Across Alberta’s political spectrum, no one dares to utter three terrifying words: Green New Deal. Jason Kenney famously had a meltdown about it, but even Alberta’s NDP MLA Shannon Phillips, former Minister of the Environment, isn’t sure if it’s a good idea. What gives?
Emma Jackson, organizer with Climate Justice Edmonton, joins Team Advantage to discuss the lack of imagination and political cowardice that seems to be plaguing our province.
Excerpts from this episode are taken from an interview Shannon Phillips conducted with the Forgotten Corner podcast. Check out the full interview here: https://www.forgottencornerpod.com/episodes/episode-2
Special thanks to Scott Schmidt, Jeremy Appel and Mo Cranker allowing us to use clips from their podcast.
For further information on using polarization as an organizing tactic, see this blog series based on Mark & Paul Engler’s 2016 book, This Is An Uprising: How Nonviolent Revolt Is Shaping The Twenty-First Century:
Kate: It actually would be super useful to have a political party that could put forward anything.
Joel: That would be a great thing to have.
Kate: Oh well. Unfortunately we don’t, so I’ll just muddle along.
Emma: I’m over it, it’s fine.
Kate: I’m not even mad about it anymore, I’ve actually moved past it.
Roberta: Over it.
Kate: It doesn’t even bother me.
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Kate: Hello, and welcome to The Alberta Advantage. I’m your host, Kate Jacobson, and joining Team Advantage today we have Roberta —
Roberta: Hey, hey!
Kate: Joel —
Joel: Hello, hello.
Kate: And we are joined by Emma Jackson, who organizes with Climate Justice Edmonton. Emma, thank you once again for joining us on the podcast.
Emma: Thanks for having me.
Kate: So, today we’re going to talk about how Alberta’s political establishment is filled with gutless cowards, all of which, across the political spectrum, are terrified of a Green New Deal. And we’re going to start with an easy target, which is Alberta premier Jason Kenney. On April 24th, Jason Kenney was asked by Calgary-based 660 City News reporter Tom Ross about whether or not a proposal like the Green New Deal would be a good idea. And you’ll recall that, in late April, the price of oil went negative because demand had plummeted and storage capacity was largely used up. Here’s the clip.
Tom: So, the oil and gas market taking such a hit. When do you start thinking about a full-on transition away from traditional fossil fuels? And when you’re talking to American representatives, for example, are you talking to anyone who advocates for a Green New Deal?
Jason: Um, so — when you talk about the Green New Deal, listen — our focus is on getting people back to work in Alberta, not pie-in-the-sky ideological schemes. We are actually not trying to amplify, but to fight back against, the political agenda of the Green left that has been trying to landlock Alberta energy. So we’re not going to cooperate with the folks that are trying to shut down Canada’s single largest subsector. You’re talking, here — I mean, that kind of question, in the middle of an economic crisis, from a Calgary-based media outlet, really, frankly, throws me for a loop. Sounds like you’re reporting for The Tyee or something. Here’s the reality: so, no, we’re not going to work with congressmen, the small minority in Congress, that wants to pursue the ideological fantasy of shutting down the modern industrial economy. We will continue to support technology that helps us to perform better in an environmental point of view and tell our tremendous story about our environmental, social, and governance performance, but in that world, twenty years from now, when at least — at least — 70,000,000 barrels of oil is being produced and consumed, we will be a major part of that supply. We will not abandon global energy markets to some of the world’s worst regimes.
Joel: So, first of all, I think it’s really funny that he was so shocked by the mere question being put to him; he’s very flustered when he answers. It really demonstrates how unfathomable a Green New Deal is to him; it’s just completely not in his universe when, really, it makes complete sense to make big investments that aren’t dependent on fossil fuels, especially when the price of oil is going negative.
Roberta: And it makes you wonder — have they never talked once about the Green New Deal and that it was part of a news cycle and that it’s happening? Why did that take him so off-guard? You’d think they’d prep for a question like that; isn’t that how politics works? I don’t know, I mean, I’ve only seen The West Wing, so I don’t really know, but — what the hell?
Kate: He also really immediately reverts to very McCarthy-esque questions, you know — shaming the reporter, this, like, “I can’t believe someone from Calgary would be asking this type of question. It sounds like you’re from The Tyee. Like, surely you’re not one of those Green leftists.” Which is — even devoid of the content of everything that’s going on — truly quite reprehensible for the premier of the province to be doing in response to a pretty generic and mild question about negative oil prices.
Joel: Yeah, it’s absolutely shaming the reporter. It’s like, “Oh, I can’t believe you’d ask a question like that. Only idiots ask questions like these.” Right?
Emma: Yeah, I think my favourite part of it is that he’s going to talk about Green New Deal as “pie in the sky,” and meanwhile just approved a budget based on $58 barrel of oil, when oil has dropped to zero dollars. And you’re like, who’s actually pie in the sky right now?
Kate: And also that this idea of pie in the sky ideological schemes is, in his rhetoric, married with this idea of, like, “we’re trying to put people back to work,” which is the opposite of ideology and the opposite of a Green New Deal, when one of the key planks of a Green New Deal is immediately putting people to work building all kinds of things, retrofitting building, massive investments in public transit, etc, etc. The first New Deal famously was first and foremost a massive employment program. Also, there’s not really a lot of oil and gas jobs, you know? Oil is literally shedding tens of thousands of jobs. About one-third of the jobs that were lost in 2015 in the downturn have been, just, completely automated out of existence, and even if oil was a hundred dollars a barrel, you know, they would never be coming back. Plus there’s also this idea that people who work in oil and gas are only able or willing to work in oil and gas, and, if this is true, that’s still a huge problem long-term because the industry is collapsing, and, if that’s not true — which I would suggest that it is — you know, green jobs are still jobs and, in fact, those jobs might be more satisfying and fulfilling. I know a lot of people who used to work up in the oil sands but who now work in the city, primarily in public sector jobs, making a lot less money than they made up working in Fort McMurray, but they choose to do that because not working in those massive resource extraction camps in Fort Mac enables a much better quality of life for them, you know? They can spend time with their children, they’re not on boom and bust cycles, all those types of things. So oil and gas jobs are not only [not] the only type of jobs, but in fact they have pretty significant drawbacks that, if you’ve ever worked in the oil sands or talked to a worker from the oil sands, are really apparent and admitted very readily by workers in oil and gas.
Joel: Yeah. Describing Green New Deal as a “pie in the sky ideological scheme” was quite funny to me, mostly because what oil and gas is doing now, in Alberta, is basically pulling back a lot of their investment, firing tens of thousands of people — as they have done over a series of years here — and then moving their headquarters back to Houston. So that doesn’t seem to be working as far as creating jobs go. Yet, in Kenney’s mind, an actual explicit jobs program is completely unfathomable.
Kate: We’re also living in an age of unmitigated climate catastrophe at this point, and, you know, not reacting to that is incredibly out to lunch, is incredibly ludicrous, you know? We’re dealing with an incredible, large, existential threat to humanity; not responding to that, you know, is something that is completely ridiculous. Business as normal is completely ridiculous in the face of climate change.
Joel: Another great part was the political agenda of the Green left trying to landlock Alberta energy. I personally always love to hear that line, mostly because it reminds me of some giant conspiracy that probably exists in Jason Kenney’s brain. What were your thoughts?
