Opinion: Three things to know about climate and the Canadian election

Wildfires in British Columbia, last month. Photo credit: Province of British Columbia via Flickr.

By Cam Fenton

Last week marked the official start of the longest election campaign in Canada since 1926. For 78 days from now until October 19th, the contest to be the next Prime Minister of Canada will, for better or worse, dominate the national conversation.
The campaign is starting after spring droughts made way for one of the worst wildfire seasons in recent history. Fires are so widespread and numerous that even Stephen Harper was forced to admit that there may be a connection to climate change. At the same time, 2015 is on track to break temperature records around globe, such as temperatures reaching over 70ºC recently in the Middle East.
By any measure, it’s been a long and hot summer and with an electoral campaign kicking off,  here are three things that anyone concerned about climate change needs to keep in mind:

1. Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party are the undisputed worst actors on climate.

The impacts of a decade of Stephen Harper on local and global climate policy can’t be understated. Harper has blocked global progress on climate change and earned Canada one of the worst reputations on climate change of any nation. At home in Canada he’s been even worse. Harper has gutted Canada’s environmental regulatory regime and squarely placed the interests of big polluters ahead of people and the planet. The simple truth is that the planet cannot handle another four years of Harper.

2. Neither the Liberals or NDP have a clear plan that would keep temperature rise below two degrees.

Unfortunately, while Harper is the undisputed champion of climate in-action, none of Canada’s opposition parties are presenting the kind of ambitious platform that we need to see. Both have made some impressive commitments – the NDP’s commitment to redirect $1 billion in fossil fuel subsidies to renewables for one and the Liberal’s commitment to put the “teeth” back in environmental reviews as another. While they’ve made paper promises to meet Canada’s global climate commitments, both parties refuse to commit to freeze the expansion of Canada’s tar sands, considered the necessary step to keeping temperature rise below 2ºC. Even the Green Party, notably the only party opposed to all tar sands pipelines, have yet to present a clear strategy to freeze tar sands expansion and transition Canada to a just, clean energy economy.
While Harper is the biggest laggard by far, we can’t afford to let his opponents off the hook either.

3. What happens after the election could be the most important moment for the climate movement.

After the election there will be less than 50 days until the start of the United Nations climate negotiations in Paris. While the prospects of an ambitious global agreement at the negotiations is slim, they are still an important milestone, especially so if Canada has a new Prime Minister.

After nearly a decade of Stephen Harper and his ministers undermining and obfuscating climate action at home and abroad, these 50 days could be a chance for a dramatic change in Canada’s approach to climate. They could also be a chance for politicians to blow hot air about climate without doing anything to really tackle the root causes, or worse to sell a bill of false solutions and claim a victory for the planet. As much as the planet can’t afford another four years of Harper, we can’t afford to give anyone else a free ride. This year tens of thousands of people across Canada have taken to the streets from Quebec City to Toronto and all across the country. No matter what happens in 78 days, we need to push politicians, build power and be ready to hit the ground running to take bold action once the polls close.

Also published at 350.org
Cam Fenton is a tar sands organizer at 350.org.
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