[Note to readers: The following is a work of fiction.]
I am indebted to an Ottawa-area dry-cleaner for what you are about to read. Select pages of what appears to be a draft of the Nov. 22 speech from the throne were found in the breast pocket of a suit jacket. Through a circuitous route, these pages — the section dealing with climate — have come into my possession, and I share them with you now...
Honourable Senators, Members of the House of Commons, Ladies and Gentlemen:
Just over a week ago, the world gathered in Glasgow, Scotland, for the 26th United Nations conference on climate change. Progress was made. The world is starting to mobilize. National commitments, including Canada’s, to reduce greenhouse gases got us closer to keeping global temperature rise to a safe level.
But not close enough. Not by a long shot. More and faster action is needed.
What if Canada took on climate change with the same intensity it rallied to face COVID-19? Here's what the prime minister might tell us, writes Seth Klein. #canpoli #ClimatePolicy #JustTransition
This past summer has been a wake-up call for us all.
First it was the extreme heat in British Columbia that shattered temperature records and robbed us of almost 600 of our fellow citizens in less than a week. That June heat dome was the most deadly weather event in Canadian history, and we grieve for those who lost loved ones.
That was followed by hundreds of wildfires, forcing the evacuation of thousands from their homes, and burning the entire town of Lytton to the ground. Elsewhere in the country it was flooding and drought and punishing storms.
This past August, just days before Parliament was dissolved for the federal election, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in a report authored by more than 200 of the world’s top climate scientists, issued yet another dire warning that our civilization is living on borrowed time.
It is the sacred duty of any good government to heed these “Code Red” alerts. The futures of your children and grandchildren require that we do so.
It is our obligation as a government to be forthright with you. More heat dome events, fires, floods, hurricanes, and food and water system disruptions are coming.
It is also our responsibility to do everything in our power to protect you and your children from harm. And we invite all of you — in this room and across the land — to join in this historic task.
For the last 20 months, Canadians have rallied to confront the COVID crisis. Now we must face down the next emergency. And I know we can.
Canadians have heard our commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40-45 per cent by 2030, and to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.
But our youth have replied to such promises with the rejoinder that all they hear is “blah, blah, blah.”
Sadly, their distrust is not misplaced. Governments have been making and breaking climate pledges since the early 1990s. But, so far, Canada has yet to bend the curve on its carbon pollution.
And so, we say to young people today, “We know that 2030 targets won’t cut it. We understand that we need to do the heavy lifting now to reach these goals. And we seek to be held accountable for progress within the life of this minority government.”
How shall we do that? I have tasked the minister of Finance, the president of the Treasury Board, the minister of Environment and Climate Change, and the minister of Natural Resources to develop a system for national and sectoral carbon budgets that decline each and every year for every major sector, including the oil and gas sector.
By setting annual carbon budgets that decline each year, we will ensure progress — not at the back end of this decade, when many in this chamber will have exited the political stage — but every year you entrust us to serve. Budgets matter. They are the core annual policy of any government. They guide how governments function.
Once a budget is set, the full architecture and machinery of government is designed to ensure its delivery and accountability — a legislative committee consults the public; inter-governmental meetings seek agreement with the provinces, territories and Indigenous Nations; the Treasury Board ensures ministerial budgets are adhered to; the auditor general ensures money is well spent; and the Parliamentary budget officer ensures our plans align with evidence-based projections – all these mechanisms exist to ensure budgets are properly set and followed. That's what we now need for our climate goals, to move them from notional to real. And that is what your government will do.
Because the faster we move on this task of our lives, the better our chances to keep the world safe for our children and grandchildren.
No new fossil fuel infrastructure
Last May, the International Energy Agency — long the world’s foremost authority on energy issues — declared that, if we are to keep global temperature rise to a safe level, all new fossil fuel developments and all new fossil fuel infrastructure needs to stop as of now. The IEA repeated this clear call just ahead of the UN climate meeting in Glasgow.
Given this, as the government of Quebec boldly did on Oct. 19, your federal government is declaring an end to new fossil fuel extraction.
