My in-box is starting to fill up daily with more than the endless COVID-19 medical news stories.

There are breathless competing political fundraising appeals talking about how opponents are surging ahead in the election readiness race. “If only 42 more people contribute in the next seven days, the lead of the (fill in the blank opponents) can be overcome.”

Opinion results are being published about which groups are most trusted in our society. The latest results thrust firefighters and nurses to the top of the heap while politicians languish (as usual) near the bottom.

Universities, cultural organizations and other not for profits are surveying their audiences to remind potential donors of the tangible and intangible benefits they offer as well as to gain an appreciation of how these organizations can better serve their potential customers in a post-COVID-19 world.

Life is returning to a new normal.

Pandemic evaluations of the efforts of governments project a sense of an event passed and learning for the next big one.

It seems as if there are as many COVID-19-related media stories focused on exploring the return to normalcy (the timing for in-store dining, school openings or retail shopping, expanded family get togethers, the availability of summer cottage rentals and the all-important admission of fans to sporting events) as on expectations for the timing of that all-important second vaccination, herd immunity targets and future Canadian vaccine production.

Some of that redirected attention is driven by our envious gazes at what is happening in the UK and the USA.

The story is moving on.

Significant policy issues are also starting to re-emerge to capture consistent attention after a period of pause if not blackout.

Not surprisingly, the policy conundrums to be addressed start with the economy.

Inflation is heading upwards; housing prices have become unaffordable for many Canadians while bank profits continue to surge and stock markets rise to record highs.

The largest technology companies are exerting more influence over the public’s daily lives than ever before yet do not pay their fair share of taxes or sufficiently protect consumer privacy, according to their numerous critics.  

The influence of the ESG (environment, society and governance) movement continues to grow globally; there are clear implications for the energy sector which has been a mainstay of the Canadian economy, especially for Alberta and Saskatchewan.

What makes last week’s developments worthy of special note are that the future green energy transition is not simply a by-product of Canadian or U.S. government or court rulings but is also bubbling up from within the private sector itself. 

In recent days, global media have been reporting shareholder “rebellions” over the failure of major energy corporations to set a strategy for a low-carbon future.

A dissident hedge fund successfully replaced two Exxon board members with its own candidates to help drive the oil company towards a greener strategy.

A majority of Chevron shareholders rebelled against the company’s board by voting 61% in favour of an activist proposal — from Dutch campaign group Follow This — to force the group to cut its carbon emissions. The oil company had refused to commit to reduce climate emissions from both its production and sale of oil and gas to meet the demands of these activists.

A Dutch court told Shell that its emissions’ impact had to be cut by 45% over a nine-year span (the company had proposed a lower level) and placed in compliance with the 1.5-degree Celsius warming limit called for by the Paris agreement. 

Closer to home, the ongoing conflict intensified between the Governor of Michigan and Enbridge as they appeared in court. At stake was the state’s efforts to shut down line 5, a key 68-year-old pipeline carrying 540,000 barrels of sweet light crude and natural gas liquids to refineries in the US and Canada. The shutdown would come with a heavy cost for both the U.S. and Canadian economy and jobs.

Supported by a wide coalition of Canadian federal and provincial governments as well as U.S. business and union leaders, Enbridge says it will not close the line short of a court order. The Governor calls the pipeline a “ticking environmental time bomb” — with the potential for a spill in a channel linking two Great Lakes — and has threatened to charge Enbridge with trespassing.

Enbridge’s line 3, carrying crude, including oil sands, from Alberta to a Wisconsin terminal, also faces ongoing reconstruction delays as Indigenous and environmental groups mobilize for large-scale protests and civil disobedience in Minnesota.

Both sides are waiting for a major ruling from the Minnesota Court of Appeals in June on a legal challenge by environmental and tribal groups that are seeking to overturn state regulators’ approval of the project. 

Ironically, Enbridge is seeking to replace its “deteriorating” 1960s-era pipeline to better protect the environment while restoring its capacity and ensuring reliable deliveries to U.S. refineries.

Opponents charge the replacement pipeline would aggravate climate change and risk spills in sensitive areas where Native Americans “harvest wild rice, hunt, fish, gather medicinal plants and claim treaty rights.”

Welcome back to the new normal.

Hershell Ezrin is a Professor of Government Relations, Seneca at York, and former Principal Secretary to Liberal Premier David Peterson.

Hershell Ezrin: Has the New Normal Arrived?

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