Kate: As a member of the Green left —
Kate: — no, I mean, it is very conspiratorial. It is based in really conspiratorial thinking that seeks to posit any kind of opposition to Alberta’s oil sands as somehow foreign and unpatriotic, is a really big part of it. And it especially seeks to position the Indigenous people who have been on the forefront of fights against resource extraction projects as somehow foreign to the nation of Canada, and foreign to this really warm, cozy, imaginary of what Canada is, and is absolutely a tool of dehumanizing people who are willing to stand up against fossil fuel extraction projects. It is a really ridiculous thing to say, and certainly we laugh about it a lot, and I think it is really ridiculous, but it also really does have very sinister roots and is a really uncomfortable line for, you know, the premier to be using.
Joel: The griping about a landlock is also very — well, funny might be a strong word — amusing to me; mostly because part of what we’re looking at when it comes to the bottleneck in oil sands production and this giant ramp up in production without an equivalent ability to export it — is that that’s how the market works, it’s incredibly dysfunctional. There was no planning involved, and if there was anything resembling a national energy policy, perhaps we wouldn’t have run into this problem. Yet the industry was immensely hostile to any kind of national policy regarding oil sands development because it reminded them too much of Trudeau’s National Energy Program and made them all scared.
Roberta: Well, and it also makes all sorts of weird assumptions about the fact that, if we could just get the oil to Tidewater, suddenly there’d be a market for it. And, I mean, I don’t care about the market argument in so many different ways — I don’t care if there’s a market for oil; there shouldn’t be, and we need to change that anyway — but there also isn’t a market, and just getting it to Tidewater is not going to help anybody. So it’s not that there’s a landlocking conspiracy by the Green left; there’s a reality of what the market looks like, and there’s a reality that, even if we got it to Tidewater, destroying environments along the way, it’s not going to go anywhere, it’s not going to be any good to anybody, so what’s the point?
Kate: Yeah, we’ll talk about this in a bit more detail, but I think it’s always really worth pointing, is that the reason the oil sands are in decline is because the Alberta oil sands are no longer a viable project for capital, and no amount of wanna-be petrofascism is going to change that simple fact and is going to change the market forces that are at play there and in terms of the oil sands being a viable way for capital to get returns on its investments. And the reason that oil sands are no longer viable in this particular way is that a) the oil that comes from the tar sands is an incredible marginal resource, it had very low rates of return to begin with; and, also, fossil fuel projects are really subject to escalatingly-large levels of public opposition and action, and that is something I celebrate because it is an example of the fact that protest and dissent works, and that ordinary people like you and me still have the power to change our societies and impact the type of world we would like to live in.
Roberta: Hear, hear.
Joel: Kenney, then, he has this whole section where he just goes on and on about how important the industry is and how many people it employs. If you actually look at StatsCan employment in mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction, it accounts for 1.2% of all jobs in Canada. And just to compare that 1.2% in oil and gas extraction — including mining and quarrying — to other sectors of the economy: manufacturing, 9.3%. Construction, 6.1%. Trade — both retail and wholesale — 16.7%. Healthcare and social assistance, 12%. Accommodation and food services, 7.9%. You know? There are big sectors of the economy that employ way more people, and they don’t get talked about nearly to the same extent. For mysterious reasons, of course.
Emma: Yeah, I feel like one of my favourite things about this was that it wasn’t just these comments, it was that, the next day, the UCP released this ad that was just complete red-baiting where they took a picture from a climate change protest of a hammer and sickle — and, you know, they had to crop it out because the other banner that was beside it said “Green New Deal, Indigenous Rights, Good Jobs, Dignity and Justice for All,” and of course you’re going to crop that out because that’s actually what the Green New Deal is calling for, and instead you’re going to position these people as these left-wing ideological militants because you know that it’s threatening. And I think this moment was so satisfying for me when I heard it because it was so clear that Jason Kenney is clearly threatened by a Green New Deal and knows that it has the power to really unite people across all sectors of the economy right now in order to fight back against his agenda. And so I think — and I’m sure we’ll get to this, but it’s why it’s so frustrating why the NDP completely disregards it when, clearly, even just this moment forced people like Gil McGowan, forced people from labour unions, from all across the economy, to be like, “Wait a second — what is this plan that is –” and Gil McGowan, in a lot of ways, knows this, but many other people who were like — “What is this plan that is making Jason Kenney so irate? Whatever it is, I’m for it because I hate this man’s guts.” And he knows that, I think.
Kate: Yeah, I think it’s also a really simple and illustrative lesson in, you know, why you should never give in to red-baiting and you really — we’ll see later, you know, Shannon Phillips really fall into that trap — and it’s like, they are always going to call you “socialist,” they are always going to call you “communist,” they are always going to say you are “ideological left-wing militants.” So you either just kind of wear that, accept that that’s something that people are going to say about you, or you fall into their trap. And the NDP — like, this is a trap that they simply adore falling into. They’re, like, stepping on rakes, just one after the other, constantly getting hit in the forehead with it.
Kate: They will never learn to just simply not be red-baited.
Roberta: That image is so amazing.
Joel: Something else I found really interesting about Jason Kenney’s response there is that he leans really, really heavily on the International Energy Agency’s forecasts; that’s the whole rationale for why he expects oil sands production to continue, or to continue in a certain way. The IEA is no longer credible. Their climate scenario is heading towards a three degrees of warming scenario, which is very very bad — of course, the Paris Agreement goal is 1.5 degrees of warming, it doesn’t hit net zero until 2070, which is 20 years too late, according to the best science that we have. And last year, for the first time, the IEA’s public release of the world energy outlook was met with a lot of scrutiny in the press; in fact, almost all mainstream media questioned their climate scenario, and an ever-growing group of experts, academics, investors, influencers, and diplomats actually called them out for the second time in a year for failing to step up on the climate. You can even find, in Bloomberg — a very business-friendly publication — the headline “The IEA’s New Energy Outlook Comforts No One: Both environmentalists and oil incumbents have reason to worry in new scenarios.” So, this leaning on the IEA, it’s just not credible. Like, these three degrees of warming is not really a future that we can build towards; that’s not a viable scenario. And so the production and consumption schedules associated with that world energy outlook are also not viable.
Kate: Yeah, and Jason Kenney is pretty optimistic about Alberta as a society, civilization, legal entity, etc, existing until 2040,which, frankly, I am not completely sold on.
Roberta: I actually wonder in some ways if he is that optimistic, or if he just knows he’s going to be the heck out of Dodge by the time it all happens. Because it seems to me, on a broad scale — this mass austerity, the basically throwing the neoliberal playbook on the table and saying, “Here we go!”, and then this overindulgence in this — his — ideological fantasy of the oil sands seems to me a strategy of “Let’s gut and make as much profit as we can and then get the hell out as soon as we possibly can.” So I actually wonder where he plans to be in 2040, because it sure isn’t here.
