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Environment

We Asked Candidates in Climate-Exposed Ridings for Their Emergency Plans

Tory campaign in riding at risk of devastating wildfires declines: 'Time between now and the election is very limited.'

Geoff Dembicki 3 Oct 2019 | TheTyee.ca

Geoff Dembicki reports for The Tyee. His work also appears in Vice, Foreign Policy and the New York Times.

The hundreds of thousands of Canadians who marched in the Global Climate Strikes — including over 100,000 in Vancouver — have a simple demand for candidates competing to win election on Oct. 21: acknowledge that we are in a climate emergency and provide a concrete plan for getting us out of it.

Polls suggest that a majority of Canadians view this as a top election issue. And when we asked readers of The Tyee to identify election questions that they want doggedly pursued, this was the number one pick: “Do you agree Canada should be on an emergency footing regarding climate change, and if so what actions will your party take?”

Close behind was this: “How do we transition to a green economy without causing mass unemployment and upheaval?”

So a week ago, we asked those questions where it might matter most, in four ridings across the country that are already facing dire impacts from global heating and could be transformed beyond recognition over the coming decades. They include Richmond-Centre, B.C.; Prince Albert, Sask.; Sackville—Preston—Chezzetcook, N.S.; and Nunavut. Last Thursday, The Tyee asked more than a dozen candidates competing in those ridings for their climate emergency plans. We sent them a reminder on Monday. (Two Green candidates didn’t make the list: Kerri Wall in Prince Albert and Douglas Roy in Nunavut, as their websites lacked contact info, and in Roy’s case even a photo or bio.)

The results were not all that heartening. Only four candidates — two each from the Greens and NDP — provided in-depth responses. Despite multiple requests, no Liberals responded at all. And the one Conservative campaign that replied, that of Prince Albert incumbent Randy Hoback, declined to give a plan, instead directing The Tyee to Tory leader Andrew Scheer’s climate platform, which contains no targets and might actually increase Canada’s emissions.

“Mr. Hoback’s time between now and the election is very limited and will be focused on constituents and local media outlets,” wrote a spokesperson, despite climate change increasing the danger of Prince Albert and much of northern Saskatchewan going up in flames.

Below is a list of who did, and didn’t, reply — as well as ideas for avoiding catastrophe.

1) Richmond-Centre

Climate exposure:

Could be underwater by 2100 unless governments spend billions of dollars on flood defences.

Candidates who didn’t share emergency plans with The Tyee:

Steven Kou, Liberals; Alice Wong, Conservatives; Dustin Innes, NDP

Candidates who responded to Tyee reader questions:

Françoise Raunet, Greens

How is climate change affecting your riding right now?

Richmond-Centre, like all the ridings in the Lower Mainland, is already starting to feel some of the effects of climate change, like smoke from wildfires, longer and more intense droughts, depleted salmon stocks and damage to critical shoreline ecosystems. This results in increased demand on urban infrastructure (i.e. drainage and sewage systems), exposes citizens to an increased risk of respiratory ailments and other health concerns [and] causes water rationing and infrastructure damage due to extreme weather. We’ve even seen a wildfire on federally owned land right next to downtown.

Do you agree Canada should be on an emergency footing regarding climate change, and if so what actions will your party take?

Absolutely! The Green party plans to:

How do we transition to a green economy without causing mass unemployment and upheaval?

There are more jobs to be had in the new renewable economy than the old 20th-century one based on the extraction of fossil fuels. The Green party plan includes massive investment in skills training and upgrading, including free tuition. Three is no reason why we can’t find meaningful work for everyone once we start re-localizing our economy. Imagine: jobs at the local renewable power plant, jobs building and retrofitting infrastructure, in public transportation, local farming and food production, reforestation, ecosystem protection and rehabilitation, the possibilities are endless. But importantly, the Green plan also includes Guaranteed Liveable Income to help lift everyone to the minimum amount necessary for food and shelter.

2) Prince Albert

Climate exposure: Rising temperatures and drier conditions increase the risk of massive wildfires that could burn cities like Prince Albert to the ground.

Candidates who didn’t share emergency plans with The Tyee: Randy Hoback, Conservatives; Harmony Johnson-Harder, NDP

Candidates who responded to Tyee reader questions: Estelle Hjertaas, Liberals*

How is climate change affecting your riding right now?

Do you agree Canada should be on an emergency footing regarding climate change, and if so what actions will your party take?

