Environmentalist David Suzuki joins Green Party Leader Elizabeth May during a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, June 14, 2019. Two leading Canadian activists say voters need to look at climate change in the upcoming federal election as if we are country at war against greenhouse gas emissions. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Environment champions want voters to make climate their main priority this fall

Voters take to the polls in October

Two leading Canadian activists say voters need to think about climate change as if we are country at war against greenhouse-gas emissions.

“There’s never been a moment quite like this in human history,” said Stephen Lewis, a former Ontario NDP leader, who chaired a 1988 international conference on climate change on the initiative of then prime minister Brian Mulroney.

He said similar scientific conclusions were drawn then as from more recent climate science, but three decades of little action have put humanity in a much more worrying position.

“We really have to motivate people to get involved and here we have an election coming when climate can be made the major issue,” he said.

Lewis and longtime environmentalist David Suzuki are joining to run a series of campaign-period talks aimed at encouraging young people to stand up and make this election entirely about saving the planet from what Lewis calls “self-immolation.” Although both have been directly or indirectly affiliated with left-of-centre political movements in the past neither wants to be drawn into the question of whom to vote for this time.

“It becomes an issue that is no longer a partisan issue of whether the right or left have the right policy,” said Suzuki. ”It’s now something we have to embrace as a nation. We have to address it as if it’s war.”

But for many environment leaders, deciding where to plant their support this fall is major conundrum. Neither of the two leading parties has plans that would even hit Canada’s relatively timid emissions-reductions targets.

Tzeporah Berman, international program director for Stand.Earth, said opinion polls have shifted in Canada over the last year, as people become more directly affected by the increased number and severity of floods, droughts, forest fires and storms attributed to climate change.

“For many progressives I think it’s a very hard election in Canada this year, quite frankly,” said Berman.

“The idea of a Conservative government that doesn’t take climate change seriously, that is very scary at this moment in history. But at the same time the Liberal government’s current plan to allow oil and gas production to increase and in fact to even facilitate that by buying the Trans Mountain pipeline and approving LNG Canada, is an incredible lack of ambition.

“I worry it is going to have a significant impact on once again splitting the progressive vote.”

The Conservatives climate change plan, released last spring, was widely panned by environmental experts who noted it had no specific targets for cutting emissions and cancels two of the biggest programs that could cut emissions — namely a carbon tax and standard to force cleaner-burning fuels.

The Liberals haven’t released a new plan for the campaign — it could come later this week — but their current policies leave Canada only about halfway to emissions-reductions targets specified in the Paris Agreement, which international scientists say are already not enough.

Suzuki and Lewis say that in 2015, when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau signed Canada on to the Paris accord and promised to take actions to help keep the world to within 1.5 C to 2 C of warming compared to pre-industrial temperatures, it felt like Canada was about to start moving on something it had been promising for decades.

“We all thought this is it, he seized the challenge,” said Suzuki. “But then he bought a pipeline.”

The Trudeau government bought the Trans Mountain pipeline in 2018 for $4.5 billion in a bid to get the controversial project to twin the pipeline built and carry more Alberta oil products to the British Columbia coast. Trudeau’s argument is that Canada needs to use revenues from developing its resources in order to fund the transition to a cleaner, greener economy.

READ MORE: Politicians say elections law restricting partisan ads is ‘absurd,’ ‘lunacy’

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press


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