Kate: Alberta, we are living in a plunder economy right now. Like, what is happening is Jason Kenney is facilitating fossil capital, just stripping everything they can from the province right now so they can take it and run. And that is maybe a very glib and hyperbolic way of describing what is happening, but when I look at the world around me and I see the public sector being completely gutted — incredibly important essential work like healthcare and education just being completely thrown out the window — and I see doubling down on the table on these immensely destructive colonial fossil extraction projects when oil is trading at somewhere between negative dollars and 2 to 3 dollars a barrel — it forces me to conclude that oil and gas companies are literally just trying to take the last little bit of profits that they can from Alberta before they pack up and leave.
Joel: Which is a great segue into Kenney’s line about the “ideological fantasy” of shutting down the modern industrial economy, which is — he’s repeated that several times in the past, and it’s funny every time I hear it, because the Green New Deal and its associated proposals are basically about building up an entirely renewable infrastructure and electrification and all this kind of stuff, which is definitely a modernization project, it’s definitely trying to make [laughs] the modern industrial economy much better and equipped for the future. But he seems to think it’s, no, it’s about banging rocks together and living as cavepeople or something.
Emma: Modern is 1850.
Joel: And again, the Green New Deal would be addressing a market failure; like, there needs to be aggressive decarbonization that occurs, but the market is not really interested in providing this because all the entrenched actors won’t benefit from seeing that happen. The market is delaying that progress, it’s delaying new technologies from being implemented.
Kate: And the market is also failing to provide things we desperately need in our society; you know, the market absolutely fails to provide adequate levels of care for everyone in our society when it comes to education and healthcare. You know, the market fails to provide these things that are hallmarks of a society that is good and just and useful and socially good, and it absolutely fails at that, and that is because the modern industrial economy is really good at making profit; it is not really good at making things that are useful, it is not really good at envisioning and following through on societal good. And that is why we are already seeing the market shift really, really quickly; it’s not because they see that there are so many externalities and problems associated with the oil sands, it’s because the oil sands are not very good at making profit anymore, you know? Investors are already shutting down the oil sands economy that we have; that is why we need a different modern industrial economy.
Joel: And last but not least, I think it’s important to discuss Jason Kenney’s vision for the future. He’s looking twenty years out, and he’s saying, like, “Okay, there’s going to be X billion barrels of oil produced per day or whatever, and I want to make sure all of those are produced in Alberta.” And it’s like — why? Why would you want to be holding onto, grasping onto, an industry that’s going to be phased out until the very bitter end? Like, why is that — [laughs] — how is that a fun vision for the future?
Roberta: Well, and he constantly is making this dumb “ethical oil” argument — and that’s in huge quotation marks, “ethicial oil” — which is so ridiculous in all sorts of ways. As, you know, Kate mentioned earlier, there’s the issue of Indigenous land rights and colonialism, the issue of labour relations — all sorts of issues there — but, also, our oil is not ethical in any way, shape, or form in terms of the investors involved in it, the way it’s extracted, and what we do with it afterwards. This “ethical oil”discussion is so ridiculous. And it’s even worse now that Saudi Arabia’s buying up huge shares of our “ethical oil” — in big quotation marks — and they’re supposed to be the ones that we’re comparing ourselves to as much better and, you know, we’re not human rights violators like they are — except we are, and also they now own our oil. So well done, ethical oil all around.
Kate: Yeah, sue me, but I don’t think, like, the RCMP invading Wet’suwet’en is very ethical. I don’t think escalatingly-high levels of cancer in Fort Chipewyan is ethical oil. Like, what in that is ethical?
Emma: Or the fact that you can’t have ethical oil when burning and extracting oil is destroying the planet. Like, there’s nothing ethical about pulling oil out of the ground at all.
Kate: If you care about your children and you care about your grandchildren, and you care about there being a society in the future and a society after you are gone, then yes, oil is unethical. Period.
Joel: Alright — Jason Kenney, completely owned by facts and logic.
Kate: Jason Kenney, eat my ass.
Joel: [laughs] A really unfortunate image, Kate.
Kate: So, up next, we’ve got a real treat for you. Friend of the podcast Jeremy Appel — one of the Medicine Hat news boys — recently interviewed Alberta NDP MLA for Lethbridge-West and former Minister of the Environment Shannon Phillips. The podcast is called “The Forgotten Corner” and is run by Scott Schmidt, Jeremy Appel and Mo Cranker, and we’ll have a link to the show in the notes for this episode. This interview was posted on May 5th, and it runs about an hour long, and in the latter half of the episode, Jeremy asks Shannon Phillips specifically about the Green New Deal, and we’ve got an excerpt of that conversation here that we’re using with permission. So special thanks to The Forgotten Corner for this interview.
Jeremy: It may have been an issue where you lost some friends over, and there may have been some tension there between the organized left and the New Democratic Party. Do you have any regrets about strongly championing the energy sector when you see now that, just a couple weeks ago, we were paying people to take our oil?
Shannon: No, because that’s where people are, that’s where working-class people are at. We have a situation where we don’t necessarily have a progressive majority that wants to move beyond oil and gas in a really quick, turn-on-the-heel sort of way, right? That’s not where Albertans were at, and that wouldn’t help working-class people in this province at all. I think, for a lot of the hand-wringing about the spirited defence of the industry, it is misread, in some ways. It’s a spirited defense of working-class people and what they’re doing with their time and how they see the world and how they put food on the table, right? And so you need to be relevant to those folks. So any political program that is put before people that sort of either looks down on how they make a living or suggests to them that — when you say “transition” or these kinds of things, people hear “transition to EI,” they hear the transition that is happening right now, that is to say, there are no rigs stood up, and there is no work, right? And so I think you need to appreciate — and I think Notley does, and did, and our government does, and our party does, and our government did — appreciate the extent to which this is working-class reality for Albertans. This is not to say that reality doesn’t change over time, and we need to make sure that government — in its policy, in its regulations, in its incentives, in its economic strategies — responds to that reality. But throwing a whole bunch of people out of work for some high-minded ideas grafted onto this province from somewhere else is not where people are at. So there’s a fundamental problem with democracy there.
Roberta: It’s so hard to know where to start with all of these things because, I mean, this line at the end about throwing a whole bunch of people out of work for some high-minded ideals, it just — I mean, it just reminds me that they’ve bought into this rhetoric and that they — like, do they honestly think that’s the whole thing, the idea’s just, “Shut down oil and gas and put those people out of work and we’re done? Like, walk away, the transition’s done?”
Joel: Bada boom, bada bing. Problem solved.
Roberta: “Yeah, awesome, we’re good.” Because to me, the research I’ve done on the Green New Deal, it points to the exact opposite of that, which is that the whole point is not to put people out of work. It recognizes that there’s a reality that people have material needs and that they must have jobs, but that there’s a way to transition into different jobs than the ones we’re currently doing. And so to say, you know, we’re going to throw a whole bunch of people out of work, it’s totally — on purpose — missing the whole point of the Green New Deal and its green jobs guarantee — to me, anway.
Emma: Yeah, I think the note about the fact that the Green New Deal really is about re-orienting what we value, and so investing in public sector work. And the fact of the matter is that, if we look at the COVID crisis right now and who’s being most impacted, we’re seeing that this isn’t, you know — the impacts are falling disproportionately on women, much more so than in previous recessions. And so I think to just straight out brush this aside when the Green New Deal is, really, the economic plan that the moment we’re in demands. We have a looming climate catastrophe, we have eleven years to radically transform our economy, we have women and racialized people that are being disproportionately impacted by the moment that we’re in, but also just the way that our system has been built. And so to just say, with this massive sweep of the hand, that this isn’t what working-class people want — what working-class people? Like, who are you considering to be part of this working class that you’re talking about? Because it’s not the vast majority of working-class people who are racialized care workers, who would benefit enormously by this type of economic plan .