Yes. Climate change is an urgent threat that must be acted on now. We cannot afford to sit and hope that other countries will solve the problem as the Conservatives suggest.

We have committed to net zero emissions by 2050, with legally binding 5-year milestones. We will:

We will also help adaptation to the reality of climate change by:

How do we transition to a green economy without causing mass unemployment and upheaval?

This is a very complex question but the short answer includes the following points:

960px version of PrinceAlbertWildfire.jpg
The 2018 wildfire in Prince Albert National Park, near Prince Albert, Sask. The Prince Albert riding is extremely susceptible to wildfires. However, no candidates running for it answered The Tyee’s question about their party's plans to address the climate emergency that will exacerbate wildfire risk. Photo via Parks Canada.

3) Sackville—Preston—Chezzetcook

Climate exposure: Sea levels along this coastal riding are expected to rise close to one metre by the end of the century, while nearby Halifax could face 50-year floods every two years.

Candidates who didn’t share emergency plans with The Tyee: Darrell Samson, Liberals; Kevin Copley, Conservatives

851px version of WestChezzetcook.jpg
Rising sea levels are a major threat to people who live in the riding of Sackville—Preston—Chezzetcook. Photo by Cherry1000, Creative Commons license CC BY-SA 3.0.

Candidates who responded to Tyee reader questions:

Matt Stickland, NDP

How is climate change affecting your riding right now?

The Sackville-Preston-Chezzetcook is home to suburban, rural and coastal communities. These communities heavily rely on the infrastructure that connects the communities together, and to the urban centre that is Halifax.

The issue of climate change affects the residents of these communities in a number of ways, from dry seasons wreaking havoc on agricultural harvests to changes in water temperatures affecting the fisheries industries to property disappearing due to out-of-control erosion. However, one of the most drastic impacts to our community is the growing threat of storm surges during hurricanes, coupled with rising sea waters. We have experienced a number of critical arteries within rural, coastal communities in our riding, as well as elsewhere in the province of Nova Scotia, [be] completely washed away due to frequent storm surges. Where once, 10 years ago, the ocean water would not come near the road, we now must plan an escape route before storms hit to ensure access to food, shelter and emergency services. This new fact of life in our riding, and in our province, is life threatening — yet completely and totally at the fault of exploiting our land and natural resources.

Do you agree Canada should be on an emergency footing regarding climate change, and if so what actions will your party take?

Absolutely. We are committed to ensuring that our government takes climate change seriously. This is why we have put forward a motion and will continue the pressure to declare a climate emergency. We want to ensure that we prioritize reconciliation with Indigenous nations, as well as invest in a respectful, efficient transition that leaves no workers or communities behind. Additionally, we wish to increase the ambition of the 2030 greenhouse gas reduction targets to avoid a more than 1.5 C rise in global warming, as recommended by the IPCC report; include robust rules for implementing the Paris Agreement; prescribe transparency and accountability mechanisms to address climate change; immediately eliminate all federal fossil fuel subsidies, including through Export Development Canada funding; and integrate human health into Canada’s climate commitments.

How do we transition to a green economy without causing mass unemployment and upheaval?

Our climate action plan will spend $1.5 billion over four years to support workers, industries, research and innovation. We also propose to spend $3.5 billion to spur the transition to renewable energy, in addition to funds leveraged through the Canadian Climate Bank. Our strategy will help to advance Canadian innovation and the application of clean tech solutions to secure our industry’s competitiveness, and to market Canadian industry internationally as leaders in the green technology field. We’ll harness the power of Canadian research and development to establish targeted centres of excellence, building on innovations to support the transition to a low carbon economy. Our plan will also expand support and technological assistance to bring more innovative Canadian clean technologies to market through Sustainable Development Technology Canada — creating jobs today and setting Canada up to succeed in the future.

Anthony Edmonds, Greens

How is climate change affecting your riding right now?

The effects of climate change are complex and varied, and specific local events are not necessarily reflective of global changes. Still, there is evidence that the effects of climate change will include more frequent extreme weather events like Hurricane Dorian, which inflicted substantial damage in Nova Scotia. Milder winter temperatures over recent years have also meant that lakes and ponds do not stay frozen as consistently throughout the cold season. Milder temperatures have also facilitated the northward propagation of species such as blacklegged ticks, which are a vector for Lyme disease.

Do you agree Canada should be on an emergency footing regarding climate change, and if so what actions will your party take?

