Just a few months ago, it seemed like climate would struggle to make an appearance in this election, pushed aside by the pressing realities of the COVID-19 crisis. But then this summer of reckoning with the climate emergency intervened, and poll after poll revealed the climate crisis to be a top issue for Canadians. As I was door-knocking for climate champions in this campaign, when I asked, “What’s your top concern this election?” the most common reply was “the climate.” For all of us who listen to the dire warnings of scientists, we know this new Parliament has our fate in its hands.
In a positive turn of events this election, we saw parties competing with each other about which had the stronger and most convincing climate plan. Canadians want to see bold action on climate. But once again, support for that action has been split across numerous parties. Hence, this minority outcome. Now we need them to co-operate and get it done.
We need to make this minority Parliament do its job and meet this moment with us. These next few years must be all about speed and scale as we rally to confront this crisis. This shared emergency undertaking needs to look and sound and feel like a genuine cross-society emergency endeavour, and we need our new government to lead as one expects in a crisis.
I wrote at the start of the election that the narrow path to climate emergency victory in Canada would be greatly helped by two outcomes: first, another minority Parliament, and second, the election of a larger contingent of climate emergency champions.
The former has occurred, and that’s great. Minority governments are compelled to co-operate, rather than govern with impunity for four years. More importantly, a minority means the public is given ongoing openings to press for stronger and bolder policies.
As for the election of more climate champions, however, the outcome was mixed but mostly disappointing. The “squad” of incumbent climate champions in the NDP was entirely re-elected (along with two Greens), and they will be joined by a couple newly elected champs — Blake Desjarlais in Edmonton Griesbach, and pending final counts, possibly Anjali Appadurai in Vancouver Granville, and Alejandra Bravo in Toronto Davenport. But other first-time climate champs tragically failed to break through.
I’m biased of course, but the campaigns I was watching most closely and where I spent my volunteer hours were those of Appadurai (a friend and colleague) and Avi Lewis (yes, my brother-in-law, running in West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky). Both were running on unabashedly Green New Deal-inspired ideas with a primary focus on the climate emergency. And in both cases, at the start of the election, the party brass viewed their campaigns as unwinnable. Yet, Appadurai’s riding ended up being one of the closest in the country (still TBD), while Lewis managed to win 26 per cent of the vote — eight percentage points higher than the NDP’s national average — in a riding that had never been seriously contested by the NDP and one that is anchored by one of the wealthiest cities in Canada.
As this new government takes shape, rather than lurching from one confidence motion to the next, as we witnessed over the last two years, how about we stabilize our political lives with a formal Confidence and Supply Agreement (CASA), like we had in British Columbia from 2017-20, like the Yukon has now, and similar to what the Ontario Liberals and NDP had in the 1980s or at the federal level from 1972-74. After all, in these results, isn’t that what the electorate has asked for? Numerous parties tabled good ideas in this election — let’s see them each put their best ones forward. (Already, LeadNow has a petition up calling for cross-party co-operation on climate and inequality.)
And critically, let’s see the NDP really bargain hard this time, show themselves to be the climate champions they claimed in this election, and make bold climate emergency action a core condition of their co-operation in the House. The country is on fire. So now the NDP must hold the Liberals’ feet to the fire. The NDP needs to send a clear message to the Trudeau government — “no climate emergency plan, no deal.”
What should be in an exciting new CASA? What should form the basis of co-operation for a stable minority government? A majority of Canadians have clearly indicated a desire for a Green New Deal-esque program. So how about this:
Opinion: For all of us who listen to the dire warnings of scientists, we know this new Parliament has our fate in its hands, writes columnist @SethDKlein for @NatObserver. #elxn44 #ClimateAction #ClimateCrisis
- Full implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and a commitment to provide clean drinking water, equal education funding, and quality housing to every Indigenous community within two years.
- An audacious and hopeful offer to those whose employment is currently tied to the fossil fuel industry — not only a Just Transition Act, but a massive investment in the jobs of the future. The Liberals promised $2 billion this election for a Future Fund for workers in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Newfoundland and Labrador. Not enough. Let’s spend what it takes to get this job done and give confidence to workers everywhere that no one will be left behind. Let’s create new Crown corporations to mass-produce what we need to decarbonize our lives. Let’s establish a Civilian Climate Corps, so that any young person who wishes can find employment serving their society as they help us meet this moment.
- We need to see brash near-term dates by which new vehicles and buildings can no longer use fossil fuels.
- A bold housing plan that would see the construction of hundreds of thousands of non-market, zero-emission housing units — within the mandate of this new Parliament.
- A full stop on all new fossil fuel infrastructure, and an end to fossil fuel subsidies.
- Urgent national action on the poison drug supply that is killing thousands of our friends and family.
- Public child care, pharmacare, dental care, mental health care, and elder care.
- A wealth tax to pay for a good chunk of the above.
- And proportional representation. Let’s have an electoral system that ensures the progressive majority in Canada that wants the above can continue to find political expression. Let’s make this kind of collaborative government the norm.
With respect to the climate, one welcome new development in this election was that the Liberals named the elephant in the room — the 26 per cent of our greenhouse gas emissions that derive from the oil and gas industry. Finally, the Liberals appear ready to stop peddling the falsehood that Canada can be a climate leader while simultaneously expanding the extraction and production of fossil fuels. Instead, they rightly said we need to cap GHG emissions from oil and gas production and set a schedule to lower those emissions. Now we need to make that promise real. We need to adopt national and sectoral carbon budgets that decline each year. That’s a vital piece of how this new government can tell the truth to Canadians about the severity of the climate crisis.
And so, a message to this next government: Invite us to join in a grand societal undertaking as we confront this task of our lives. In the meantime, climate voters need to get out into the street and demand that — support the global student strikes this Friday, Sept. 24 (find your local protest here) and Friday, Oct. 22. See you there.