There is resounding consensus — well, almost — among Newmarket-Aurora federal election candidates that the consequences will be dire if the federal government doesn’t continue to take action to tackle the climate crisis.
At Newmarket’s only free public all-candidates event last night, in response to a question about “what’s the worst that can happen if Canada does nothing to fight climate change?”, Green Party candidate Walter Bauer flatly stated, “If Canada does nothing, and we don’t lead by example, (and if) the rest of world might possibly do nothing as well, we’re going to have droughts, floods, climate refugees, loss of coral reefs, warming of the ocean, Pacification of the ocean.
“The Conservatives tend to argue that Canada’s contribution (to greenhouse gas emissions) is only 1.6 per cent of the world’s, but it’s a little like saying it’s OK to pee in the pool, it’s OK to throw the garbage out of the car window, because you’re just one person.”
The Conservatives didn’t have any representation to counter the statement, as candidate Lois Brown gave notice she wouldn’t be attending due to “a long-standing previous commitment” about four hours before the start of the forum hosted by Newmarket-Aurora Drawdown, a grassroots climate action group, and KAIROS, a social justice group.
Both the Liberal candidate, Tony Van Bynen, and New Democratic Party candidate, Yvonne Kelly, expressed their agreement with Bauer.
“This is a battle that crosses party lines,” Van Bynen stated in his opening remarks.
However, People’s Party of Canada candidate Andrew McCaughtrie responded, “There is a lot of conflicting data out there (about climate change),” adding he has read reports saying warmer weather will benefit Canada’s agricultural sector, while others forecast famine and client refugees.
Earlier in the forum, he had outlined the PPC’s stance on the climate crisis: “We believe that the climate change that is occurring is a natural phenomenon and not one that is made by man.”
His words were met with some chuckles from the well-mannered audience of about 150 who filled the auditorium at the Old Town Hall.
Based on their submitted questions, it was clear that, for them, climate change is the most pressing issue in the 2019 federal election, however, the topics of mental health services for children, electoral reform, federal-provincial relations, the opioid crisis and Canada’s role as a global leader were broached.
According to an Ipsos poll, among others, climate change is the third most important issue in the election behind health care and affordability for Canadians.
“Our plan for the environment is to really focus on tasks that we can take on as a country, such as getting all the garbage and pollutants out of our lakes and rivers, and having cleaner air,” McCaughtrie continued, his face visibly reddening.
He quickly added, “We also plan on building pipelines … because Canada is one of the most responsible nations in the world when it comes to extraction and distribution of oil. And by doing so, we will be taking oil that would be coming from a nation with possibly less stringent standards than we do, and bringing it home where Canada has a much better track record than some other nations when it comes to extraction of oil.”
Throughout the evening, all the candidates who attended had ample opportunity to outline their parties’ platforms on climate change and the environment.
The sole episode of grandstanding came from Bauer, who requested to stand at the moderator’s podium to show a stick marked with coloured tape to demonstrate where each party’s plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions lands in accordance with Kyoto (1997), which the Harper government backed out of, and the current Paris Agreement and where Canada sits today.
“The Liberals, NDP and Greens all voiced concern about climate change. Where we disagree is on the urgency,” he said.
According to Bauer, “We have an 11-year-old window to fix the problem. Relying on the largest polluters to invest in the green economy — the Conservative plan — is a conflict of interest full of potential loopholes. Buying a pipeline — the Liberal plan — is like driving south to go north; it doesn’t make sense. And modest targets like the NDP plan are inadequate. The Green Party has the only plan that will realistically and aggressively counter the crisis.”
Of note, Kelly was the only candidate to include a reference to her party's leader in her responses.
Here are the promises that were made, and party platforms outlined, in last night’s election forum:
According to Van Bynen, the Liberals will:
- Exceed Canada’s 2030 emissions goal and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050
- Continue to “invest heavily” in training for the trades
- Direct about $500 million annually in revenues from the Trans Mountain pipeline to “advancing our green initiatives”
- Increase the Canada Child Benefit
- Provide a $5,000 rebate for electric vehicles
- Create an anti-racism strategy to address barriers to employment, justice and social participation
- Maintain the carbon tax and Climate Action Incentive Fund, with "any additional funds being invested in green technology, jobs and research"
- Expand on 15 measures currently in place to protect the environment
According to Kelly, the NDP will:
- Invest in clean energy technology to create a green economy that will create 300,000 jobs
- Waive the federal tax on zero-emission vehicles and have all vehicles zero-emission by 2040
- Target net carbon-free electricity by 2030
- Not invest or build pipelines
- Invest in municipalities to help build cities that are livable and walkable
- Aim to provide free public transit
- Invest in small businesses that produce green technologies
- Provide pharmacare
- Close tax loopholes and increase taxes for the 1 per cent
- Maintain the carbon tax "to tax big polluters” and create a fund that will deal with climate change disasters
- Explore basic income program
- Address the need for electoral reform through proportional representation
- End development of the tar sands and subsidies to the oil and gas sector
According to Bauer, the Green Party will:
- Set a target of 60 per cent greenhouse gas reductions against 2005 levels by 2030 and zero emissions by 2050
- Maintain carbon pricing
- Reinvest in rail and bus services and ensure all new cars are electric by 2030
- Eliminate the $3.3 billion in fossil fuel subsidies
- Invest in trades, apprenticeships and education
- Provide $1 billion to municipalities to hire youth
- Provide retraining for the 190,000 oil and gas jobs that “will be lost if we take action”
- Provide free tuition to college and university students, cancel the federal portion of any student debt, and eliminate the Canada Student Loans program
- Provide $10 million to post-secondary trade schools
- Provide pharmacare and restore the Health Accord, replacing the formula to one based on need rather than GDP
- Introduce proportional representation
According to McCaughtrie, the PPC will:
- End all “corporate welfare” (subsidies), which is giving a lot of money “to some of our biggest polluters in the world”
- Allow, and encourage, the free market to facilitate the transition to the green economy
- Provide all GST funds directly to the provincial governments, without any restrictions or mandates, for health care