Our continuing coverage of Canada’s federal election September 20 carries the #Elxn44 tag. You can use the search engine on our site to find other stories in the series.
The Energy Mix publisher Mitchell Beer was one of several speakers at 350 Ottawa’s Canada On Fire rally on Parliament Hill September 8. Over the final days of the federal election campaign, he urged climate voters to follow their own advice to the political parties and do what it takes to win.
Here’s a lightly edited version of the speech.
It’s amazing to be back on Parliament Hill for the first time after 18 months of pandemic…a pandemic that showed us what to expect when we combine a climate crisis, a biodiversity crisis, and a crisis of global inequality.
We’re in a year of heat domes. Wildfires. A Prairie drought drawing comparisons to the Dustbowl of the 1930s. A massive hurricane that hit Louisiana and still carried enough wind and rain to kill dozens of people in the northeastern United States. We’re here because we’re watching those impacts. We can read the signs. And we expect every candidate in this election of every political stripe to read them, too.
Last month’s science assessment from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was scary. But it carried a message of hope. It said that if we get on with carbon reductions… especially if we get on with methane reductions…we can still get climate change under control. So much of it depends on whether investors, corporations, and politicians get serious about the climate action we need. On whether they start “treating it like a damned emergency”.
For all of us here today, there are two takeaways from the IPCC report: First, that the last chapters of the climate story haven’t been written yet, and we’re here today to help write them. And second, that with the election 12 days away, success means electing the candidates who are closest to the emergency action we need, even if none of the parties—not one of them—is offering everything we want.
The emergency framing comes from Seth Klein’s fantastic book last year, A Good War: Mobilizing Canada for the Climate Emergency. Seth’s Climate Emergency Unit has laid out five markers (four of them in this video) for what we need our governments to do:
• They do what it takes to win;
• They create new economic institutions to get the job done;
• They shift from voluntary measures to mandatory policies;
• They tell the truth about the severity of the crisis and the measures we need to combat it;
• And they tackle the climate emergency and the inequality crisis together.
If you scan through the party platforms, you’ll see that none of them are ideal, but some of them are a lot worse than the others. I’m not here to tell you which party to vote for, or which one to campaign for. But you can throw your support to who’ve gone into politics because they want to work on the climate emergency…veteran climate hawks like Steven Guilbeault in Montreal, or Anjali Appadurai and Avi Lewis in British Columbia. Leadnow is organizing phone banks to support climate champions from three parties, and they could use your help.
And you can draw your own red line around the policies you don’t want to see. If Erin O’Toole wants to reopen the fight over the Northern Gateway pipeline and criminalize people who object, that’s not okay. If he wants to roll back Canada’s emissions reduction target from 45 to 30%, that’s really not okay…it would blow up the bedrock principle that the Paris Agreement is about continuous improvement, and vapourize the influence O’Toole says he wants to push other countries to do better.
So how do you make a difference in the next 12 days?
• You can view the Climate Emergency Unit video.
• Sign up for the Leadnow phone bank.
• Then listen to what the parties are saying, and if you like what you hear, get set to hold them to it.
That last point is important, because it points to any election as a springboard to the campaigning and advocacy that begin the morning after the votes are counted. I keep hearing that campaign promises are meaningless because politicians never keep them. But we can still campaign and vote for the parties that make those promises, knowing full well that we’ll only get the action we need if we keep fighting for it between elections.
Canada’s climate accountability act, Bill C-12, is a perfect example. The original version was a landmark, the first climate accountability bill the country had seen in many years, and it was pretty limited. A minority parliament set the stage for meaningful amendments. Climate organizations fought like hell. The climate accountability act is a lot stronger as a result, and now we have a federal party promising a cap on fossil fuel emissions and declining five-year targets beginning in 2025. Some people are saying it’s the end of fossil fuel expansion in Canada.
The accountability act wasn’t a clean win. It never is in politics…and that imperfect process is exactly what we all signed on for when we decided to engage politically.
But if we don’t want to get dragged backwards, in the decade when we need massively fast progress forward, we have to follow our own advice and do what it takes to win. That means supporting the strongest climate hawk in your nearest winnable riding, even if they aren’t running for your favourite party. Taking the win if a party you don’t trust is offering a platform you like…even knowing that you’ll have to fight like hell all over again to get them to keep the promise.
There’s one more important aspect to the way we have to show up in this campaign. You’ve seen the news reports of anti-vaccine agitators disrupting the Liberal leader’s appearances…hurling vile threats and accusations in his direction. Their rage is driven by misogyny, racism, homophobia, hate, paranoid conspiracy theories. Look no farther than the Capitol Hill riot in Washington, DC to know that their kind of chaos also drives climate chaos.
You don’t have to like any particular politician or party to want a public debate that is tough on policy and results, but gentle on people. Our community has to demand it, and we have to model it. We can argue forcefully for emergency climate action in a way that builds civil conversation, rather than tearing it down. That errs on the side of having too many friends and not enough enemies. Without that conversation, we won’t be able to make our case, either.
So. Over the next 12 days, we have our work cut out for us. But take a moment to recognize that this is our time. We’re building momentum. We are gaining ground—not fast enough, not yet, but we’re getting there. We have a chance to shape the direction of our country’s politics at a crucial moment for climate action. So let’s get this done.