Joel: The use of “working-class” is doing a lot of work in this response. [laughs]
Joel: Because, you know, spirited defence of working-class people and how they spend their time, how they see the world, how they put food on the table — just, wow. First of all, Shannon Phillips seems to be imagining that we’re going to burst into the room and just browbeat and finger-wag at people, being like, “I can’t believe you would take a job that pays well in the oil sands when, really, you should be farming turnips or something.”
Joel: Like, I don’t know what she’s imagining, but that’s not the Green New Deal at all. The whole point is that, you know — why do people take jobs? Because they pay well, not because they love bitumen or anything like that, right?
Joel: So it seems to me that, if you could create a different job that paid well or had equivalent benefits — or, you know, there are obviously some compromises that may need to be made, but an equivalent employment situation that would still allow them to pay their bills and have a fruitful, robust, vibrant life — it seems to me like you wouldn’t have this problem. So it seems really disingenuous, at least to me, what Shannon Phillips is doing here.
Roberta: I also think it’s kind of rude to the workers themselves. I mean, this whole rhetoric seems to imply that the only thing oil and gas workers can do, or are willing to do, is work in oil and gas. And like Joel said, it’s not like people are in love with bitumen — or maybe some people are, I don’t know, there’s people out there — but maybe they would do any sort of work that pays well and gives them a sense of respect and a feeling of contributing to the world that they live in? I think it’s really degrading to oil and gas workers to basically imply that the only jobs they can do —
Joel: They’re stupid.
Roberta: — yeah, the only jobs you’re able to do are the ones you’re currently doing. So either you’re out of work or we keep going along this horribly tragic path that we’re going down.
Kate: Also, like — when Shannon Phillips says, “The people aren’t with you,” not only is that true — there’s definitely sizable support in Alberta, if not a majority, for these issues — politics is about changing people’s minds. Politics is about saying, “This is your starting point, this is where I’m meeting you, and I’m going to bring you to this other point by understanding the very real problems that exist in your life and attempting to draw you into a vision of the future where you will see yourself as part of a collective, or you will see yourself as impacted by things that may not directly impact you, and where you will be willing to fight for other people.” You can do that; that is what politics is. If you’re not willing to do that, then I don’t know why you would become a politician.
Emma: And that’s what completely kills me about this assertion that the Green New Deal is this plan that’s being grafted onto the province from somewhere else, because it’s, like, the concept — the term, broadly speaking — is what is transferable, but you’re not putting in any of the effort whatsoever to go out and talk to people and be like, “What would a Green New Deal look like here? What would it look like in a rural community?” Because we know that the Green New Deal that suits Los Angeles or some small town in Ohio is not going to be the same Green New Deal that is going to be relevant to Alberta. But the NDP is completely unwilling to do any of the actual political work, to get out and move people to this understanding that, well, we could build a plan and transform our economy in a way that materially works for people and for workers, and what would that look like for you? And they’re not willing to do that, so they’ll sit back and say, you know, “This plan isn’t relevant here.” Well, fucking make it relevant, then!
Roberta: I think, for me, this is the most infuriating part of the whole interview — although there’s a lot of pieces that might reach that level — is just that sense of, you know, this dismissive argument that the people aren’t with you on this, and go to Whitecourt, the people in Whitecourt don’t agree with you. And I think I agree with all that’s been said, but it really infuriates me that there’s no sense of leadership here. I mean, politics is about leadership. And that doesn’t mean that I want politicians to get into office and say, “Okay, we’re going this totally different direction than what you heard about during the election and what you voted for” — I do believe in democracy — but I also think, as Kate said and as Emma said, that we need to rely on our leaders to propose bold plans, to try and convince people that maybe there’s other ways of doing things. And, you know, Shannon Phillips was on the inside for long enough and saw the decline of the oil sector from the inside, and if she can’t go out there and sell a plan that’s about converting to something better for all of us, then what the hell is she doing in politics? And it’s just infuriating to me that she doesn’t want to lead or take responsibility for, you know, advancing society in some positive way. What’s the point?
Joel: Yeah, there really does seem to be a sense of — the role of the politician is simply to mirror back what the people want to them, right? So if polling shows people want, I don’t know, bike lanes, then okay, everybody gets bike lanes. It’s just reflecting rather than actually proposing vision and trying to shift people’s minds.
Emma: And I think, to take that even a step further — not only are you lacking complete leadership, but you’re willing to outright dismiss everyone who is. So you’re going to dismiss these young organizers that are doing the work, that are going out — in incredibly hostile conditions, sometimes — to talk to people about what this might look like. And so, just that lack of appreciation for the fact that people are moving the fucking anchor for you as hard as they possibly can, in order for you to take at least one tiny step towards the type of plan that we need. And I think that’s what I find so infuriating, too, is that lack of appreciation; that it’s, like, we’re creating the political space for you to show an ounce of courage, and you’re not even taking that.
Roberta: And they dismiss you entirely! That whole interview dismisses that work entirely.
Kate: That’s exactly what it was for me, is — normally when I think about, or I listen to, the Alberta NDP, I feel like a really deep sense of indignation that is rooted in — you had a once-in-a-lifetime political opportunity, and you blew it so you could fucking lose to Jason Kenney. But when I was listening to this interview, it was almost like I moved past that, and I just — I was surprised at the depth of the contempt I had of the cowardice of Shannon Phillips. I was just thinking about — I mean, really and truly, I was thinking about how many incredibly brave, remarkable, resourceful people I know in Alberta who do various types of work in very, very difficult and hostile conditions, and what they are willing to go through, and that Shannon fucking Phillips cannot have, just, a shred of solidarity, cannot have even a tiny amount of it. Like, I wish Shannon Phillips had an ounce of the courage of land and water defenders, or of youth climate strikers, or of healthcare workers in Claresholm who fucking know that their pensions are being stolen to underwrite unprofitable oil and gas corporations that the market is abandoning. Like, I wish she had an ounce of the courage of those people that I see and work with and get to struggle with on a regular basis, and I just — I really cannot overstate how much contempt I have for her in this interview. Like, it really, profoundly disgusted me.
Emma: I thought you had transcended to The Chill Zone, Kate. What happened to that?
Kate: I’m in the Cool Zone.
Roberta: This is Kate’s Chill Zone.
Kate: This actually is my Chill Zone.
Roberta: It’s all relative.
Kate: It’s just, like, what the fuck? Like, what the fuck?
Roberta: I know, I mean the —
Kate: Sorry, I have one last point here. I’m sorry, everyone. My final point about Shannon Phillips being a coward is this lack of appreciation, or willingness to understand, that people do these things and take these risks because they have profound political commitments and beliefs and the willingness to fight. It is not because we think it’s fun. Like, no one thinks it’s fun to go stand in a parking lot in rural Alberta and have someone in a pickup truck yell at you to get a job, or to have someone physically throw you to the ground, or have to interact with the police, or have to deal with the incredible amount of abuse and threats that climate movement organizers deal with in Alberta. Like, people do those things because they believe in them, because they are willing to make personal sacrifices and take personal risks in order to make a better world. And Shannon Phillips can’t even bring up the rear, you know? Shannon Phillips can’t even meet those people where they are. And that is just such a disgusting abdication of responsibility to me.
