Stéphane Dion has already made national headlines for his fearless stance on climate change.
He was instrumental to extending the Kyoto Protocol beyond 2012 as Canada's environment minister 11 years ago and, after being appointed the Foreign Affairs Minister in October last year, called climate change the "worst threat we are facing in this century."
It was a bold statement unlike anything heard under the previous Harper government, but the former Liberal leader has never been one to shy away from frightening truths. If climate change is the worst threat the world faces in the 21st century, he said last Friday, tackling fresh water access and ocean collapse will be its greatest challenge.
“Man-made climate change will make it worse and it will affect the most vulnerable, especially women," he told participants in a democracy town hall in West Vancouver, B.C. last week.
"If we lose the ability to have freshwater available for people, there’s no way you will have education or stability... If most people are in stress water situations, it will be a terrible challenge for the world."
And the world is already experiencing some of the impacts of climate change-related resource scarcity, he explained, using the conflict in Syria as a primary example. While resource shortage didn't cause the civil war, he said tension and competition arising from drought and food shortages created conditions that made conflict escalation more likely.
He cited a 2010 report from the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, which found that droughts between 2006 and 2011 left nearly 75 per cent of Syrians most dependent on agriculture with "total crop failure," while herders in the country's northeast lost around 85 per cent of their livestock, affecting 1.3 million people.
“It’s what happened in Egypt, it’s what happened in Libya," said Dion. "We need defend the right of everybody to a sufficient supply of clean and safe drinking water, to adequate sanitation."
Climate change the responsibility of all ministries
Canada will have a significant role to play in securing such a future, the minister continued, as it strives to close the gap between the climate commitments scientists deem necessary and the climate commitments it has committed to. Every department of the government must be green, he explained, from the finance ministry to the ministry of infrastructure.
“What I think we need to do is change the paradigm of governmental policy," he said. "Madame Catherine McKenna is a great minister of the environment, but she can’t do it alone."
The federal government has already made massive improvements from his time as environment minister, he added, when climate change was still considered a "niche" concern of social politics, and decisions have been made that would not have been possible under the previous Conservative government.
But sitting in a roomful of oilsands expansion opponents, Dion made another very bold statement: "You don't stop climate change by stopping a pipeline," he told audience members seeking his intervention in the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain expansion review process.
"What we need to develop is the ability to have economic growth that will be sustainable instead of self-destructive," he explained. "But I’m not the kind of politician that will say we need to kill the growth. We need to improve the standard of living for people, but in a way that will protect the next generations as well."
He called for Canadians to support Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna in developing a national carbon-pricing regime and be patient as the government works with countries that have questionable human rights records and democracies in order to tackle a global threat.