A new government, a new hope for a green agenda

As the excitement – or shock – over the landslide win of the Liberal government under Justin Trudeau settles in, everyone is waiting to see whether the party’s promises for “real change” will come true.

What can Canadians, Torontonians and East Enders expect from their environmental agenda?

In Real Change: A new plan for Canada’s environment and economy, Prime Minister Trudeau promises to tap into opportunities meant to not only benefit the environment, but also boost our economy.

During Stephen Harper’s nine years as PM, the Conservative government openly questioned scientific research, cut environmental protection programs, reduced funding for science, prevented scientists from speaking publicly, and refused to take meaningful action on climate change.

That is about to change – or so the Liberals say. Here are some of the promises to improve our environment and economy hand-in-hand.

 

On climate change

The promise: Join with the provinces and territories to take action on climate change.

That sounds lovely; let’s all hold hands and sing Kumbaya. But what does it mean in practical terms?

The Liberal platform outlines plans for a carbon tax (though the word “tax” is referred to as a fee or pricing), to establish national emissions-reduction targets, and a new $2 billion trust to fund projects that reduce carbon emissions.

Surprisingly, Trudeau supports the tar sands industry and construction of pipelines, which will anger most environmentalists. One can only hope he won’t follow in Harper’s footsteps in being so pro-oil that it flies in the face of being pro-environment.

What we need is to phase out subsidies for the fossil fuel industry (as promised), and to partner with the US and Mexico on a North American clean energy and environmental agreement. We also need stricter GHG emission targets. The global goal is to prevent average temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above 1990 levels. According to NASA’s data, we are already close to a 1 degree rise.

 

On science

The promise: Value science and treat scientists with respect and consider scientific analyses to make decisions.

What a novel concept! As one scientist said, it will be nice to have her work recognized again.

Scientific collaboration seems to be the new name of the game. Judging by the long list of “to-do’s” in the PM’s mandate letter, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna has her work cut out for her.

Goals include better protection of fresh water and oceans, preservation and promotion of national parks, and restoring credibility to environmental assessments. The latter will include respecting aboriginal treaties and indigenous peoples’ rights, and consulting these groups on anything affecting their land and access to natural resources.

Personally, I am looking forward to 2017, when Canada celebrates the 150th Anniversary of Confederation and admission to all National Parks will apparently be free.

 

On the economy

The promise: Implement solutions to environmental problems by integrating economic development and job creation with environmental performance.

Millions of dollars’ worth of federal programs and services were cut under Harper’s government. Trudeau plans to reinstate most of them to reopen or add new jobs and opportunities. For example:

  • $50 million per year for the parks system to include managing and expanding national wildlife areas and migratory bird sanctuaries
  • $25 million per year increase in science spending for early identification of ecological threats to National Parks
  • $25 million for parks programs and services and growing eco-tourism
  • $40 million for ocean science and monitoring programs
  • $1.5 million for freshwater research
  • increase from 1.3 to 10 per cent by 2020 the area of protected marine and coastal regions

Renewable energy projects and new technologies will be supported by a ‘Canada green investment bond.’ It is meant to help finance community-level and large-scale renewable energy projects, and make them more viable alongside fossil fuel-based energy sources. The federal government will increase its own use of clean technologies.

 

I like the plans for a moratorium on crude oil tanker traffic along BC’s coast, increasing watershed protection and the prevention of invasive species, as well as infrastructure investments in wastewater treatment technologies. With fresh water being one of our most important natural resources, any initiatives to better understand and manage water levels in the Great Lakes and keep water clean are close to my heart.

The MP for Beaches-East York is Nathaniel Erskine-Smith. He told me regarding environmental action, “We need to meet community concerns on climate change AND our international obligations, so that climate change does not continue on its current path.”

He sees three main areas that need tackling:

(1) Putting a price on carbon through provincial targets;

(2) Phasing out fossil fuels;

(3) Investing in renewable energy.

Erskine-Smith would like to see infrastructure investment and growth in the green economy. He recognized that public transit needs improving, and that infrastructure investment is a top priority in the GTA.

When pushed on how new projects will benefit our local community, Erskine-Smith said federal plans do not target local, individual projects. Instead Canada-wide improvements will, by extension, benefit us in Toronto.

He sees his role as being a strong partner with our municipal government, which then decides on individual projects and programs. He wants to be the voice that supports requests and ideas on specific green energy projects.

“Canada has a reputation of setting targets and missing them. That’s something we need to change,” Erskine-Smith said. “It’s time we don’t just pay lip service – it’s important we act on our promises.”

Now that is what I like to hear.

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