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Climate Impacts, Anxiety Drive Discussion in First Week of Federal Election

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Lytton-Area Tribal Council Criticizes B.C.’s ‘Slow, Chaotic’ Wildfire Response

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A summer of wildfires, heat waves, drought, and climate anxiety continued to take up much of the airtime on the campaign trail as Canada’s federal election campaign entered its second week, with at least four climate and energy hawks declaring as first-time candidates and the CBC issuing a call for input on questions for the leaders’ debates September 8-9.

You can send CBC your policy priorities and pose questions for the debate by clicking here for the survey. (You can also post your input as a comment on this story.)

In parallel with the CBC invitation, four distinguished members of the Order of Canada—Margaret Atwood, Stephen Lewis, Michael Ondaatje, and David Suzuki—wrote to the head of the Leaders Debate Commission, former governor general David Johnston, urging the commission to schedule a climate emergency leadership debate.

“If we fail to act quickly on the climate crisis, then over the course of the coming decades, things get horrific—a world that is unlivable and catastrophic for many, deeply uncomfortable and disruptive for all others, and quite possibly ungovernable,” they wrote. “If this were an election during the Second World War, no one would question the need for a special leaders’ debate on that subject. Today, the need for a designated leaders’ debate on the climate emergency is no different. It is not a luxury or a diversion: it is a necessity.”

In British Columbia, where 248 wildfires of varying sizes and severity were burning as of Sunday afternoon, candidates from all four major parties identified the climate crisis as a major concern on the doorstep, CBC reports. That was after 45% of the province’s voters listed climate and environment as a priority in a recent Angus Reid poll.

“We’ve got the worst record in the G7. We have increased emissions by 20% over 1990 levels,” said Paul Manly, the Green Party incumbent in Nanaimo-Ladysmith. He called for legislation to mandate a 60% emissions reduction by 2030, en route to net-zero by 2050.

“We should be shutting down all the pipelines that are in construction right now and stopping all new fossil fuel infrastructure,” Manly told CBC’s On The Island show. “And we need to regear our economy and start dealing with home energy retrofits, building retrofits across the country, and retooling and reskilling our workers so that we can build the clean energy economy that we need to be able to survive.”

Manly’s Conservative opponent, Tamara Kronis, said her party has a climate plan this time around, asserting that it “really puts control over making change in the hands of ordinary Canadians.” (In May, the International Energy Agency said individual action by regular citizens can address only the smallest proportion of the greenhouse gas emissions driving the climate emergency.)

Nikki Macdonald, the Liberal Party candidate in Victoria, said climate was the top issue she’d heard about at the 2,000 doorsteps she’d visited so far. “People are really looking for a government that’s going to do something on climate change. And the Liberals have already shown that they are,” she told CBC.

The NDP incumbent in Victoria, Laurel Collins, said she’d led negotiations to strengthen the federal climate accountability act before it passed in Parliament. “My focus has been on relentlessly pushing this Liberal government in a minority situation for bold action to protect our environment,” she said.

Earlier last week, with his community facing a wildfire evacuation order, Okanagan Indian Band Chief Byron Louis took the Liberal minority government to task for calling the election when it did. “What are we thinking about? Well, it certainly isn’t about [the] federal election,” he said last Monday. “We’re worried about every other thing and what’s going to happen with [those] fires.”

Municipal leaders from Ashcroft and 100 Mile House, B.C. struck a similar tone.

Elsewhere, Indigenous leaders listed climate action and residential school justice as their top two election priorities. The smell of wildfire smoke across the Okanagan Valley “is the smell of negligence on the part of both the federal and provincial governments,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, with people in his own community and many others at risk of becoming climate refugees.

“We are in that drought situation here in British Columbia as well as Alberta and the Prairies,” he said. “We have lost our crops here, in terms of the cherry harvest, and there are homes burning to the ground that people have invested their life’s work in.”

After then-candidate Justin Trudeau promised to make life better for First Nations during the 2015 federal election, “unfortunately it was long on sizzle and short on substance,” Phillip added. “He said all the right things and made the appropriate promises. However, the government didn’t follow through.”

For his part, Conservative leader Erin O’Toole weighed in in B.C. with a promise to toughen criminal penalties for protesters deemed to have disrupted pipelines, railways, or other infrastructure, The Narwhal writes.

The Insurance Bureau of Canada praised the climate resilience promises in the Liberal Party platform, particularly a new climate adaptation home rating system that would be coupled with building retrofit subsidies. But Memorial University lecturer Lori Lee Oates argued in a CBC opinion piece that the federal parties “cannot be allowed to greenwash their way through another election,” and “Liberals certainly cannot be allowed to continue the current path while claiming to be climate champions.”

The Calgary Herald said millennials disillusioned with the government’s performance may be switching their support to the New Democrats, while journalist Melissa Gismondi cautioned politicians of all stripes not to overlook the deep fears emerging in an era of climate crisis. “When things are so bad and so scary that young people begin to reconsider whether or not to have children, the old rules no longer apply,” she wrote.

And (at least) four policy experts or campaigners from different corners of the climate and energy community have declared first-time candidacies in the federal election. Climate Emergency Unit sectoral organizer Anjali Appadurai is the New Democrats’ candidate in Vancouver-Granville, and anti-pipeline campaigner Lynn Perrin is running for the NDP in Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon, the riding where Lytton, B.C. burned to the ground in a late June wildfire. Climate communications specialist Imre Szeman is running for the Green Party in the B.C. riding of Kelowna-Lake Country, while international affairs advocate Shaughn McArthur is the Greens’ candidate in Pontiac, Quebec.

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