Liberals’ climate change-up plan

Environment minister Catherine McKenna called out for mixed messages on fossil fuels at Brickworks town hall



On a balmy Friday night, June 17, the atrium at the Brickworks is jammed packed with more than 250 people who’ve come to this town hall – one of dozens being held across the country by the Trudeau government to help develop a federal climate action plan due this fall. It’s all very democratic. But are policy makers really listening or is this a good game of green optics to help the feds build their climate cred and pipelines, too? 

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, joined by three Toronto Liberal MPs and Ontario Environment and Climate Change Minister Glen Murray, tells the crowd the consultations to hear climate solutions from Canadians are playing to packed halls from coast to coast to coast. The audience, a mix of students, seniors, concerned citizens and activists, has plenty of ideas for a renewable economy, greener transit, a “just transition” for workers, a carbon tax and more. All thoughts are being logged and sent to Environment and Climate Change Canada, we’re told. 

But much to the crowd’s dismay, the minister won’t be taking questions. The ones being tossed around room aren’t the kind the Trudeau government seems keen on answering anytime soon. You know, like, how can we really meet our emissions reduction target (even Harper’s old one), while expanding the tar sands? The graph McKenna has up on the screen clearly shows Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions are still heading in the wrong direction.

“We need an answer to that,” says one woman. 

A new study by Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives says that if oil sands production grows at the 100 megatonnes per year allowed under Alberta’s plan and five LNG export terminals are built as proposed by the BC government, the rest of the Canadian economy will have to shrink by 55 per cent below 2014 levels to meet our Paris targets. “Short of an economic collapse, it is difficult to see how Canada can realistically meet its Paris commitments in the 14 years remaining without rethinking its plans for oil and gas development,” says David Hughes, author of the CCPA’s study. Hughes says new pipelines are not needed if the feds are serious about meeting climate commitments.

A coalition of environment and social justice groups behind the People’s Climate Plan, among them, 350.org, Idle No More, Council of Canadians, LeadNow, the United Church of Canada and dozens of others, have been encouraging Canadians to attend town halls to advocate for a renewables-centred, justice-based national climate action plan that keeps fossil fuel reserves “in the ground.” 

McKenna skirts the fossil fuels issue but dives right into talking about the impacts of climate change on Canada’s Indigenous peoples. She’s clearly passionate. “We need to recognize that they are fully engaged in this discussion [and] coming up with solutions with us,” says McKenna. 

However, a woman from the audience interjects, shouting a sentiment echoed throughout the evening: consulting Indigenous groups about climate action is one thing, letting them say no to pipelines and resource extraction projects on traditional lands is, well, in the United Nations Declaration on Indigenous Rights Canada (UNDRIP) endorsed by the Trudeau government last month.

With that in mind, Quebec and Labrador’s Assembly of First Nations formally declared its opposition to Trans Canada’s 4,500 km Energy East pipeline June 15.

The Assembly joins a growing chorus of Indigenous leaders and supporters calling on Canada to respect UNDRIP’s protection of the right to free, prior and informed consent on projects on their lands. Native leaders from New Brunswick were at the UN last month making it clear that should mean veto power for those whose lands Energy East and other projects cross. 

Back at the town hall, Toronto 350.org’s Katie Krelove says meeting our UNDRIP and Paris commitments go hand in hand. “Science tells us that in order to not even meet a 1.5 degree target, but a 2 degree target, 85 per cent of fossil fuels currently owned by fossil fuel companies need to stay in the ground.” The crowd roars its approval.

Before she ducks out, McKenna’s assures the audience her government isn’t all “talk, talk, and consult,” pointing to their first budget (“the greenest ever”) and March’s first ministers meeting where provincial premiers finally agreed to carbon pricing (of some sort). All the evening’s talking will, McKenna insists, help shape federal plans. 

“Go to the website. Please put your solutions up there,” she says. “It’s so important that people be engaged. We’re not going to be able to make the tough decisions unless people like you across the country are pushing people like me, the politicians, to be ambitious in how we tackle climate change.”

ecoholic@nowtoronto.com | @ecoholicnation

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