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The Bloc Québécois used its last opposition day to hammer the Liberals on climate change as forest fires rage across the country, forcing people from their homes and darkening the skies with smoke.
Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet put forward a motion on June 8 during one of his party’s coveted days when the Bloc gets to set the agenda in the House of Commons and hold the government to account. This is the last opposition day for any party before Parliament takes its summer break.
In the motion, Blanchet called for broad recognition that climate change is exacerbating extreme weather, driving events like heat waves, tornadoes, floods and, of course, fires. The motion also demanded the federal government stop investing in fossil fuels and instead develop incentives to promote the use of renewable energy and public transit while respecting provincial jurisdiction.
While “we cannot say that only one single climate event led to these forest fires,” the world’s leading scientists have been clear that climate change is creating the conditions for more frequent and severe disasters like drought, floods and fires, Blanchet pointed out.
At the same time, “Quebec’s money is being invested by the federal government through subsidies and tax credits out West for oil and gas. Or even worse, it's invested in the hypocrisy of nuclear energy, which isn't clean,” he said.
The Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project is one clear example of taxpayer dollars financing fossil fuels, said Bloc Québécois MP Monique Pauzé, calling the now $30.9-billion project “a costly trophy of the Liberal failure in fighting climate change.” She also took aim at the federal government’s investment tax credits for hydrogen production and carbon capture technology. As people around the world are displaced by rising water levels, natural disasters and droughts brought on by climate change, Canada will have a responsibility to accept these climate migrants, said Blanchet.
This year, the fires have already burned “10 times” more land than the historical average for this time of year, Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson told reporters on June 5. During the opposition day debate, Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault said this is “one of the worst wildfire seasons in the history of our country.”
The Liberals, Green Party and NDP indicated they would vote for the non-binding motion.
Conservative MPs used a lot of their speaking time to ask various MPs why they voted against North Okanagan-Shuswap MP Mel Arnold’s private member’s bill from the previous parliamentary session. The bill in question would have made amendments to the Criminal Code that creates a new offence specific to the theft of firefighting equipment. Other parties voted it down at second reading, so the bill never made it to committee.
The Bloc Québécois used its last opposition day to hammer the Liberals on climate change as forest fires rage across the country, forcing people from their homes and darkening the skies with smoke. #CanadaBurns #CanadaFires
MPs from the Bloc Québécois, NDP and Liberals did not have much to say in response to the multiple queries about why they didn’t support Arnold’s bill.
Although many opposition day motions — like the Bloc Québécois’ climate motion — are frustrating because they are non-binding, it is still important and worth paying some attention to, said Alex Marland, professor and head of the department of political science at Memorial University.
“The bread and butter of the Bloc is always something that is … very particular to Quebec,” said Marland. Go-to issues are often centred on Quebec nationalism, Quebec’s place in the federation and, above all, getting more autonomy for Quebec, he added.
“Climate change, on the other hand, is something that, yes, it matters to a lot of Quebecers, particularly progressives, but it's more of a national thing. So that's why it's a little more surprising,” said Marland.
Throughout the debate, Bloc Québécois MPs highlighted the impacts of the fires within their province. As of Thursday, there were 137 active fires in the province and that same day, Quebec Premier François Legault said there are approximately 13,500 evacuees.
Bloc Québécois MP Yves Perron said investing in renewable energies and transit does not always fall within federal jurisdiction, so federal transfers — similar to health-care transfers — will be needed to ensure this important work can be done.
Marland is the first to admit he isn’t a climate expert but says it doesn’t take one to identify the devastating forest fires as potential motivation for the Bloc to bring this motion forward. Another possibility is to shine a light on the one party that did not indicate its support for the motion: the Conservatives.
“All motions are put forward for strategic advantage,” said Marland. They can be used to reveal the hypocrisy of a government, stir up conversation on a controversial topic and force parliamentarians to take a stand on a particular policy issue.
Non-binding motions have previously had large repercussions in Canadian politics. For example, in 2006, Conservative MP Michael Chong resigned from his post as minister of intergovernmental affairs over a non-binding motion then-prime minister Stephen Harper made to recognize Quebec as a nation within Canada.
From the Conservatives’ side of the House of Commons, Arnold continually brought up his dead private member’s bill on firefighting equipment theft. York-Simcoe MP Scot Davidson said the federal government has not done enough to procure water bombers to fight forest fires, and Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound MP Alex Ruff requested an update on the two-billion trees program.
“I appreciated my colleague’s speech,” said Deltell. “We, like him, acknowledge that climate change is real and that we need to take action because humans have caused climate change, so we need to play a role in fighting the situation and decreasing pollution.”
Where the Conservatives disagree with the NDP is on the carbon price, said Deltell, adding that out of 63 countries, Canada was ranked 58th in terms of decreasing planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.
Boulerice fired back that while the ranking is accurate, “we can't blame this solely on carbon pricing,” saying it is a “good tool” but shouldn’t be the only tool.
“But here's the issue,” said Boulerice. “I don't know what the Conservative Party's plan is to get any better results than these.”
Natasha Bulowksi / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer