With years of overwrought battles over carbon pricing finally at an end, a summer of devastating climate impacts could translate into a more focused election conversation about the transition off fossil fuels, the Toronto Star suggests in a news analysis this week.
As the first week of the campaign draws to an end, climate and energy groups are increasingly gearing up to drive that conversation.
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“Months after the country’s top court declared climate change is an ‘existential threat’ to humanity, wildfires ravaged Western Canada,” the Star’s Alex Ballingall writes. “Hundreds of deaths are possibly linked to the oppressive ‘heat dome’ that squatted over much of the country. The British Columbia town of Lytton broke national heat records for three straight days—and then it burned down.”
With the carbon price fight settled by the Supreme Court and Erin O’Toole’s Conservative Party pitching its own version of a carbon levy, he adds, the stage could be set for “a deeper discussion during the campaign about what Canada needs to do in the coming decades to pull its weight in the global push to prevent catastrophic climate change.”
“We’ve seen a real sea change in federal politics on climate, where all the parties now agree something has to be done,” Greenpeace Canada Senior Energy Strategist Keith Stewart told the Star. That means the Trudeau Liberals can expect to be challenged over the next five weeks on their continuing support for the fossil industry, despite their commitment to a 2050 net-zero target.
“They wanted to be able to pretend that we could expand fossil fuel production and get to a zero-carbon economy—and you can’t just do that,” Stewart said. “With no longer having this phoney war over the carbon tax, that’s going to become increasingly obvious.”
Clean Prosperity Executive Director Michael Bernstein agreed it’ll be “a major challenge for the Liberals to convince voters that they’re serious about the file while still defending some of the actions they’ve taken to bring the oil and gas sector along.” After months of high-profile infighting in the federal Green Party, he sees the New Democrats poised to “claim the mantle” of climate leadership during a campaign in which “you’re going to hear a lot about climate”.
Opinion research before and immediately after the election call pointed to climate change as a top-tier issue in voters’ minds, and the last couple of days have solidified that position. The Angus Reed Institute lists environment and climate in first place as the topic voters identify as their top priority, at 22%, an increase from 17% last September, and 38% include it in their top three. “For most voters, climate change is paramount among those who currently say they will support the Liberal Party, NDP or Bloc Québécois,” the polling agency writes, placing in the top three for 60% of likely NDP voters, 55% of Bloc supporters, and 51% of Liberals.
A season of drought and flooding is also shaping up as a potential wedge issue in Manitoba, Global News reports. Probe Research partner Mary Agnes Welch said climate has been “a sort of a sleeper issue” in the province in the past, with voters saying they care about it but basing their election decisions on other concerns.
But this time, “it isn’t just sort of a farm issue that urban residents don’t always experience and understand. It’s also kind of a Winnipeg experience where all of our gardens and our grass and that sort of thing are suffering,” she told Global. “So I think this might be the first time we’re actually like, ‘Oh, wait, is this what it’s going to be like?’”
Environmental Defence Canada was out yesterday with a Guide to a Strong Climate Plan, pointing to a climate emergency that is already on the country’s doorstep. “Canada has the technology, the opportunities, and the people to be a climate leader,” the campaign states. “The gap is political leadership.” EDC is urging supporters to “let candidates know that if they want your vote, they need to be serious about climate action.”
The campaign includes five questions for candidates, focused on:
• A “just and fair phaseout” of fossil fuels;
• An end to fossil fuel subsidies and public financing by 2022;
• A focus on “real solutions to the climate crisis, like energy efficiency and renewables,” rather than carbon capture and storage options that “will lock in more production of oil and gas”;
• Cancelling the Trans Mountain pipeline and refusing to approve new oil and gas projects;
• Holding big polluters accountable by requiring them to cover cleanup costs for the tailings ponds and abandoned wells they’ve left behind.
The Atmospheric Fund published its own set of six climate policy recommendations, aiming to “tackle building and transportation emissions and accelerate a shift to a low-carbon economy.” TAF’s wish list includes:
• Accelerating building retrofits, beginning with at least C$10 billion per year to make them “achievable, affordable, and accessible”;
• Establishing tougher building codes;
• Phasing out natural gas, with a transition for the industry work force;
• Mandating zero-emission vehicles and introducing a robust clean fuel standard;
• Increasing the carbon price to $295 per tonne by 2035;
• Giving the Commissioner of Environment and Sustainable Development a tougher mandate to monitor carbon reductions.
“These actions are necessary to address the climate crisis, create new jobs, improve public health and well-being, and ensure an equitable and just transition to a low-carbon, prosperous economy,” TAF writes.