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Dale Swampy: Liberals' emissions cap is short-term thinking that will hurt economy for generations

·4 min read
Trudeau-COP 20211102
Trudeau-COP 20211102

Climate change. Inflation. Indigenous reconciliation. These are undoubtedly complex policy problems. Complex for policy wonks and outright mystical for everyone else, because addressing them causes an avalanche of unintended consequences across Canada’s entire economy.

One might ask how we are supposed to solve climate change when addressing it drives up the prices of consumer goods. Or how we are supposed to support Indigenous reconciliation if our government is unable to implement effective and sustainable climate change policy.

However, with a change of perspective, different narratives emerge that provide an opportunity to address these combined challenges. The complexity and interconnectedness of our greatest challenges can be a strength. It can lead to outside-the-box thinking, with new and innovative solutions that finally move us forward in these critical areas where there has been so little progress to date.

But to unlock this opportunity we must move away from short-term thinking typical of most politicians focused on winning an upcoming election. We must move away from politicizing these challenges and break with the narratives that continuously bring us the same, poor results.

Many Indigenous people like myself follow the philosophy of seven generational thinking. Its main idea is that a decision you make today needs to benefit people seven generations from now. In a democracy like ours, that is much further into the future than the next election in three years or less. If we apply this idea to our most significant challenges — climate change, inflation and Indigenous reconciliation — we can look beyond popular narratives and focus on the real problems. We can talk about climate change without villainizing an entire industry. We can see that further stifling the energy industry with new emissions caps will drive up the price of consumer goods, fuelling inflation, increasing unemployment, creating unmanageable heating and electricity costs, all of which combined would result in an overall cross-societal lowering of our standard of living. Many Indigenous people would particularly suffer from Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault’s proposed emissions-cap approach, harming our quest for economic independence, self-determination and sustainable community infrastructure — the three pillars that define Indigenous economic reconciliation.

Looking at Canada’s challenges holistically and respecting their interconnectedness would allow us to finally find solutions that make a positive difference in all these areas.

Almost 14,000 self-identified Indigenous people work for Canada’s oil and gas industry. Their incomes benefit their families and communities across the country, allowing for significant progress in areas that address poverty and inequality experienced by Indigenous people.

With billions of dollars invested over the past decades, the same energy companies that facilitate economic independence and self-determination for all these Indigenous communities have become global leaders in producing clean energy. They have reduced greenhouse gas emissions — unlike companies in any other country — and lead the way to innovative carbon tech solutions that will finally make achieving Canada’s emissions targets possible.

Yet, the federal government intends to further limit the ability of these companies to compete with other global players by implementing a new, unreasonable emissions cap.

The implementation of this policy proposal will have numerous negative consequences. Consumer prices will rise further. Our economy will suffer more. Investments into carbon technology will become less likely, making climate change an even greater threat for all of us. And Indigenous reconciliation, something the Liberal government supposedly cares deeply about, will become even harder to achieve.

This all could make it harder to compete with the United States and build out our carbon tech ecosystem to reduce global emissions. If we don’t harmonize our policies, and use incentives instead, we will be left behind.

The authors of this legislation either don’t see the relevance of their emissions cap proposal for Indigenous people, or they don’t care. Frankly, both are possible, but the latter appears more likely. They say they spoke to some Indigenous people, ignoring the diversity of our community and following the false narrative that all Indigenous people oppose energy projects.

Regardless of the reasoning, when all is said and done, 14,000 Indigenous people, their families, and their communities will suffer from the outcome — without ever having been given the opportunity to express themselves. Instead, Ottawa will decide, and Indigenous communities will face the consequences of linear thinking applied by a paternalistic government that thinks in short-term political frameworks.

Instead of applying visionary thinking that would benefit future generations of Canadians, the government is taking steps to further inhibit progress to appease voter demographics. Its green-washing policy solution on climate change will hurt Indigenous and non-Indigenous people alike, today, tomorrow and seven generations from now.

Dale Swampy is the president of the National Coalition of Chiefs, which is dedicated to defeating on-reserve poverty, and a member of the Samson Cree First Nation.