We are also announcing that, as of today, we are cancelling plans to expand the Trans Mountain Pipeline from Alberta to British Columbia. In a world where we must now be on a path to gradually reduce oil production, it makes little sense to pour billions of additional public dollars into new fossil fuel transportation infrastructure of this kind. And we will no longer disrespect fossil fuel workers with false hope that such projects can revive the oil and gas sector’s prospects — the truth is, global demand for oil and gas is now firmly on a downward trajectory.
But, to those who have been promised employment on the TMX project, we make this commitment to you: we will honour our pledge. None of you will be out of work. We need your help to meet this moment. Your jobs will continue, but in a new endeavour. We invite you to be the first employees of a new Climate Emergency Just Transition agency, where your skills and strength can be deployed building renewable energy projects, retrofitting buildings and managing our forests to reduce wildfire risks in the summers to come.
Indeed, this pledge does not extend only to those employed on the TMX project. Your government is hereby guaranteeing a good, well-paying job to every fossil fuel worker in Canada today. The task before us is great and the time is short — no one who wants to help us in the grand transition that will mark the next decade will be turned away.
And to those who live in Indigenous communities that have been most impacted — indeed ravaged — by fossil fuel development, you shall be first in line for jobs and investment in these years of repair.
A real and hopeful Just Transition Plan
As we have promised, a new Just Transition Act will be presented this session. The act will enshrine this federal jobs guarantee in law. It will also be fully aligned with our new legislated commitment to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
But, this new act will only have meaning if it is backed up with money — a substantial multi-year investment that makes clear to the people and communities that have until now relied upon the fossil fuel industry for employment that this just transition pledge is not a hollow promise. That is why we will be introducing a companion bill establishing a new Climate Emergency Just Transition Transfer.
This audacious and hopeful new transfer will represent an unprecedented investment in the jobs of the future. The $2 billion we promised this election for a Future Fund for workers in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Newfoundland and Labrador constitutes only a down payment to kick-start this new program. We plan to spend what it takes — in every province and territory – to get this job done and give confidence to workers everywhere that no one will be left behind. The new transfer will pay for major climate infrastructure projects that will create thousands of jobs, along with training and apprenticeships programs, including minimum apprenticeship placements for women and Indigenous people. We believe this new transfer represents a means to renew Confederation while rising to the climate crisis, appreciating that much of the climate infrastructure needed will logically come under provincial, municipal and Indigenous jurisdiction.
The transfer will go to newly established Just Transition Agencies in each province and territory, jointly governed by the federal government, provincial and local governments, and, vitally, Indigenous nations from each jurisdiction. This will ensure the money is used for its intended purpose, sensitive to the realities and needs of each locale.
Your government also understands that a just transition isn’t only about jobs. It must also address the affordability crisis facing far too many Canadian families. That is why this Parliament will be finalizing plans for a national $10-a-day child care plan, a national public pharmacare plan and a renewed national program for elder care, so that our seniors will be better protected if and when another pandemic arrives.
And we understand that Canadians need to know that these new programs will be financed in a manner that is fair. A true national mobilization to confront the climate emergency requires social solidarity, and that, in turn, requires that Canadians have trust in a tax system to which everyone contributes their fair share. That is why your government will be aggressively cracking down on tax havens and tax evasion, and closing loopholes that disproportionately benefit the wealthy and corporations. And it is why we are announcing today our intention to institute a new national wealth tax, the details of which will be forthcoming in the next budget.
Investing in the future we want
Just as this government spent what was needed to secure incomes and jobs in the face of the pandemic emergency, we will now spend what is needed to confront the climate emergency. In her forthcoming budget, the minister of Finance will demonstrate how we plan to spend what it takes to meet this historic moment.
We will quickly conduct an inventory of our conversion needs to determine how many heat pumps, solar arrays, wind farms, electric buses, etc. we will need to electrify virtually everything and end our reliance on fossil fuels. Then, we will either purchase what is needed from the private sector or, when necessary to expedite the urgent task before us, the Just Transition Transfer will seed the creation of new Crown, Indigenous or municipal public corporations to ensure those items are manufactured and deployed at the requisite scale.
