Steven Guilbeault hasn't forgotten what life was like for environmentalists when former prime minister Stephen Harper was in power.

“I had front row seats during the 10 years of the Harper government," Guilbeault, 49, said Friday.

He said he watched as Harper destroyed federal policies on climate change, renewable energy and energy efficiency.

At the same time, the former Harper government made inflammatory statements that described conservation groups as "radicals" who were trying to shut down the Canadian economy. The former government also funded new Canada Revenue Agency audits to investigate Guilbeault's former organization, Équiterre, and other environmental organizations.

But Guilbeault said all of that changed when the Liberals formed a government and started to develop a national strategy to fight climate change and start a transition to a low-carbon economy.

"Myself and many of my colleagues were labelled terrorists by the Harper government because we disagreed with them on their policies,” he said. “And if Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives win the next election, then everything we’ve gained over the past four years is gone.”

The former Greenpeace activist, who once made headlines for scaling the CN Tower to pressure the former Chrétien and Bush governments about the Kyoto Protocol, made the comments as he confirmed one of the worst-kept secrets in Canadian politics — that he will be seeking the Liberal nomination in the Montreal riding of Laurier-Ste-Marie in the upcoming October federal election.

Guilbeault said he respects both the New Democrats and Greens but that his concerns about seeing the Conservatives return to power are what prompted him to join Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberals.

Scheer's Conservatives introduced an environmental platform on June 19 that commits to meeting Canada's international climate change commitments, but is vague on details about how to achieve those goals.

Guilbeault doubts the Conservative plan would work and said he believes the Liberals are the only party that can prevent a new Scheer government.

Steven Guilbeault talks about his decision to join Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberals in an interview with National Observer's Mike De Souza. Facebook video

Co-founded Quebec’s largest environmental group

Guilbeault co-founded Équiterre, which has become Quebec's largest environmental organization. But he now faces some criticism from other environmentalists for joining Trudeau's Liberals right after the government re-approved a proposal to build the West Coast Trans Mountain oil pipeline, along with tanker expansion off B.C.’s coast.

But he said Friday that he doesn't support the Trudeau government's decision to spend billions of dollars to purchase the existing Trans Mountain system, nor does he support the approval of the expansion project.

"I felt it would have been hypocritical for me, having fought pipelines for many, many years, and now join a political party and then just shift, do a 180-degree (turn). I felt it wouldn’t be good for me and it certainly wouldn’t have been good for the party," Guilbeault told National Observer following his announcement at Montreal's Parc Lafontaine, a popular urban park in the city.

"I would have lost all credibility and I would be of no use to anybody, and it would just increase general cynicism towards politics.”

He was backed by several members of a local Liberal riding association, who came out for the announcement.

Guilbeault announced he was leaving Équiterre last October, amid rumours that he was on the verge of running for the Liberals in a byelection. At that time, he said he was interested in politics, but didn't immediately make the jump.

The Trudeau government subsequently appointed him to a federal advisory panel on climate change, allowing him to appear frequently with the prime minister and other members of cabinet in recent months.

While Trudeau and other Liberals actively tried to recruit him, Guilbeault said, he told the prime minister that he would never be able to defend the government's approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline.

“I told him and I told people that I couldn’t defend this project and the prime minister said, ‘Fine, I don’t have any problems with that,'" Guilbeault said. "He said it wouldn’t be authentic if I did so. I must salute the leadership of someone who’s willing to embrace a dissident (opinion) like mine on an important project. But I think we both agree that the government has done so many things, and it could do even more and I want to see if I can help to make that happen.”

Rick Smith, executive director of the Broadbent Institute, a left-leaning research organization, said he was baffled by Guilbeault's move to run in a riding that was previously held by former Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe and is now held by the NDP.

"I have known and liked (Guilbeault) for many years. His decision today makes little sense for two reasons," wrote Smith, a former chief of staff to the late NDP leader Jack Layton, on Twitter. "After spending his career defining environmental progress, he is now running for a political party that – historically, and today – has a weak environmental record he will be forced to defend. And though he says he is running to prevent a (Conservative) government, he's chosen a riding where the Conservatives don’t stand a hope in hell of winning. If he wants to defeat Conservatives – an objective I can get behind – he's running in the wrong place."

