When Canadians voted in the federal election, they weren’t just selecting the next government. They were also voicing their insistence that urgent action is needed to curb the climate crisis, activists say.
Not only did the majority of Canadians vote for parties with relatively substantial climate change platforms, they also took to the streets in the hundreds of thousands at climate protests before and after the election, said Tim Gray, executive director of Environmental Defence.
“I think people have finally recognized the science is overwhelming, the evidence in their day-to-day life that climate change and the negative impacts are real, and the future risk to them and their kids is real,” Gray said.
A total of 11 million ballots were cast for the Liberals, NDP, Bloc Québécois and Greens, comprising more than 63 per cent of the popular vote.
Watch: Where the parties stand on climate change. Story continues below.
The NDP, Bloc and Greens support a higher carbon tax, suggesting many Canadians want bolder pricing, said Angela Carter, an associate professor of political science at the University of Waterloo. These parties also all campaigned on eliminating fossil fuel subsidies, and each said they’d immediately introduce a precise climate plan to reduce emissions and limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
The Conservatives, whose vague, buzzword-filled platform was widely criticized as one that would lead to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions, gained 34 per cent of the votes, or the support of six million Canadians.
These results demonstrate climate change can no longer be ignored or sidestepped by political parties, Carter said. “If a party isn’t serious about the climate crisis, it is not considered legitimate by voters.”
But the struggle for aggressive action is by no means over, said Alison McIntosh, an organizer with Climate Justice Edmonton.
Conservative parties in Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario have won recent provincial elections while opposing federal climate change policies, like the carbon tax, demonstrating that in these situations Canadians “are not voting with the climate in mind,” McIntosh said.
She said the next four years will be crucial in shaping Canada’s approach to the climate crisis, and whether the Liberals will continue to lag behind or put the country on track.
“Climate action is going to need to be ambitious, but it’s also necessary,” said McIntosh. “If people are voting with the environment in mind that needs to be clear and not just on voting day.”
Makasa Looking Horse was hoping the NDP would win the federal election.
They appear to be the party that best respects Indigenous rights and understands the need for urgent climate change action, said the 22-year-old McMaster University student, an environmental protector, who performed the opening ceremony at the UN Youth Climate Summit in New York City in September.
But the newly formed Liberal minority, in part held to account by the NDP, is the second-best option, Looking Horse said.
She lives at Six Nations of the Grand River, a large reserve near Hamilton, Ont. where as of 2018 only nine per cent of residents had access to safe, treated potable water, according to Chief Ava Hill.
When asked how climate change and environmental degradation have impacted her life, Looking Horse points to issues across the country, from the mercury poisoning in Grassy Narrows First Nation, Ont. to the damaging contaminants accumulating in the Arctic that Inuit babies are exposed to while still in the womb.
She’s concerned about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s promise to expand the Trans Mountain pipeline and oilsands, which are destroying Indigenous communities and traditional ways of life in Alberta and B.C.
“I can’t sit back and watch all these terrible things happening,” Looking Horse said. “I have to take action and fight for our water and our land.”
Looking Horse is trusting that NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh will follow through with his $1.8 billion pledge to bring clean water to Indigenous communities, oppose the Trans Mountain expansion and hold the Liberals to account for environmental justice.
Following the election, Singh told reporters his party “understands the responsibility” given to them in a minority government, and that they would “continue to make sure government does not work for the powerful corporations at the very top, but works for people.”
Looking Horse wants Indigenous people to be informing climate change policy, drawing from thousands of years of knowledge about the land and how to live sustainably.
“We should be at the forefront and they (the federal government) should know how to be a good ally and support us 100 per cent,” Looking Horse said.
Trudeau remains committed to the Trans Mountain expansion project.
In a news conference following the election, Trudeau recognized that “Canadians sent a clear message that they want their parliamentarians to work on things like affordability and the fight against climate change.” But he also said he wants the Trans Mountain done “as quickly as possible,” partly as a way to win over an increasingly frustrated West.
Watch: Premier Kenney ‘concerned’ for future of TMX Pipeline following election. Story continues after the video.
“The decisions that we took over the past years have been focused on the best interests of the entire country, including the initiative that saw us purchasing the Trans Mountain pipeline as a way of ensuring that we would be able to get Alberta and Saskatchewan oil resources to markets other than the United States,” the prime minister said last Wednesday.
Finance Minister Bill Morneau told the Canadian Press the federal government expects to get $500 million a year in revenue from the project to be used for Canada’s transition to a clean energy economy.
Unfortunately, this strategy doesn’t make sense if Canada wants to be serious about meeting its emission reduction targets, said Martin Lukacs, journalist and author of The Trudeau Formula.
“It’s like someone saying they’re going to chain smoke cigarettes to quit addiction — they’re incompatible,” Lukacs said. “They’re twisting themselves into pretzels to pass off a piece of infrastructure that climate change scientists say cannot be built anymore, and then try to pass it off as bravery.”
However, it’s not surprising to him that the Liberals are sticking to the Trans Mountain. Lukacs said the Liberals’ energy and extraction policies typically don’t differentiate significantly from the Conservative party, which strongly supports more investment in the oil and gas sector.
The Liberals also want to gain Conservative support in the House of Commons, and that of the fossil fuel industry, he said.
“I don’t think Canadians appreciate how comfortable the Liberals are swapping in and out of power with the Tories,” Lukacs said.
The Liberal strategy could change if Canadians continue to protest for more climate action.
“It’s going to be hard for the Liberals to constantly lean on the Tories because it will torch their progressive brand. I think eventually the Bloc Quebecois, NDP and Greens will be able to extract concessions,” said Lukacs.
“But ultimately the pipeline is not going to be built because of the NDP, but because the resistance in B.C. is so strong.”