Roberta: I did just want to say one thing about this idea of grafting these ideas on from external places, because I think, along with the defamation of activists, it’s the other thing that infuriates me the most about this, is this acceptance of the rhetoric that Jason Kenney used, and that others use, of this external conspiracy coming into Alberta to try and change things. And, I mean, Emma already said an important point about having to adjust these plans for different locations. Of course we have to do that. But I think it also ignores a long history of these discussions in Canada, and as the historian here, I’m sorry, I always have to bring up some sort of history. And I think it’s really important to recognize that, while we might use the terminology of a “New Deal,” which does come from the American context, the ideas in this package are not coming out of nowhere. In Canada, we have seen pushes for these ideas, in particular about economic planning and, really, orienting the economy towards the benefit of the masses and not the 1%. And I just wanted to read this great quote from “Make This Your Canada,” which was published in 1943 — I think we’ve talked about it on a previous episode, and if not, we’re going to talk about it at some point, because it’s unreal. And if you haven’t read it, you need to read it. So this is a quote from it. It says, “If we can find the resources to produce tanks, bombs, and bullets, why can’t we find the resources and methods to build homes, schools, and playgrounds? The answer is we can if we have the courage to refashion our society to serve the interests of all the people.” And to me, when I read this, all I see is the same sort of discussion that’s happening within Green New Deal circles about taking these skills and these planning methods that we already have and orienting them to the benefit of the people rather than to the corporations and to the 1%, you know? The terminology they used then, as well, in 1943, was “the 1%.” So things haven’t changed that much. And I think it’s good to think about the history and the connections within this country, too, that this is an Indigenous discussion, it is part of this history here.
Joel: Yeah, and I want to echo what you said about this suspicion of the foreign that’s going on with this quip about “ideas grafted on from elsewhere” that Shannon Phillips talked about. It’s deeply stupid. The language of ideas being “imported” or “grafted” onto Alberta is really, really deeply stupid. Alberta is named after an English princess. England is a rainy gray island on the other side of the planet. Foreign. [laughs] We’re talking about a province that’s a made-up jurisdiction thanks to colonization, which involved a bunch of colonists coming from a dull, rainy island halfway across the planet, coming here and speaking English. The whole place is imported, is fiction. And Phillips is suddenly only in favour of policy ideas that emerge from First Nations peoples in Alberta? That’d be great. Jason Kenney himself is always implementing austerity projects that come from the right-wing Republican party in the United States. He’s not concerned about foreign ideas, for some reason. Jack Mintz, the ghoulish economist who’s now the chair of Alberta’s Economic Recovery panel, has been begging Canadian governments to imitate Trump’s corporate tax giveaway, which, of course, Alberta in its glorious wisdom, has now done. And we live in a global society, in which no policy development happens in a vacuum. And so why is this weird standard of only Alberta-grown climate policy being applied in this case? It’s deeply stupid provincialism. It’s kind of proximate to a growing xenophobic sentiment in my opinion, and its completely irresponsible to be saying stuff like this. I get that it’s really politically expedient to say, “Oh, it’s foreign, get it out of here,” but it’s reinforcing a very bad pattern that might blow back in a very awful way.
Jeremy: With regards to the Green New Deal, I think the locus of your skepticism towards it is this idea of a transition in that, when Joe Alberta hears, or Jane Alberta hears, this rhetoric of a transition, to them it signifies they’re going to be unemployed. But what if there’s a robust government, as the Green New Deal is calling for, to get these hardworking people out of their jobs that are, frankly, destroying the planet, and into jobs that aren’t?
Shannon: Well, that would have to be one hell of a robust program, and I don’t know if there is enough fiscal capacity on Earth to be able to do it. You’re going to have to just expand the economy. And this idea that you’re not going to have some kind of primary production of fossil fuels, even if you are moving beyond combustion and into durables, is just not consistent with reality. You’re going to have some.
Jeremy: I think there’s a difference, though, between shutting down the oil sands overnight and winding them down. And that means, of course, not building further fossil fuel infrastructure. Now, though, my last question: how can we meet our climate change commitments, that you went to Paris and made, while still building pipelines when the price of oil doesn’t even justify that?
Shannon: Well, okay. First of all, governments don’t build pipelines — although, apparently, we do now. [laughs] But, historically, that’s not the case. But what does winding the oil sands down even mean in the context of rule of law and in the context of going in and, what, expropriating assets? This is the kind of stuff that people are legit, then, saying with a straight face, in a liberal democracy, should be a good idea. That’s batshit crazy, right? You have companies who, the vast majority of the barrels a day, particularly in the oil sands, come out of those companies that stood with on that stage that day in November of 2015 and agreed to a cap on oil sands emissions and a pricing structure that would, over time, ensure that we were driving a lower-cost and a lower-emissions barrel, right? So that is the economic structure that we are dealing with right now. Now, those Paris targets, those are federal targets, and if the federal government wants to actually reduce the carbon per barrel and the emissions per barrel, then they are going to have to bring forward a much more robust investment in technology and probably work with the province on more robust regulations over time and with the companies. The companies are willing to do this. So this loggerheads conversation that environmentalists imagine is not there, particularly with respect to the large oil sands companies. There’s no “there, there,” right? There’s a lot of very reasonable people who want to make sure that they are competitive in a carbon-constrained future. These are folks who have thought one or two business cycles ahead, because 2030 is two business cycles, right? These are big, big, companies. So that’s the second thing, here. And so, you know, you have a national target, you have a need for national leadership (no question), you have a need for your provincial leadership to not backslide — which this government has done — and then you have to have a conversation about what you’re doing with the stuff that is coming out of the ground right now. Are you upgrading and refining, are you turning it into other post-combustion uses? Because those companies have permits to be able to do this stuff. Now, the Albertans have every right to elect a government who’s going to put more stringent controls on what comes out of the ground — the emissions, the pollution profile, all the rest of it. As yet, they haven’t. So, again, I say to civil society, you have a democracy problem here. And putting forward those solutions need to come from someplace other — well, they need to come from here, and not be grafted onto Alberta, right? And so that’s really important grassroots work that has not been done by the environmental movement. And so therefore, to come in, wag your finger, start hectoring people — Albertans ain’t taking kindly to that, not even Alberta New Democrats. I’m super uninterested in being told all of the ways that we are failing this province when somebody who has had an oar in the water for 25 years. Like, no. Get out of here.
Kate: So let’s just start with Shannon Phillips outright dismissing the idea of expropriating assets. First of all, expropriating assets is really cool and good, so we should get that off the table, hands-down.
