-technology agenda and climate-change avowals, which he hopes will bring this nation closer to its true identity as an advocate for green sensibilities the world over.

Again, why not?

The problem, of course, is reality. It pulls and pushes, warps and wrinkles even the noblest aspirations. In the public sphere, fear and alarm masquerade as legitimate, dissenting voices. Paid lobbyists practice their smooth alchemy; industry associations exert their influence; and poorly educated citizen groups caterwaul from the sidelines of relevance.

The result is almost always inevitable: The political juggler drops the balls; bold, youthful aspirations fall to the ground; and the status quo remains intact.

I can’t confirm that this is happening in New Brunswick, but I will say that we’re getting there.

Fresh off the plane from Vancouver, where he met with his provincial counterparts and the prime minister, Mr. Gallant now vows he will “consider” pricing carbon in the province. As the Saint John Telegraph-Journal reported recently, the premier is “now listing a hike in the gas tax among an ‘array’ of carbon-pricing mechanisms the province could choose in efforts to strengthen its role in a pan-Canadian climate change plan.”

But, if Mr. Gallant was ever serious about ameliorating the effects of global warming in New Brunswick – and aligning himself to federal priorities on this issue – why was his campaign for office scrupulously devoid of such considerations? Why was his most recent provincial budget largely silent on these matters?

The province’s Climate Change Action Plan 2014-2020 offers little explanation.

“In New Brunswick, the impacts of climate change have already begun to appear,” it reminds us. “Temperatures are rising, high-intensity precipitation events are becoming more common, sea levels are rising and inland and coastal areas are experiencing greater rates of erosion and more frequent flooding. In other words, New Brunswick’s ‘normal’ weather is no longer what it used to be, and more change is anticipated in the future.”

As for “visions, principles and goals”, the report has this to say: “The actions put forward in New Brunswick’s Climate Change Action Plan 2014-2020 recognize that: Decisions must be based on reliable and accurate information; decisions must consider the implications of long-term climate predictions and their anticipated impacts on future generations; and that all New Brunswickers share the responsibility of responding to climate change and should therefore be informed and engaged.”

No kidding Sherlock. We know this. The only reason why this province has not embraced a truly effective policy to battle climate change has to do with competing interests that constantly agitate for keeping the province’s economy tethered to the past.

If Mr. Gallant and his crew are serious about transforming this small corner of the world, he and they will have to cross over the line into the right side of history, where no political jugglers need apply.

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