‘These two parties just don’t understand’: BC Green leader Jane Sterk on democracy and fossil fuels

Published in rabble.ca | May 13, 2013 | Circulation: 340,000 unique monthly visitors


Don’t media just adore a two-horse election race. And in B.C., which heads to the polls tomorrow (May 14), the latest opinion polls bear that out with an ever-nailbiting NDP lead over the Liberals.

Though only two parties are considered contenders for a majority, on Friday, Green Party leader Jane Sterk in fact featured prominently at the top of a full-page advertizement in the Victoria Times-Colonist, under the headline: ‘Who is strong enough to stand up for B.C.? … Jane Sterk and the Greens have strong, clear views about how to protect our coast.’

The ad was not, however, from the Green Party; it was, intriguingly, paid for by the BC Liberals.

One can understand why New Democrats are increasingly fretting that the third-place Green Party could split the progressive vote and even deliver a narrow Liberal re-election.

Those tensions ratcheted up on May 9, when Forum Poll released data forecasting a slight Liberal win by only two seats. Forum’s predictions, however, were within the poll’s error margin of +/-3%.

The Greens, in this scenario, could play a pivotal role despite gaining no seats.

However, the multi-poll averaging site ThreeHundredEight.com tells a different story — run by maverick elections analyst Eric Grenier — envisioning a 12-seat NDP win over the Liberals as of May 10 data.

So where does the Green Party stand on the vote-splitting anxieties — and on the NDP’s promises to rein in oil pipelines and tankers? I spoke with leader Jane Sterk for the Media Mornings show on Vancouver Co-op Radio. Here is our interview (listen to the full podcast here).

David P. Ball: I wonder if you could start off by talking about — heading into the final leg of the campaign — what are things looking like from your end 

Jane Sterk: I think things are looking pretty good for the Green Party. I’m very excited about the potential to see several people elected – we’ll have the first Green MLAs in Canada, in any province, and I think it will be great for British Columbians.

DB: One of the issues that’s come up this election is that both of the major parties — the NDP and Liberals — both support natural gas (LNG), and along with that fracking. You’re the only party that I can see, in terms of major parties, that actually are critical of LNG as an industry, in terms of climate change?

JS: Yes. If we want to take seriously the issues related to climate change, we can’t continue to expand the development of fossil fuels, and particularly these unconventional fossil fuels where the process is really destructive to the land, air, water – and to the health of people and animals in the area. We’re also, in terms of LNG, we are so late in the game that it’s simply a pipe dream that we would ever develop the industry to the extent the BC Liberals propose, or even the NDP.

It’s clear to us that the real opportunity related to the climate crisis is in the development of renewable energy, and British Columbia has the perfect conditions for geothermal energy, for solar, wind and tidal energy – (but) we seem to have put up so many barriers to private investment in British Columbia that we have those kinds of companies, renewable energy companies, abandoning B.C. We think that’s where the real investment in the future needs to come from.

DB: How, exactly, would you do that in government? What would your mechanism be to increase our reliance on alternative energy?

JS: Well, we have to take a look at the process of getting projects through the environmental assessment process in British Columbia. Right now, it’s easier to open a mine in British Columbia than it is to get a wind project approved. So we need to look at comparative legislation – forestry legislation, mining legislation – and make sure that renewable energy companies are not disadvantaged in the process of trying get investment in B.C.

We also think that BC Hydro has an inherent prejudice for hydro projects, and the government has an inherent prejudice for LNG. We would take a much broader look. We would make BC Hydro, for instance, a division of a B.C. energy authority that would really be focused on developing renewable energy. And we would remove the barriers to the amount of energy that we can produce in British Columbia; part of the culture of clean power is limiting the amount of energy that can be created. (But) if these projects can be done in an environmentally and socially responsible way, and if they’re of economic value to B.C., we don’t see a reason why we would restrict the amount of energy that we develop, because we know that Alberta needs clean energy, as does the (U.S.) Pacific Northwest.

DB: What about fracking? What would your approach be to hydraulic fracturing – where they pump high-pressure liquids into the ground to break up the shale and get natural gas out? What would you do about that?

JS: We’re saying that we would put an immediate moratorium on any new exploration or drilling; that we would do a comprehensive mapping of the freshwater resources in the northeastern part of British Columbia; make sure that we understand what our surface and ground water is; we would look at the cumulative impacts of the industry on that area of the province, including on the use of water; we would put a fair price on water; we would increase the royalty rates; we would require that the companies are responsible for the long-term maintenance of the wells once the gas has been removed. That would be applied to existing projects.

But no new projects unless we have an environmental assessment process that would suggest that these projects can be done in a way that is not harmful – (but) I simply don’t believe that fracking can be done in a way that’s not harmful.

DB: Now, there’s obviously an appetite in B.C. for more progressive environmental policies, but in the last week we’ve seen the NDP trotting out some very big environmental activists’ names to endorse them – saying the NDP are the ones to support on banning tankers and stopping the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline. So, what would you say to voters who say, ‘We need to go to the NDP and rally around them, because they’re the best chance to stop these projects’?

JS: I would say that if you really want to ensure that the NDP lives up to the perceived promises that they’ve made, the only way that you can do that is by having some Greens in the Legislature, who will work to ensure that they do live up to their promises. I think they’re perceived promises and not real promises. We know that John Horgan (NDP MLA for Malahat-Juan de Fuca) went and visited with Kinder Morgan the day after Adrian Dix made the announcement about Kinder Morgan.

I think that Adrian has not been clear about whether or not he supports the pipeline. It seems to me they’ve focused on the tanker traffic, and not the pipeline. I think there’s still some wiggle room in their position to support the pipeline going down to Cherry Point in the U.S. So, if you really believe that we need to have strong environmental legislation, the only way that this party would be held to account is by having Greens there.

DB: My last question, Jane – (there was) surprise at the ad put in the (Victoria Times-Colonist, May 10) by the Liberals, which actually gives you a very prominent place at the top of the ad, and in some ways really accurately reflects your party. What would you say to people who are seeing the Liberals trying to leverage the Green vote to split the NDP vote? How do you respond to this very common idea that, of course the Liberals would love the Greens to be stronger?

JS: When 50 per cent of the people of British Columbia have given up on voting because they’re turned off by the antics of the two major parties, that – to then spend the last three to four days of the campaign using those very same tactics that have turned people off – is an insult to democracy. If people really want change, then they should get out and vote, and they should vote Green in high numbers so that we get lots of MLAs elected.

These two parties just don’t understand that democracy is about people having a legitimate choice – and one of the choices they have in this election is the Green Party

DB: I really want to thank you for your time. Any last thoughts?

JS: It’s a very exciting election, David, and we think that — on Tuesday, May 14 — we’re going to be very happy. And we hope that the people of B.C. will be happy as well, that we’ll see a number of Green MLAs.

DB: Thanks so much for joining us.

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