Kate: Yeah, exactly. Second of all, it is also something that has happened in Canada before. So this is not something that is so new and so off the policy table that it hasn’t occurred before. And third of all, if you’re really, desperately, truly uncomfortable with this, I would simply make those companies unprofitable through crushing regulation, ending subsidies, etc, and then I would just take up majority ownership stakes for pennies on the dollar, wind them down, and ensure a just, dignified transition for the workers and reparations for the people on whose stolen land these projects were carried out on. And, given the fact that, you know, these companies have pulled out billions and billions of dollars out of Alberta, I think this is actually an incredibly genius ongoing proposal.
Emma: I agree.
Roberta: I agree.
Joel: The pearl-clutching over rule-of-law liberal democracy private property rights calling expropriation “batshit crazy” is very, very funny because it’s such a liberal attitude. And I mean liberal in the “sanctity of rights and markets” kind of way, not the capital-L Liberal Party way. It really conveys that Shannon Phillips, and the Alberta NDP more broadly, they really believe in the system. They believe in parliamentary democracy. They buy in really hard in a way that pretty much no one else in this province does, and in a way that’s actually deeply unpopular. Like, you ask your average person, “What do you think of politicians?” “Full of crap, don’t like them.” The election of Donald Trump, the challenge to power posed by Bernie Sanders or Jeremy Corbyn and others, all these are characterized by people being fed up with the system, convinced that it’s stacked against them and that it’s fundamentally unfair. And populism, both left and right, channels this feeling of unfairness. But if you’re going to champion the system itself, and just be like, “Oh, I would never, ever impede on private property rights. Heaven forbid!”, you’re going to end up representing this system, and people are going to hate you.
Roberta: Well, I think — and one of the things for me about this is that there’s this sense that governments are meant for a different purpose than I, perhaps, think that they’re meant for. I mean, maybe I’m crazy, but — maybe I’m the one that’s batshit crazy — but I think that the purpose of government is to advance the social good, to help everybody improve their material and creative abilities, to be able to survive, get the essentials. All those sorts of things. I mean, maybe this is pie-in-the-sky ideology — I guess I could be put in that boat — but I think that’s the purpose of government. And if a corporation or an industry is not fulfilling that social good, from my perspective, it has no place in our society and, therefore, we should either nationalize or close it down. I just don’t see how we can allow the profit motive to take control of our society, and, as has been shown, not actually producing the things we need to survive. It’s just infuriating to me. And I think — you know, I critique the NDP all the time about these issues and about being a small-L liberal party, and I’m not going to stop. And I think Shannon Phillips really emphasizes how much further the Alberta NDP is on this issue about private property being sacrosanct and that we have to protect the rule of law at all costs. It’s just unbelievable. When I first heard this clip, I think I sent a message to the group in big capital letters, “PRIVATE PROPERTY! WE MUST PROTECT PRIVATE PROPERTY!” I don’t get it. It makes no sense. Nationalize the hell out of everything.
Emma: Yeah, I think this comment, the one that stood out to me the most in listening to this, is — she says, “The spirited defence of the industry is misread in some ways, and it’s a spirited defence of working-class people.” And it’s like —
Kate: Is it, though?
Emma: — no the fuck it’s not! [laughs] Like, it absolutely is not. Like, the largest energy companies in Alberta raised executive pay in 2019, they are begging for billions of dollars from the federal government right now. You know, in 2018, Steve Williams — the former CEO of Suncor — made $15,000,000. So it’s, like, at the same time, they’re automating jobs out of existence, they’re slashing their workforce. And it’s this conflation where the NDP — someone needs to draw them some sort of diagram that shows them the difference between oil company bosses and executives and workers, because they don’t understand, they just think industry equals workers. And that’s not — that’s not it!
Joel: They would look at that diagram and just say, “I don’t see any difference. These are the same to me.”
Kate: They would be like, “This is the same picture.”
Kate: One of the other really interesting things in this clip, to me, is also this complete misunderstanding on behalf of Shannon Phillips of what was appealing about the NDP to people in 2015 when they formed government. Because you have her being like, “You have companies who are willing, the vast majority of barrels a day, particularly oil sands, come out of the companies who stood with us on the stage that day in 2015 and agreed to a cap on oil sands emissions and a pricing structure.” So she is saying that what makes that plan good, to her, is that oil and gas companies agreed with it, that oil and gas CEOs agreed with it.
Emma: “Much smarter people,” she calls them. [laughs] Much smarter people.
Kate: [laughs] And you know what? Yeah, I am willing to say that one other reason the NDP won in 2015 is because people were sick and tired of oil and gas companies running the fucking government and running the province. Like, that was absolutely part of the blowback that ended up — for a variety of reasons including a split right-wing party — in the NDP forming government. People don’t like it when oil and gas CEOs stand up on the stage with the government and are like, “I think this is a great idea. Two thumbs up from me, the CEO of CNRL.” Like, that is not actually an appealing political vision. And it goes back to that earlier clip where Shannon Phillips says “The people aren’t with you; like, try going to Whitecourt and explaining this.” And I was thinking about, like — the NDP doesn’t understand what their own base is, nor do they understand what their own base should be. And that’s why they’re always trying to court, you know, oil and gas CEOs and small business tyrants and petty landlords who love this type of stuff rather than actually doing the political work of organizing what should be, in a modern capitalist country, the base of any social democratic party, which is women, immigrants, working-class people. You know, maybe if you went to Whitecourt and you tried to organize continuing care workers there around this vision, you would have a hell of a lot more success than you would organizing the chamber of commerce in Whitecourt who loves this stuff.
Joel: Yeah, but the phenomenal thing to me is that on the one hand, Shannon Phillips is using working-class people as a kind of human shield to avoid developing a legitimate political response to the climate crisis — they’re just not there yet, it’s a problem with democracy, it’s working-class reality, it’s what puts food on the table, Albertans are just complete rubes, we’re all just country bumpkins, we can’t understand climate sense or politics, we eat bitumen for breakfast and then when someone says that’s not part of a balanced breakfast we just call them latte-sipping liberals — there’s a real sense of using this disgusting trope of the stupid rural Albertan, almost, alongside with the fact that what you see in these responses is that Shannon Phillips is deeply committed to doing what the biggest oil companies in the world want. Like, that’s great to her, she would love to do what they want. Maybe she thinks she’s incredibly wise because she knows what kinds of policy solutions Big Oil wants, and maybe Kenney doesn’t exactly, but people, as you said, hate oil companies. That’s the reason why they maybe voted for the NDP in the first place. And — just to get into this — Alberta’s carbon tax, which Shannon Phillips wore very heavily, is what the biggest oil companies in Alberta wanted. It was corporate policy that had been on their wishlist for a long time. The Business Council of Canada — formerly known as the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, it’s literally a council of CEOs — has been on the record, as of 2007, wanting a price on carbon. Big oil companies like the carbon tax because it spreads the cost across the whole economy as a whole and it doesn’t single them out, and governments take the heat for implementing it, but oil companies get to look like progressive, modern oil companies, responsible actors, as they continue to pull oil out of the ground. So of course oil companies love it. But it’s like, why is this — it’s just so frustrating to see this.
Roberta: Well, and the thing I legitimately don’t understand is the idea that they might out-oil-and-gas the UCP. Like, who on the inside of the Alberta NDP thought that they might be able to attract people whose main issue was oil and gas? Like, if your issue —
Kate: The thing is, Roberta, I’m sure a shocking number of them believe this.