But we will not only spend what it takes to accomplish this task. We will also cease spending and investing in the things that spell ruin for our kids and grandkids. That is why all subsidies for fossil fuels will end in 2022. And it is why the Canada Pension Plan, all Crown corporations and all other federal funds and endowments will divest their holdings in fossil fuel companies by 2024. These investments now constitute a financial risk. But in fact, a much deeper intergenerational justice matter is at play. Because by continuing to hold these fossil fuel companies in our portfolios, we are effectively betting against our own grandchildren. If our bet wins, it is only because they lose. We will have staked our returns on a future in which they reside in a hellscape. And that’s not what any of us wants.
With the end of all direct and indirect fossil fuel subsidies, it is our expectation that some projects currently underway — such as the LNG Canada project on B.C.’s northwest coast — will fold. In the absence of public subsidies, these projects become uneconomic, and consequently the private investors behind these projects will likely choose to walk away. True, it was only a few years ago that we joined in celebrating these investment decisions. But the terrain has shifted. The continuation of these projects no longer aligns with what a safe future for our children can abide.
One of the important lessons we have learned in this pandemic is that, sometimes, it is not enough to merely encourage or incentivize change. Sometimes the safety of us all requires mandatory measures.
Our approach to climate to date has been too reliant on the voluntary actions of households and businesses. Consequently, we have run out the clock with incremental actions.
If we are now going to meet the ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets that science demands of us, we need to set clear, near-term dates by which certain things will be required. That is why your government will be strengthening existing climate mandates. We will be working with our friends in the U.S. government to advance the mandate for zero-emission vehicles, with the goal of making the production and sale of new internal combustion vehicles illegal after 2025. And we will engage with provincial governments to establish a new national building code that will make it illegal for new buildings to tie into gas lines or use fossil fuels after 2022.
These aggressive new mandates will, no doubt, elicit a hue and cry from fossil fuel companies and vehicle manufactures. And that, friends, will be a sure sign that our climate plan is effective.
We will tell you the truth
In this pandemic, we have endeavored to model what an emergency response must look and sound and feel like. We provided you with daily briefings. We listened to health and science experts. The public communications was ubiquitous. We trusted you to heed the emergency warnings, and Canadians, in the main, responded with courage and conviction, ready to do what was needed to protect their fellow community members.
Now we will take what we have learned and apply it to the climate emergency. Henceforth, our climate emergency communications will be forthright, frequent, coherent and consistent.
Your government will establish a new federal Climate Emergency Information Agency. This well-resourced entity will be mandated to boost public understanding of the climate crisis, the causes of global warming and the measures needed to rapidly lower our emissions. It will convene citizen assemblies across the country, to engage the public in deliberations about how to most effectively and fairly cut carbon pollution. Its science-based educational materials will soon become commonplace in our lives. Its helpful resources will aid families in how to fuel-swap our homes, and access credits and financial assistance to decarbonize our lives. The agency will not only draw upon the best communications expertise, it will also provide funding to artists, cultural institutions and the entertainment industry who are ready to help rally the public in this urgent task.
But we aren’t merely enhancing public communications. We will also seek to end misleading information, and dissonant messages that seek to deny and delay needed climate action. That is why, like we did with cigarette advertising a generation ago, the minister of Heritage and Culture is now tasked with banning fossil fuel advertising and sponsorships. The ubiquitous advertising of fossil fuel vehicles, gas stations, gas appliances, air travel and the ongoing sponsorship of arts and sports events by fossil fuel companies sends a confusing message that undermines our mobilization for the climate emergency. The time has come to end the glamourization of the very products that have brought us to this perilous point.
Today, your government is making this solemn commitment — we face a grave threat, and we will tell you the truth about what is required to confront it.
Honourable Senators, Members of the House of Commons, and fellow Canadians, your new cabinet — and the ministerial mandate letters they have received — has been purpose-built to meet this emergency. We will be steadfast and unswerving as we implement this program of rapid decarbonization at the speed and scale required. And we invite our fellow Canadians to join us in this grand societal undertaking.
[The preceding was a work of fiction. Unless…]