Among the policies that Guilbeault supports are major investments in public transit as well as a decision to impose a nationwide price on carbon pollution.

He also said that these are among the first steps that will allow Canada to meet its international commitments under the Paris Agreement to fight the climate crisis and curb the country's dependence on oil, an industry that has access to the world's third-largest reserves of crude oil and which employs tens of thousands of Canadians.

“In order for Canada to meet its climate change Paris commitments and even go beyond, there’s wide agreement — and Prime Minister Trudeau has talked about this — we need to reduce our dependency on oil," he said. "So the question is, what are the best mechanisms to do that? The government certainly has started to put some of them in place, putting a price on carbon throughout Canada — which was non-existent, except for two provinces, before Justin Trudeau’s government was elected — investing more in public transit. ... And we probably need to come up with new ideas, and I’m not quite sure what these are right now, but I’ll certainly be working with members of the Liberal party in the coming weeks and months to try to figure those out and I’m hoping that I can contribute somehow to the party’s platform as well.”

Steven Guilbeault outlines his political priorities in Montreal on Friday, as he announces his entry into federal politics with Justin Trudeau's Liberals. Photo by Josie Desmarais

He noted that the government had already taken steps to meet with communities and thousands of workers across the country affected by a promise to phase out coal-fired power plants by 2030 and ensure that there is a plan in place to help workers in transition.

“I think maybe this is the type of exercise we need to do for oil as well," he said. "Obviously we’re not phasing (out) oil by 2030, but we are heading into a world where there will be less and less oil consumption.”

He added that there was "no doubt" in his mind that this is happening.

"Now how do we do it so it’s fair to workers and communities who are in some cases, or will be impacted by this transition? That’s what we need to figure out.”

Despite criticism from some circles, he said he has also been getting messages of support from many environmentalists about his decision to enter politics.

“I knew that this decision would be unpopular with some," he said. "And I have spoken with colleagues across the country about it before doing it, and some people disagreed and I understand and respect their position."

Federal Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna was among those who praised Guilbeault's announcement, describing it on Twitter as "incredible news" and a sign that the Liberal government was gaining momentum in the fight against climate change.

Guilbeault said he has been impressed by the level of support he's getting.

"Since the news came out, two days ago, I’ve been getting messages all across the country from environmental leaders, members of environmental organizations that I’ve worked with over the last few years, decades, in some cases, saying ‘way to go,’" he said. "I even had a message from a political opponent … saying you’re not running for my party, but I’m happy you’re running.”

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Guilbeault has sold his ass, no qualifiers. Nauseating news that he would join the federal Liberal party. He's there as a useful prop.

Well I think climate issues in Canada right now are a bit more nuanced, not to say messy, than your blanket accusation would warrant. Finding a way forward, for all of us serious about transition, isn't going to be easy. There will be alliances, some of them uncomfortable, some of them demanding some loss of 'purity'.....It would be better for all of us, if we used a bit more understanding.....accepted the need for collaboration....

And dropped those blanket accusations against people who've likely worked harder, when it was a tougher slog, against climate change.....then 90 % of us have.

No surprise that Steven Guilbeault is running for the Liberals.
Or that his colleague and former Pembina Institute executive director Ed Whittingham supports the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion.
Or that Marlo Raynolds, former head of the Pembina Institute, is Chief of Staff to Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, who approves fossil fuel projects while paying lip service to climate change.

After all, The Pembina Institute is largely funded by oil & gas companies, and the Big Banks that back them. Pembina is "the green group that the oilpatch can work with". (Financial Post, April 21, 2016)

This is what the new denialism looks like.
Acknowledge the science, but ignore its implications. Boast about climate leadership, but push oilsands expansion and pipelines. Sign int'l agreements, but fail to live up to them.
Corporate ENGO leaders join PM Trudeau and Premier Notley in betting on climate failure. The only scenario in which oilsands expansion makes sense.
"The New Climate Denialism: Time for an Intervention" (The Narwhal, Sep 26, 2016)

Their "smart climate policies" do not lead to our inadequate Paris targets. They lead us over the climate cliff.
If these industry-captured ENGO leaders and politicians win, we lose. Our grandchildren lose.

