Climate action will be this election’s ballot question


By Sarah Van Exan, August 19, 2021 - Op Ed in the Hill Times


As we look at how we are going to recover from the COVID-19 crisis, we need to put environmental action front and centre to ensure we build back better. If we do, this election could be just the turning point we need.


The oilsands, pictured in Fort McMurray, Alta. There is still time to prevent the worst of climate catastrophes—if we act urgently. That’s why when the smoke clears after the federal election, Canada needs a government that is fully committed to addressing our red-hot climate crisis. Readiness to engage in transformational change to cut emissions and build a clean economy must be the litmus test for all candidates this election, writes Sarah Van Exan. The Hill Times file photograph by Jake Wright.

This federal election is not a debate about the climate crisis. That debate is over. Just look at Western Canada’s record-shattering temperatures of almost 50 degrees or the huge swaths of forests burnt to a crisp this summer. If that’s not proof enough, there’s the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, which issued “a code red for humanity."


There is still time to prevent the worst of climate catastrophes—if we act urgently. That’s why when the smoke clears after the federal election, Canada needs a government that is fully committed to addressing our red-hot climate crisis. Readiness to engage in transformational change to cut emissions and build a clean economy must be the litmus test for all candidates this election.


At a time when Northern Canada is warming at three times the average global rate, ours is the only G7 country to record an increase in greenhouse gas emissions since the signing of the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015. Canada has a long history of setting and missing climate targets. It’s time to end that shameful legacy.


Recent polls show Canadians rank climate change among their top concerns heading into this election. On the campaign trail, any serious candidate should be prepared to describe in detail their actionable policies for cutting emissions and doing our fair share to keep warming below the dangerous threshold of a 1.5 C rise in temperature. Every fraction of a degree will save lives.


Transforming our economy to one powered by low-carbon sources won’t be easy. That’s why we need candidates up to the challenge and ready to institute a broad range of actions to move Canada away from fossil fuels as quickly as possible, and to do so in a way that is fair and just for workers and communities. We need an “all-hands-on-deck” response to prevent the worst impacts of an unravelling climate.


Fortunately, we know what we need to do and we know there are significant benefits from doing the right thing: new jobs, healthier communities, new economic opportunities, less environmental destruction. This election is not a debate on whether good environmental policy is good economic policy. That debate is over too. Study after study shows we don’t need to choose between a healthy environment and a healthy economy. They go hand in hand.


This election, Canadians will ask candidates how they plan to prioritize the environment in a post-pandemic economy recovery plan: how will they protect natural areas, like forests, wetlands and grasslands, that are huge carbon storehouses? How will their policies ensure that no workers or communities are left behind in the energy transition? How will they harness renewable energy opportunities, from solar panels and energy storage to scaling up electric vehicles, to address critical issues like inequality and reconciliation. How will the energy transition reflect recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission?


To create space for these important questions, GreenPAC is organizing 100 Debates on the Environment, where candidates are invited to speak at the local level about their climate policies and share how their plans get us closer to a climate-safe future. In a snap election, every event candidates participate in will speak volumes for their party’s—and their personal—priorities. Not showing up says a lot too. And Canadians will notice who participates in 100 Debates for the Environment—and who doesn’t.


We encourage all candidates who receive an invitation to our debates to answer the call—show up for your potential constituents and show up for these issues that Canadians care so deeply about and that will impact our economy, our jobs, our communities, and our children’s future.


We’ve just come through a year where we saw how collective action and listening to science can make a massive impact in people’s lives. We also saw the risks to communities when science is ignored and governments take a me-first approach. As we look at how we are going to recover from the COVID-19 crisis, we need to put environmental action front and centre to ensure we build back better. If we do, this election could be just the turning point we need.


Sarah Van Exan is the executive director of GreenPAC, Canada’s non-partisan organization to build environmental leadership in politics.


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