Over the past few weeks, two big climate stories dominated Canadian media. The first was the membership of the Conservative Party of Canada voting down a resolution to acknowledge climate change is real. The second was the Supreme Court upholding the legality of Justin Trudeau’s carbon price. A common thread in both conversations? The NDP was nowhere to be found.
This isn’t new. Since the 2019 election, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has rarely mentioned climate change in the House of Commons. He has never pushed legislation around it or led a media blitz challenging Trudeau’s climate record. Even on social media, where Singh communicates his top priorities directly, he barely mentions it.
In fact, his only comment about the climate crisis in 2021 was a tweet responding to Joe Biden cancelling the Keystone XL pipeline. When Singh talks about climate change, he doesn’t seem to have interest in the topic, delivering a clumsy talking point about Trudeau buying a pipeline. The result is a national climate debate where the conflict is between Liberal climate delay and Conservative climate denial. And as long as this is the sandbox our policies are being written in, we’re going to fail to act at the scale we need.
By ceding the climate ground to Trudeau, Singh and the NDP are allowing him to wrongly define what climate action looks like. In the six years since Trudeau was first elected, Canada has failed to reduce emissions, increased public handouts to Big Oil, delivered a climate plan that’s half as ambitious as what we need and fallen short on a just transition and support for front-line communities. And yet, polling shows 71 per cent of the country thinks the prime minister is either “good” or “acceptable” on climate.
We can blame some of that on the media’s failure to cover the climate crisis properly, decades of Big Oil funding, climate denial and Trudeau’s actions being compared to that of the Trump administration, and so on. But, while these are important, the hard truth is that Singh has been letting Trudeau off the hook when it comes to climate change. That’s a big deal when you remember that in 2019, climate change was a top voting issue and that recent polls show it remains a top concern, alongside issues related to COVID-19 and how the economy recovers.
Don’t get me wrong, there are NDP members of Parliament who are true climate champions. Whether it’s Laurel Collins’ work as environment critic, Peter Julian’s opposition to the Trans Mountain pipeline or Leah Gazan’s push for a new Climate Emergency Act, there are MPs in the NDP caucus who truly get the urgency of the crisis and are doing what they can to call attention to it. But their great work is overshadowed by a party apparatus and leader’s office who seem ambivalent about the scale of the climate crisis. The hard truth is that whatever actions these MPs take, they make far less of a dent in the public discourse than the actions of the party leader.
Singh needs to understand that in 2021, bold climate policies that tackle injustice and create millions of good jobs need to be at the centre of a winning progressive agenda. And effective progressive leaders need to be able to sell that agenda day in and day out. We’ve seen it work in the U.S., where the progressive wing of the Democratic Party forced Joe Biden to embrace key aspects of the Green New Deal. If Singh and the NDP want to be Canada’s equivalent to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders, they need to demonstrate the same ability to move the Liberals on climate.
But, the NDP’s best option isn’t to do it alone. That’s why we’re launching a new campaign, calling on the NDP to join forces with the Green Party to form a historic Climate Emergency Alliance. This alliance could present a truly bold vision for climate action and have a chance at electing dozens of climate champions who would hold the balance of power in Parliament. The numbers are clear, according to our modelling: without a Climate Emergency Alliance, the parties could win a combined total of 23 to 29 seats. With one, they’re within a winnable margin in 108 seats all across Canada.
Let’s face it. Without a big idea like this, the Liberals and the media will both frame the next election as a race between the Liberals and the Conservatives with the NDP shoved somewhere to the side. When it comes to climate change, that’s the same as a fight between delay and denial, and that’s something we can’t afford. If the NDP wants to be the modern, progressive party to change this, they need to take some big, bold steps. At this weekend’s convention, the party has the chance to reckon with its climate failures and act to chart a new course.
A Climate Emergency Alliance is the best way to do that.
Cameron Fenton is the Canada team lead with 350.org.