For shame!

So far Tim Gray of Environmental Defence is still onside. He just sent me an email:

"We need climate action, not more pipelines
Just 24 hours after declaring a climate emergency, the federal government re-approved the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion (TMX). This could add as much as 15 million more tonnes of carbon pollution. TMX has already cost us billions, it will endanger orcas, and it doesn’t have the consent of most of the First Nations along its route and its terminus. Canada is already sliding further away from meeting our emissions reductions goals - we don’t need another pipeline, we need climate action.'"

I guess we'll see how long Tim's stand against TMX lasts.

We can choose to stand with industry-captured ENGO leaders and politicians who betray us -- or accept reality, respect the science, heed the warnings, and defend our grandchildren.

Geoffrey, you laid it out exactly. All of these people you mention, know the ecocide consequences of their fossil fuel expansion strategies, have children, yet holding power is their motivation. Quote: " Dr. James Anderson is a Harvard University professor of atmospheric chemistry best known for establishing that chlorofluorocarbons were damaging the Ozone Layer. “People have the misapprehension that we can recover from climate change just by reducing carbon emissions Dr. Anderson said. Recovery is all but impossible, he argued, without a World War II-style transformation of industry—an acceleration of the effort to halt carbon pollution and remove it from the atmosphere, and a new effort to reflect sunlight away from the earth's poles. This has to be done, Anderson added, within the next five years. "The chance that there will be any permanent ice left in the Arctic after 2022 is essentially zero," Anderson said, with 75 to 80 percent of permanent ice having melted already in the last 35 years. "Can we lose 75-80 percent of permanent ice and recover? The answer is no." That means linking the study of physical sciences with global issues like climate change, with government ethics, public policy, and other relevant practices. He prosecutes a moral argument that implicates university administrators who refuse to divest from fossil fuels, journalists who fail to fact-check false statements made by political candidates, and executives of fossil fuel companies who continue to pursue activities that are exacerbating climate change—especially those who mislead the public about those effects. "I don't understand how these people sit down to dinner with their kids," Anderson said, "because they're not stupid people."

Sold out, highest bidder I guess.

The reasoning seems flawed. Harper didn't have the guts to BUY and EXPAND a pipeline project. Just because Tru-oil-dough did, and won't call people names, Justin is better? Mr Trudeau is going to be pulling oil out of the ground that Harper never could. How does that make the Liberals more environmently friendly?

The only way to make real environmental change is with proportional representation, and we saw what Trudeau and the Liberals did about that. I hope Sheer sweeps into a majority government with 39% of the vote. Then maybe people will wake up to how UNDEMOCRATIC this first past the post system is. We want the environment to be the issue, but we don't get a say. Just punt the planet down the road another four years so we can ignore it then.

Oh, and the Liberals didn't undo all of Harper's anti-environmental policies, they just moved them a little to the left. Not back to where the previous Liberals had set them, just a little to the left of Harper.

OK, the rant is over, have a nice day!

I think a lot of people already realize what a mess first-past-the-post is, and for those who haven't yet, four more years wasted on Andrew Scheer will not help them figure it out. Yes, first-past-the-post is .. awful .. but for those political animals that are steeped in the status quo, instead of providing real leadership, it's easier and less risky to instead spread fear, uncertainty and doubt about the alternatives. How do we evolve past our current situation? I thought we had, or at least I thought that we had voted for that. That is why this time around on principle, I cannot vote Liberal.

So I say that, but the sad reality is that as long as first-past-the-post exists, most voters can only 'win' by voting against something. The star recruit appears to have arrived at that conclusion as well.

On policy .. what did Pete Townshend say? "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss." The sad truth of it is that lobbying works. And works very well. If it weren't for that, lobbyists wouldn't get paid. Maybe the fix for that is transparency, but people have to actually notice for there to be a political price. Ties between SNC Lavalin lobbyists, the Liberal party and construction contracts for the TMX pipeline? Maybe? Do we know? If the Conservatives were building the pipeline, would the same lobbying infrastructure still be there? Would the decisions be the same? Would we simply now be arguing about policies being tweaked slightly to the right?

