There exists a strange medical condition called “Alice in Wonderland Syndrome” (AIWS), described by the ever-wise Wikipedia as a “disorienting neuropsychological condition that impacts perception.” It’s unusual effects include a sensation that body parts or external objects are shifting shape and size, and victims may endure a loss of sense of time or velocity. The sum impact can be an alienating period where the common touch points of reality can no longer be counted on.
I don’t have the faintest idea what causes that in humans, but I am beginning to see what causes it in political parties: getting into power. The realities and priorities that seemed so obvious and irrefutable before being handed the keys are now inconsistent with what becomes readily apparent from the big chair. We have seen this in Alberta over the past few years, and now the pleasant phenomenon is popping up in BC.
This is not to be construed as a political discussion or debate; that bloody battlefield is one I skirt like an active volcano. If you love or hate the various NDPs, good for you, go nuts and rip each other to pieces in the lawless world of comments sections. Maybe you’re paid to do it, and I don’t care. The point of bringing this up is to say that this reframing of reality (or more accurately, reframing to accept reality) is a very good thing indeed.
Developments of the past few years would seem implausible even in a work of fiction. Alberta’s NDP party, long a joke in the business-friendly and rabidly pro-market province, fell down the rabbit hole and awoke in a surreal world where they were actually in charge of an energy-based economy. Suddenly, opposing pipelines and intractably attacking anything with emissions wasn’t such a good idea. Economics can be a dismal science but it can also be a useful bucket of cold water.
The BC NDP may be undergoing a similar awakening with its recently announced support of an LNG project. It may be small potatoes, and there is still the obstinacy about the Trans Mountain expansion that’s not helpful (more on that in a second), but it is good to see the lights going on; that the climate change narrative is not the only one that needs consideration.
It isn’t unusual of course for an election winner to find governing more challenging than campaigning. What makes these situations so beneficial though is that economic reality isn’t just causing slight shifts in policy as would be the case if a business-friendly party got elected; here, economic reality is smashing through a veil of bullsh*t that was foundational to party policy – absurdly unrealistic climate objectives that were intertwined with social policy ambitions. The grandiose is so easy for armchair quarterbacks. The situation was best described long ago by Mark Twain: “A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn no other way.” (That’s not a sexist quote by the way; it’s a safe bet only a man would try that.) There was no argument that could have been put forward before the party (as with Alberta’s) that would have convinced them that more energy infrastructure is necessary. They had to carry the cat by the tail, and now they know.
Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s all smooth sailing – Alberta’s NDP government is understandably irritated with BC for clearing the path for LNG development while stymieing development of coastal access for oil. The Alberta government’s point is valid; BC should decide if it’s part of Canada and work with the federal government and Trans Mountain, while of course at the same time demanding whatever levels of coastal protection that will give comfort to most British Columbians. That is an attainable task that Kinder Morgan and shippers can and should pay for, and it can be done if sensible heads get together to resolve the matter.
There is one reason to show a bit of patience with the BC government however, and that is because it has a wolverine clamped on its leg. Three of them actually. That is of course a reference to the Green party members who hold the balance of power in the minority government, and who most likely will never have to face the realities of actually governing anything. Much like a trust fund brat can stare incredulously at a homeless person and wonder why they don’t just buy themselves a house, this lucky fringe party can make any sort of imperious demand with no grasp of the underlying necessities of actually accomplishing anything.
Horgan’s government is therefore in a very tough situation. The stern faces of economic reality and interprovincial relations are glaring at them and demanding some action, but if the government even acknowledges those harsh taskmasters it will be doomed to face another election and possible defeat (recall that the Green party promised to bring down the government if the NDPs breathe a word of support for LNG development). That is a tough situation for any party, but in this instance the economic realities that must be heeded – for instance, the survival of a very important energy sector – tear at the very fabric of the party’s identity. But at the end of the day, the relentlessly real forces of economics and neighbourly relations will hopefully trump the frenzied and unstable demand for globally insignificant but symbolically important emissions-scorecard machinations.
This phenomenon isn’t guaranteed or universal of course; witness Ontario’s crazy plans to rewire the province at unfathomable cost to reduce a tiny fraction of Ontario’s 23 percent of Canada’s GHG total (which is 1.6 percent of the global total). Apologies for the ugly math but if Ontario reduced GHG emissions by 10 percent they would impact global GHG by… 0.037 percent. And that 10 percent reduction would cost tens of billions, and the world is building enough coal-fired plants at this very moment (well, last year’s statistics) to wipe out that gain by a massive amount. But I digress, and the point is, when the province’s debt is over $300 billion, are 5-figure subsidies to buy EVs a good use for that not-infinite credit card? If anyone answers yes, then pray they aren’t financial advisors on the side.
Though there are exceptions like that, thankfully we also see evidence to the contrary. It may be rare on the political front but the phenomenon may actually be a universal one, like if some die-hard racist actually speaks to his nemesis and realizes that his existing frame of reference is not just indefensible but dumb. It happens all over the place when people are actually forced to do something outside their sometimes-irrational comfort zone. It’s a key part of growing up. It may also be a trait that saves us all – a realization that we can improve the environment through individual efforts only, and that governing entities are at some point forced to concede that fairy tales don’t really work in the real world.