The 2021 federal election is over, and with a result that’s eerily similar to the 2019 election, the question now is: “So what does this actually mean?”
The short answer is that it means Canada still has a government that has committed to the Paris Agreement target of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 C but is miles away from meeting that goal. And, just as it was before the election, it’s up to climate organizers across the country to change that. The good news is there are three big fights either already underway or just on the horizon where that change is possible.
The first is the Just Transition Act. Originally promised by Justin Trudeau at a campaign rally just days after the 2019 Climate Strikes, the legislation spent two years on the backburner. Then, just before this last election, Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan finally announced some progress, rolling out a public consultation process and promising action on the act this fall.
With that consultation scheduled to run until the end of this month, there is a short but critical window to push for the kind of big, bold transition policies that we actually need. That means fighting for the Just Transition Act to meet the scale of the climate crisis by guaranteeing good union jobs for everyone impacted by the transition, ensuring the transition puts people ahead of corporate profit, and aligning our plans for a just transition with a managed decline of the fossil fuel sector that’s in line with the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) science.
The second big fight is going to be over Trudeau’s little-scrutinized promise this election to bring in oil and gas regulations meant to constrain that sector’s soaring emissions. A vague electoral promise, it’s not clear to anyone what Trudeau’s plan for these regulations are, but given his government’s record when it comes to cozying up to Big Oil, it’s hard to imagine them having the teeth we need to meet this moment.
According to the IPCC, the International Energy Agency (IEA), and countless other experts, we need to stop fossil fuel expansion and rapidly get to work on a plan to wind it down. These regulations, alongside a well-crafted Just Transition Act, could be critical to making that happen. But, if they’re too weak, filled with loopholes, or if they hedge too much on unproven, expensive carbon capture technology, they won’t be worth the paper they're written on.
The same will be true if they continue to perpetuate the fossil fuel industry-backed myth that fracked gas is some kind of a climate solution. Stopping that from happening is going to be a big lift.
Third, the Liberals need to reckon with their purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline. Whatever you think about the TMX purchase in the first place, you have to accept that things have changed dramatically since the Liberals first bought the project. A few months after the Liberals acquired the pipeline in 2018, the IPCC released a landmark report on limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 C. That report laid out emissions reductions pathways that cast serious doubts on whether the Trans Mountain pipeline actually — as Trudeau argued then and still does now — fits in Canada’s climate plan.
These questions again came up with the release of the Canadian Energy Regulator’s 2020 energy outlook report showing that even with lower than promised climate actions, Canada doesn’t need the capacity of the Trans Mountain pipeline. And, they came up yet again with the IEA’s report on pathways to 1.5 C, the most recent “code red for humanity” IPCC report and a recent analysis from West Coast Environmental Law that shows the pipeline mired in delays. On top of all this, Trans Mountain has lost 16 insurers for the project, the vast majority pulling out because of the threats the pipeline poses to the climate and Indigenous rights.
The Liberals could deal with all this by actually learning something from Jagmeet Singh’s weak answers on Trans Mountain and coming out with a clear plan to formally review their decision to purchase and build the pipeline. With winter rolling in, a lot of construction on the expansion project will slow or stop in the coming weeks, and they could use that window to order a formal review of the decision to buy and build Trans Mountain.
Opinion: With the federal election behind us, there are three big fights either already underway or just on the horizon where change is possible in battling the climate crisis, writes @CamFenton of @350Canada #cdnpoli #elxn44
They could use that time to step back and look at what the pipeline is costing, both financially and in terms of our chances of tackling the climate crisis. Of course, though, that would require doing the one thing politicians seem hard-wired to avoid, admitting they were wrong, and so it’s not something that’s going to happen without a lot of public pressure.
At the end of the day, the clock on climate action didn’t stop ticking when Trudeau called this election. And, given the results that came in on Monday, you could be forgiven for seeing the last six weeks as wasted time when the government could have just been legislating action, instead of orchestrating a failed swing for a majority.
Whatever the case, we need to hit the ground running because, as a report that came out a few days before the election made clear, Canada’s climate plan is still “highly insufficient” to keep the planet from cooking. And, if this summer showed us anything, it’s that we’re running out of time to turn that around.
Cameron Fenton is the Canada team lead with 350.org.