Canada absolutely must be on an emergency footing. My party has proposed forming an emergency climate cabinet with all-party representation to unite Canadians in addressing the climate emergency head-on. The participation of Canadians of all political affiliations, from all segments of society, will provide the necessary mandate [to] transform the Canadian economy for a sustainable future.

How do we transition to a green economy without causing mass unemployment and upheaval?

Workers in fossil fuel industries are at risk of becoming some of the most acute victims of short-sighted energy policies. A just transition to a green economy must include opportunities for these workers to be successful in emerging industries. My party’s plan for a just transition includes measures such as income protection, jobs guarantees, retraining and resettlement for workers in fossil fuel industries. These will be modelled on the recommendations of the Task Force on Just Transition for Canadian Coal Power Workers and Communities, which we would implement in full for workers in all fossil fuel industries.

4) Nunavut

Climate exposure: Canada’s northern regions are warming three times as fast as the rest of the world, resulting in permafrost and sea-ice melting that’s threatening Inuit peoples.

Candidates who didn’t share emergency plans with The Tyee: Megan Pizzo-Lyall, Liberals; Leona Aglukkaq, Conservatives

851px version of QikiqtarjuaqNunavut.jpg
View of the community of Qikiqtarjuaq in Nunavut. Climate change is ‘dramatically’ affecting the riding, says NDP candidate Mumilaaq Qaqqaq. Photo via Shutterstock.

Candidates who responded to Tyee reader questions:

Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, NDP

How is climate change affecting your riding right now?

In Nunavut we are seeing climate change affecting us drastically. Inuit are approximately 85 per cent of this riding’s population. Our hunting seasons have changed with season lengths becoming longer. This result leads to insects being able to feed off land animals for longer periods of time. We see new insects in our territory, and animals are coming closer to communities causing concerns around safety. Predators, like polar bears, are coming very close or into communities in search of food. Our traditional food sources are threatened.

There are changes in ice conditions, permafrost and precipitation. We have seen glaciers disappear, and snow that used to be on the ground all year round in some areas melts in the warmer months. Unpredictable ice conditions are an enormous concern to the safety of hunters. Climate change is not just a threat to Nunavummiut but to all of our ecosystems in the north.

Do you agree Canada should be on an emergency footing regarding climate change, and if so what actions will your party take?

Canada needs to take on an emergency footing regarding climate change. The NDP will uphold Indigenous knowledge as Indigenous peoples have an intimate connection to our homelands and the resources it carries. Inuit in Nunavut will have a seat at high-level decision-making tables. An expansion to the Indigenous Guardians Program will be made; we are at the frontline of the direct impacts of climate change. We will invest in Indigenous-led science and support and work jointly with Indigenous leadership and communities. In this partnership, we will co-ordinate an action plan to respond to climate change emergencies. NDP will ensure species recovery efforts respect Indigenous rights and embrace traditional knowledge. Existing infrastructure will be improved, new infrastructure will be developed, and we will support response efforts to keep people safe. Through partnership jobs will be created, employment training will be provided, and infrastructure investments will flow from federal efforts to address climate change.

How do we transition to a green economy without causing mass unemployment and upheaval?

The global climate is changing, and Canadian jobs will change too. We can do better. New Democrats believe that any climate change plan that leaves Canadian workers or regions behind is no plan at all. Our plan will create over 300,000 good jobs in all communities within a first mandate, and rebuild local economies with meaningful, family-sustaining work in every part of the country, all while helping to make the changes we need to succeed in a low-carbon future.

New Democrats are making a commitment to workers most impacted by the changes in our economy. We will work together with labour, employers, and the provinces and territories to find solutions for workers and communities, including dedicated employment support that combines access to expanded EI benefits, retraining and job placement services, paired with significant investments to create quality local jobs and support thriving communities.

We will also expand support and technological assistance to bring more innovative Canadian clean technologies to market and support manufacturing right here at home. New Democrats will also vigorously defend pensions, so that workers can always count on the retirement security that they’ve earned, and make sure that people who are close to the end of their careers have a bridge to a dignified retirement. An important part of our plan will include making sure that physical, digital and social infrastructure investments contribute to emissions reductions and support all regions and communities, especially those already experiencing the impacts of climate change with the good, family-sustaining jobs they bring.

*Story updated at 8:30 a.m. on Oct. 15. to include the response of Estelle Hjertaas, the Liberal candidate for Prince Albert.  [Tyee]

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