Roberta: [laughs] I know, but that’s what’s so crazy about it, it makes no sense! Like, if you’re somebody —
Kate: They’re like, “Ah, people love pipelines. And if we get pipelines, they’ll love us.”
Roberta: “You know what will get people? Pipelines. They’ll love us because our pipelines are better than their pipelines.” I mean, it just makes no sense. You can’t out-oil-and-gas a petrofascist party.
Emma: No. I think the most blatant thing that I kind of took away from this entire — I mean, there was a lot —
Emma: — but out of the entire podcast, the number one thing that I took away was I was, like, it’s very blatantly clear that Shannon Phillips has spent the majority of her quote-unquote “political career” in the electoral sphere. She’s obviously never been an organizer, and she absolutely, fundamentally does not understand that polarization is, in itself, a key strategy to move people onto your side. Like, trying to just swim in the mushy middle forever is not how you win over these people — like you said, Kate — that should fundamentally be a part of your base. Those are the people that you’re able to pull by staking out your ground on the opposite end of the spectrum of your opponent. And so all of these — she’s probably never seen a spectrum of allies, but if she was to see a spectrum of allies, it’s, like, you are going to shift these people who — 73% of people, based on Seth Klein’s data, have said, “Yes, I support a transition to a 100% renewable energy over time in the province of Alberta.” How are you going to get them and move them to that fundamental understanding without polarizing your plan in complete opposition to what currently exists? And so that was the biggest thing, is it’s, like, polarization as strategy. Please get that in your frigging head, because we’re tired of trying to carry it out on our own.
Joel: And, like, just more generally; if you were a political party with any kind of vision, your starting point, looking at Alberta, would be that the most powerful interests in the province — oil companies — exert way too much influence and extract way too much wealth while leaving ordinary working people prone to boom-and-bust cycles, precarious work, escalating cost of living, stagnant wages. That should be the fault line for any kind of political work you want to do in Alberta. And you just don’t see it from the NDP, obviously. If Shannon wanted to, she could be as much a defender of any other sector and any other kind of worker, right? She could single out — or, rather, choosing to single out this mythical and increasingly rare, quote “oil and gas worker” unquote, is making a choice about who counts and who’s important and whose work is valued. Imagine if, hypothetically, a party that had been in power over the last few years had championed the cause of, and helped organize, not-glamorous workers in retail and service and healthcare and education for several years while in government. Suddenly, a pandemic hits and they’re not in government, but they would’ve had done all this outreach amongst actual working-class [laughs] blue-collar Albertans, and they’d be very well-positioned to push back against the government. Oh well.
Kate: Oh well. Instead, they had to put a knife in the back of continuing care workers, give every single public sector worker in the province rollbacks or zeros, and do absolutely jack shit, so. Unfortunately they had no other options. I also — I really resent the characterization of the left as not doing important grassroots work and wagging fingers, and not the fact that the left is incredibly under-resourced and very small. And that is just the truth, is there are not a lot of left-wing people in Alberta; everyone who is left-wing in Alberta, who does any kind of organizing work, is incredibly overworked and incredibly under-resourced, which is actually the kind of thing that a political party could really help to ameliorate if that was something that they were interested in doing. Like, climate justice organizers in Alberta are doing God’s work with absolutely zero resources, and so is any type of left-wing movement work.
Emma: There was literally no point in this entire interview where she put forward an alternate plan. Like, there was absolutely no moment where it was like, “This is unrealistic, it’s ideological, we’re opposed to it; here’s the alternative.” That never happened because they know that they don’t have it, and so Jeremy pushed it and was like, “How are you going to reach our climate commitments while building a pipeline when the price of oil is at zero dollars?” And it was just, like, “Well, we can’t pull money out of nowhere –” [laughs] but, like —
Roberta: Actually, you can.
Kate: Our planet is dying, Shannon.
Roberta: And, funny enough, money is meaningless, as it turns out. You can pull the money.
Kate: Or there’s this bit where she has this laundry list of —
Emma: Yes! Yes.
Kate: — social indicators of health, and she’s, like —
Emma: Get that in there!
Jeremy: Well, no one’s saying we should shut down the tar sands overnight.
Shannon: Oh, people are certainly saying that! I could tell —
Jeremy: Who? Who?
Shannon: Well, I don’t know. I mean, I went to an NGO panel in Paris at the council of the parties in the NGO pavilion — which was thronged by oil change international protestors — as I sat up there on the stage with some of my provincial and other colleagues, who heckled me from the audience as I was describing our climate change plan, the one that I just described to you. And, you know, every single question was, “Why don’t you shut ‘er down?” And you know what I said? I just couldn’t believe it, right, because I’d just gone over all of these well-meaning, progressive things that we had done — I mean, the art of the possible, here, which is my vocation — and I said, “Look, right now we are quote-unquote ‘keeping it in the ground’ because oil prices are tanking, and suicide’s gone through the roof, food bank donations are down but their draws are up, addictions problems are through the roof.’ Like, you name it on the social indicators and the social determinants of health, they were bad in late 2015 because of that quickness of the things that those people, who had jetted there from London, were asking me, right? And yeah, that was irritating, and I did have a little bit of a sort of right-wing moment, right, where I was just, like, “Come on. Go and make your arguments to people in Whitecourt right now, where the only thing keeping the lights on in that town is forestry, right? Like, we are a primary producer, and that’s what working-class reality is here.”
Kate: These have become really awful since the downturn; things like suicide rates among men, domestic violence, but all of these really, you know, upsetting and very real social indicators of health. And it’s, like, you know, these are so bad because of the downturn. And it’s, like, —
Emma: We know!
Kate: We know! Yeah, like, we fucking know!
Emma: We know!
Kate: That’s why we need a plan that’s not just, like, “Well, maybe the magic oil money will come back this time and everything will be better.” It’s like, if the only thing in your society that is stopping suicide and domestic violence is oil having a high price on the stock exchange, then there is something deeply and profoundly broken about your society that needs to change, you know? Those things are symptoms of a much deeper rot and of a much deeper malaise, and they need real, systemic, large-scale solutions.
Emma: I felt that was so — yeah, it was so disgusting. Like, to point at all of these incredibly dire social consequences to being so dependent on the price of a barrel of oil and then to say, “You know, this is why we need to then deepen our reliance more, and we need to pray to the gods of CNRL and Suncor that, you know, the price of oil will come back so that suicide rates start to fall again.” And it’s, like, Jesus.
Kate: The implicit argument being made there is, “Oh, you say that you don’t want an economy that is predicated on oil? Well, I guess that means you like suicide rates and domestic violence.” Which is an incredibly bad-faith argument, and also a really reprehensible one.
Roberta: Well, and the reality is, we’re in an economic crisis, we’re in a social crisis. That’s what she’s pointing to; this is a crisis. And we have options here. One is to let the crisis continue and destroy ourselves and this planet and all the things that live on it with us. Or we can take bold action and do something different. I mean, she’s right, we are in a crisis. This is all horrible. It’s really bad. So let’s do something about it. And if there’s one thing I could say to the NDPers — and I say it all the time — it’s, “Be bold. Take action. Come up with a plan. Steal somebody else’s plan. Just do something bold.” Like Emma said, give an alternative. What’s the point otherwise? All you’re doing is buying into the same rhetoric and the same policies, and we need change. We’re in crisis. It’s time for bold action.
