The debate took place last Thursday. Photo: 100 Debates on the Environment/Facebook
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Candidates talk greenhouse gas pollution, fighting water pollution, and protecting biodiversity

Last Thursday night, the Ottawa-Centre candidates for four of the major political parties of Canada participated in one of the 100 Debates on the Environment taking place across the country.

The attendees included Angela Keller-Herzog for the Green Party, Catherine McKenna for the Liberal Party, Emilie Taman for the NDP, and Carol Clemenhagen for the Conservative Party. The seat for the People’s Party of Canada seat remained vacant on stage. McKenna is the current Minister of Environment and Climate Change. 

Clemenhagen kicked off the debate with her opening statement.  

Clemenhagen said she “shares a sense of urgency that Canadians feel for addressing the threat of climate change, and the critical importance of moving forward to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” 

She framed the Conservative platform as being one that focuses on research and development. 

“We are here as citizens who want to protect the environment and want to make progress to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Keller-Herzog said she did not share her Conservative opponent’s framing of the climate crisis.

“We live in epic times, and this calls for epic solutions,” she said. “In this election, I believe you have a really big choice. Not just a choice between political parties, but also between futures.” 

“I am so happy that climate change is at the top of the agenda for this election,” said McKenna. 

She summarized the Liberal Party’s platform as being one that “share(s) the same goals as the NDP and the Green Party. We are determined to meet these goals in a way that is affordable, that is practical, supports good middle-class jobs, and puts people at the centre of what we do”. 

McKenna also took aim at the Conservative platform, stating that their government would “take us back to the time of Stephen Harper, and that would be unrecoverable”

“I am really concerned about the state of our planet, and what we are leaving behind for our kids,” said Taman. “We need to take on the fossil fuel industry, and stop exempting so many of their emissions from the carbon tax and expanding the infrastructure that fuels their profits.”

Greenhouse gas pollution 

The first question of the debate centred on how Canada will meet its international obligations to reduce greenhouse gas pollution.

“Part of the positive part of last week (the Global Climate Strike on Sept. 27) was a recognition of the great dissonance between what the Liberals say, and what the Liberals do,” said Clemenhagen. 

“I come from a management background: if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it,” she argued, stressing that implementing a proper set of analytical tools would be the way to understand the human element of climate change.

“The Green Party is the only party that meets the science and evidence presented by the IPCC, and the need to keep the average global temperatures rise to 1.6 degrees,” said Keller-Herzog. “We have a target, we have a plan, we have a roadmap. We need much more urgent and energetic action.”

McKenna brought up the current state of affairs in Parliament while defending the highly-contested carbon tax. 

“You need to have a price on pollution,” she said. “Around the world (the carbon tax) is happening, yet we are doing it while sadly fighting Conservative politicians.” 

“We feel it is incredibly important that we follow the science,” Taman said. “The NDP is proposing a bold $15 billion climate change plan that is significant for what it includes, but also for what it doesn’t include.” 

Water pollution and flooding 

In response to the next question on reducing water pollution and flood events, Keller-Herzog said Canadians should move away from building on floodplains.

McKenna echoed her statements.

“Once in 100-year flooding (is now) happening every two years raising the particular issues of at-risk populations,” she said. “We need a new national flood insurance pool to make sure that insurance is affordable for those who are at risk of flooding.” 

Taman raised a specific concern for Ottawa residents, that “we need to be very skeptical about plans for dumping nuclear waste on the shores of the river, up at Chalk River.”

Clemenhagen said long-term results are her priority. She said the Conservatives would introduce a policy platform that would “look at a Canadian wetland inventory, and look at an incentives oriented program to help landowners restore, value, and maintain wetlands.”

Biodiversity and wildlife 

“We have a biodiversity crisis,” McKenna said in response to the next question on how parties will protect natural wildlife in Canada. 

McKenna said the Liberal Party has also exceeded its target on protecting oceans. “When we came in, only one per cent of our oceans were protected, the target was 10 per cent in 4 years. We have hit 14 per cent.”

“We in the NDP are committed to protecting at least 30 per cent of our land, freshwaters, and oceans by 2030,” Taman said. “It is absolutely critical that these measures get backed up by funding and enforcement.” 

“The Conservative plan is to expand the protected area network … with expedited processes to declare areas protected,” Clemenhagen said.

Keller-Herzog took the argument in a different direction. 

“What is really disturbing is the scale that we have organized our economy and our industry, (and how they are) destroying the very foundation on which we stand.”

Toxic substances and environmental impacts

The next question focused on how parties will protect Canadians from both the health and environmental impacts of toxic substances. 

“There is so much rapid technology that is going into the production, that all kinds of substances are sneaking into things that we don’t even know,” Taman said. 

To combat this, Taman said the answer is “enshrining into law the right to a healthy environment through an environmental bill of rights”, and that Canada needs to “put some onus onto producers, in particular, to properly understand what it is that they are selling to consumers.”

“Clearly, science drives risk-assessment of pesticides and toxic substances, so it is important that the science drives the process,” said Clemenhagen.  “We need to make sure government scientists, industry scientists are involved in the process, and we are using the absolute best standards.”

Keller-Herzog brought on one of the few moments in the debate where the animosity of politics was cut in the room. 

“There were actually a few things that Carol said that I (agree with),” Keller-Herzog said, leading to an eruption of laughter from the audience and a handshake between the two candidates. 

“I agree with a lot of what has been said here too, so maybe this is why it’s so awesome having four women on this stage,” McKenna said, drawing a round of applause from the audience. 

Closing statements 

Taman asked the audience to take a moment of self-reflection during her closing remarks. 

“Do we want to live in a country where two billionaires amass as much wealth as 11 million of us combined, while every night in our city people are sleeping on the streets?” she asked. 

”We don’t have to settle for just good enough, or just better than what the Conservatives are offering,” Taman said, adding pragmatic action is not going to deliver the results that we need.

“I’m a realistic optimist, I’m really pleased with all the progress we’ve made,” McKenna said. “Is it perfect? No. We have a practical plan, an ambitious plan to tackle climate change, and we are also able to do things locally.” 

“The youth have a right to expect their elders to ensure a healthy and secure future, and the youth have a right to be angry that this is not happening,” said Keller-Herzog.

“It is pretty evident that the Liberal and Conservative political leadership has been captured by corporate interests in the oil, gas, and financial sectors. This is the only thing that explains the massive failure to act on the climate crisis.” 

Clemenhagen finished off the debate with her closing statement, a scathing assessment of the work of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau. 

“(He) has burned through an extraordinary amount of international goodwill, with absolutely nothing to show for it,” she said. “Today, he is widely seen as a hypocrite.”