I don't personally know star recruit, but my instincts are that as a thoughtful person he took his time to arrive at his decision, and, to a degree, stuck his neck out to do it. I have to respect that. Not sure whether or not the bargain will bear fruit or be Faustian, but if it starts looking like the latter he can always step out and sit as an independent and having established himself as a strong, scrupled, dissident voice, run again in five years as a Green. In the meantime he may have helped prevent the worst of all possible outcomes.

He will eventually find himself in a position similar to JWR. The Trudeau government attempts to "ride all the horses" at the same time and when a member of the team finds themselves at odds well.............. we know what happens. Strange to me that he believes he is joining the Liberals who just approved a pipeline project that flies in the face of what he purportedly stands for. However if one examines the Trudeau record and particularly in the West, it is apparent that just because they approve of something does not mean it will happen. Not by a long shot. I would have joined the Greens if I were him but that is another story.

There comes a time when you have to lose a battle or two in order to win the war.

better to be the camel inside the tent pissing out rather than outside pissing in.

Thanks for this thoughtful story. I believe Steven Guilbeault did the right thing. I am equally appalled by the TMX saga. I find myself in a bind at voting time; I do recognize the frightening power of corporate lobbying in the Liberal party. However, I respect my own Liberal MP greatly (and in Canada, that’s who we vote for, not the prime minister) and I will both campaign and vote for him. Furthermore, as someone living in Ontario, I can assure you that Guilbeault’s decision makes excellent sense. I admire Kathleen Wynne, but — angry over what looked like the creeping privatization of Ontario Hydro — I decided I would vote for the NDP. I thought they had a good chance of winning the election, and they understand, I think, the value of the common good. The NDP didn’t win though, and now Ontario is suffering on many fronts, from endangered species to education and beyond. The thought of Conservative ideology at work again, so soon, on a federal scale makes me ill. So kudos to Steven Guilbeault, who has made a wise and principled decision in the face of nay-sayers. .

You make a good case for a difficult position. My only caveat is with regard to the riding he chose. If he were really worried about pipelines, he'd insist on not trying to take a safe seat from the NDP.....

Having lived long, and kept my eye on Canadian politics.....there isn't much about Liberal strategy I don't know. From the time they fought the implementation of medicare in Saskatchewan (and they fought dirty, with lies and foreign money), to this recent schitzo act of declaring a climate emergency one day, and passing an uneconomic dangerous bitumen pipeline through Vancouver the next........Liberals are opportunists.

Yes. The try to do the right thing........the easy right thing once others have worked to make it a shoe in....but they never go very far in eliminating the influence of dark corporate money.

So this hard working environmentalist's decision to join their team...while protesting he's not for still playing the game of 'the lesser of two evils'. Yes. Scheer's climate plan is a chimera...but the Liberal idea we can still have our cake and eat it too, may be even more delusional.
Still.......good luck to him for trying to skate on that razor's edge.

I think his decision is completely strategic. He'll be working to prevent the Conservatives to reach power, because their actions would be much worse than anything the Liberals would do, and (sadly) only the Liberals are a realistic alternative. Of course, the Liberals are still the party of business and capitalism and endless growth and none of their policies are in line with the size of the climate (and other) crisis, but overall they can be moved in the right direction more easily than the Cons.
And this is the point. Elections are relatively important, but the real activism work takes place in the streets. This was Chomsky's message during the last US election - vote for Clinton to prevent Trump, then organize and resist, resist, resist. Don't take politicians endless betrayals personally - they are working for the 1%.
We all need to be strategic. Vote strategically once every 4 years, then use the time in between to resist/organize for life on this planet.

And what do you see happening on the streets? Not very much. Meaning Canadians are leaving the climate catastrophe to politicians.

Why is he running for a seat the Conservatives wouldn't win anyway? How does this serve the fight to keep Scheer out of power? Just trying to knock a progressive voice out of the argument – does this make any sense?

He's joining a party that deliberately juxtaposed calling for a climate emergency with approving a pipeline meant to facilitate the expansion of the oil industry. If he can buy into that paradox, he's no longer much of an environmentalist.

We are out of time for this kind of nonsense. Join the Extinction Rebellion. It's our only hope. If you read the science, you'll see that governments have lost their legitimacy. Their reforms are still leading us to ecocide.