Kate: And just, like, how can these people not think of alternatives? Like, what are they doing, you know? That’s not my job. I have a whole other full-time job that is not thinking of political alternatives, and yet, somehow, through simply reading books and thinking about the world around me and talking with other people, I can pull out ideas about what a different society would look like. The extent to which the Alberta NDP is completely bereft of political imagination is truly shocking.
Joel: And I want to jump in on this, just because, to the extent that they have a political vision, it’s purely just economic growth. You saw this a lot with their push for TMX and these arguments about, “Oh, it’s going to grow the economy this much, that means however many dozen new hospitals that can be built with that money.” And these are pure fictions; it’s like, okay, but there’s nothing in the agreements that says the money’s going to hospitals, you’re just pulling that out of your butt. And, more generally, it’s representative of the fact that this argument for economic growth as a solution is trickle-down economics, right? Like, we basically live in a trickle-down economy, and that’s very well-known, I think that knowledge has quite well penetrated the population at this point, 12 years after the 2008 financial crisis, 40 years of neoliberalism in. We live in a trickle-down economy, so any economic growth is not going to be even. It’s not like the economy grows 3% and everybody’s going to see a 3% jump on their paychecks, it means, like, the top 1%, the top .1%, the top 5%, 10%, are going to see their incomes grow immensely while everybody else is going to continue to see their wages stagnate at the same the price of living is going to go up like it always does. It’s just mind-blowing that in their very limited imagination, the only thing they can come up with is economic growth, and it’s not even a solution.
Roberta: I mean, the final thing that just makes me so, so frustrated with this entire thing is that, you know, you’re looking at Jason Kenney, he’s assembled this economic advisory panel. You know that, in the midst of this crisis, they’re going to double down on austerity, they’re going to say, “We’ve spent way too much, we need to claw back our public sector,” you know, they’re going to continue to beg for billions of dollars to go to corporations. And there’s never been a more opportune time for you to have the political courage to put forward a bold plan for a just recovery that can lay the foundation for a Green New Deal. There’s never been a more critical moment for them to do that. And the power that it holds, like I said, to unite people from across the political spectrum, from across different sectors, to come together — public sector workers, students, oil and gas workers that are being laid off — to be able to come together and be like, “You know what? Fuck these multi-billion dollar oil companies that continue to rob us of resources that we don’t even own. We want to build a new society that actually puts our needs before theirs.”
Emma: What frustrates me so much is that Shannon Phillips just keeps asserting that, you know, “Albertans aren’t here yet, they don’t want a just transition,” and we know that that’s not true, and we’re seeing it, where just the last climate strike that happened in Edmonton was the largest demonstration that’s happened since the anti-Iraq war protests. There were over 10,000 people in front of the legislature that day. Including NDP MLAs; so they’ll turn out when they find it’s politically convenient for them, but they won’t actually do anything to enact what the people on the ground are actually calling for at those demonstrations.
Kate: And I will say that, personally, I had an absolutely wonderful time at that climate march. It was doing all of my favourite activities — I was with my friends, carrying a union flag, and I got to heckle NDP MLAs by yelling at them, “Why are you here? Why are you here?” [laughs] So it was a great day for me. To end off this episode — we’ve talked a lot about how this moment demands a political party with a vision for an immediate, just, made-in-Alberta recovery to the current crisis that can springboard into something more transformative like the Green New Deal. So I thought a good way of ending out the episode would be going around the table and each of us could name one thing that would be a really important political vision for any political party on the left worth its salt to put forward at this moment in time and organize people around in order to change, and ultimately transform, our society. Roberta?
Roberta: I’m going to cheat and take two things. One’s going to be on the finance side, and then one’s more of an exciting policy idea for the future. So, the finance side — I think a left-wing party must embrace ideas such as centralized national planning to direct our resources and our needs in proper directions and to make sure that the masses’ needs are being met, and also a much higher corporate tax rate and a wealth tax to finance any transition that’s happening. And then I think, in the transition — while I think there are many things that need to be funded and advanced — I think one of the most important ones that we see evidence of from the original New Deal, and the WPA in particular, is a focus on the artistic community and the importance of art in our lives, that these transitions and the future shouldn’t just be about our material needs and money, but it also needs to be about reconnecting with our creativity and our ability to communicate across cultures and languages with each other and use art as a way to advance our society to the better service of all people.
Joel: My immediate proposal would be electrified inter-city regional transit in Alberta. It’s currently impossible to get around without owning an automobile; I think that’s ridiculous. Plus, with the massive decrease in tourism, there’s a lot of communities that typically rely on tourists that are not going to see folks show up for a long time, and so maybe having people regionally able to visit these places would make a lot of sense. So for example, Banff, I think, has 85% unemployment at this point; maybe if you had inter-city bus or transit or — heaven forbid — rapid-transit system or electrified rail, whatever, you would be able to have people that live in Alberta actually easily visit these places. I think that’d be a great step.
Emma: Yeah, I think, for me, I would pick seeing massive strategic investments going into front-line and Indigenous communities that have disproportionately borne the brunt of pollution and extraction in this province. And so I’m thinking here about greenhousing retrofits, expanding zero-carbon homes, rooftop solar installation on community buildings — electric bus deployment into connecting rural areas in Alberta is a key, key, issue with, now, Greyhound having been suspended. Rural broadband development. I think all of these things are investments that can be made now and that would really help to benefit front-line and Indigenous communities.
Kate: Mhm. Something I’ve been thinking a lot about recently with the massive number of layoffs that are currently happening in the post-secondary sector in Alberta and the crisis that higher public education is in, really, across the continent, is putting massive investments into public post-secondary education in Alberta, making it free and easier and more available for people to attend — particularly rural colleges and schools. And, as part of a springboard to reorient our economy away from extraction and towards different priorities and more just priorities in the future. And I think any of those four ideas would be great things for a so-called social democratic political party to pick up, to put forward at this moment in time, and to organize people around as a vision for the future because, as I said earlier, we are overworked and under-resourced, and, hey, we could really use the help. Emma, thank you so much for, once again, joining us on The Alberta Advantage. It is a real pleasure to have you on. If people want to find more about your work, where can they go to do so?
Emma: Yeah, so they can find Climate Justice Edmonton on Facebook and on Twitter @CJEdmonton. And we also have a very exciting call that’s coming up on June 4th, and so we’ll be talking about a just recovery for Alberta and really hoping to talk to people from across the province about what they would want to see in any sort of stimulus package that might happen to try to recover from COVID and the accompanying economic crisis.
Kate: That sounds wonderful. Emma, thank you so much once again for coming on the podcast. On behalf of all of us here at The Alberta Advantage, take care out there and stay safe.
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Kate: The Alberta Advantage is part of a loose affiliation of left-wing podcasts hosted by the bilingual journalism collective Ricochet, who you can find at ricochet.media. Our podcast is primarily supported through Patreon by listeners like you. We use the money for equipment and other semi-serious pursuits and, as a thank you, we send out fun packages with grain elevator-themed stickers and weird tote bags a couple times a year. You can support us at patreon.com/albertaadvantage. Thanks so much for listening, and take care out there.
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