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On his tour of K’atl’odeeche First Nation, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh was struck by one image: a ceramic white-and-blue teapot sitting in the ashes of what was once a home. The melted-metal foundations of the house stood like the dead trees that now surround the community, posing a danger to residents without their root structures intact.

“Families are still picking through the rubble to see if they can recover anything,” he told Canada's National Observer, adding cleanup and clearing is still needed for the damaged infrastructure and burnt-black trees.

To drive home the seriousness of the climate crisis, Singh travelled to the Northwest Territories on Tuesday to visit two communities on the front lines. The Dene community of K’atl’odeeche First Nation and the town of Hay River have been battered by climate-related emergencies for two years running. In 2022, the twin communities fled from historic floods that caused $174 million in damages to homes, businesses and infrastructure.

Then, in 2023, they were hammered by the other side of the climate seesaw with record-high temperatures, drought and a wildfire that devastated K’atl’odeeche First Nation.

Jagmeet Singh stands in the rubble of a destroyed home in K’atl’odeeche First Nation. Photo courtesy of Riel McGuire, NDP Photographer

On Tuesday, while fielding questions about an imminent Liberal cabinet shuffle, the NDP leader stood on the riverbed of the Hay River. He pointed to the climate crisis as the leading cause of extreme weather.

“The [Hay River] is at a record low level,” Singh said at the media availability. “This is serious: This is exactly what happens when extreme weather becomes a norm.”

Greenhouse gases trap heat around the planet like a warm blanket. The more greenhouse gases we release into the atmosphere, the thicker that blanket gets, the hotter the planet grows and the more the climate changes. Burning fossil fuels is one of the main ways humans add greenhouse gases to the atmosphere and drive climate change, which leads to hotter temperatures and creates conditions that help spark wildfires. Climate change also makes weather patterns more unpredictable, leading to an increase in extreme weather events.

On May 14, after a wildfire forced the K’atl’odeeche First Nation to evacuate to Hay River, the two communities were brought together by the unfolding emergency. By 11 o’clock that night, the fire jumped the river and an evacuation order was called for the entire township of Hay River, including for the K’atl’odeeche, who had to evacuate twice in one day.

“The [Hay River] is at a record low level,” NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said at the media availability on Tuesday. “This is serious: This is exactly what happens when extreme weather becomes a norm.” #cdnpoli

K’atl’odeeche community members returned to find their band office burned to the ground and their community damaged. The community was already dealing with a housing crisis, which has now been exacerbated because of the wildfire, Singh said.

Singh is calling on the government to increase funds for housing and strategies to adapt to and minimize the effects of climate change, requests he heard directly from K’atl’odeeche leadership. For example, he wants the federal government to fund additional training and better equipment to fight climate emergencies, including an emergency stockpile of wildfire fighting equipment, according to an NDP press release.

He also called for more initial attack crews to extinguish fires before they spread and an increase to the firefighter tax credit to give volunteer firefighters financial help.

Singh slammed both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government for moving too slowly on climate action and Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievere for complete inaction.

Jagmeet Singh stands on the riverbed of the Hay River. Last year, the river flooded, causing millions of dollars of damage; this year, the river has dried up. Screenshot of Jagmeet Singh media availability

“Justin Trudeau likes to make climate announcements for show — but his government’s record just doesn’t stand up,” Singh said in a press release.

“And Pierre Poilievre would let Big Oil do whatever they wanted and call it climate action — stacking the deck even further for rich oil CEOs and failing to prevent climate disasters while ignoring the devastating costs to Canadians.”

Singh also referred to elements of his party’s supply-and-confidence agreement, which advocated for giving labour organizations a seat at the table in developing the federal government’s sustainable jobs plan as well as ending public financing for fossil fuel companies.

On Monday, the federal government unveiled new guidelines to restrict fossil fuel subsidies, albeit with numerous exceptions. Singh slammed the Liberals for “moving very slowly” to fulfil a long-standing promise to end public fossil fuel financing and introducing a framework that included exceptions rather than “just cancelling the subsidies” outright.

—With files from Tori Fitzpatrick

Matteo Cimellaro / Canada’s National Observer / Local Journalism Initiative

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Jagmeet Singh comments are tiresome and unhelpful. Trudeau has done more on the climate file than any previous PM, and while his government's efforts are clearly insufficient, it is hard to see how he could have done much more and not lost power to the CPC in 2019 or 2021. Many of the same Canadians who voted for the federal Liberals also chose provincial leaders like Ford, Kenney, Moe, and now Danielle Smith, who have fought tooth and nail to stall any federal environmental programs that might cost their provinces a dime. As a former MPP, Singh understands this, but chooses to take campaign-style public shots at the Liberal government while at the same time he continues to support them under the Liberal-NDP confidence-and-supply agreement.

More than any leader before him is a stupid measure in this case. The only other leader who has been in power while anyone was taking climate change seriously was Stephen Harper; that's an amazingly low bar.

And, he could totally have done way more and stayed in power. The Liberals don't have a single seat in Alberta and barely any in Saskatchewan, while Ontario is not a fossil fuel producing province. If Trudeau had pushed major green job creation he'd have been fine for votes. The whole Green New Deal concept is quite popular, and would be even more popular once it started juicing the economy.

Trudeau's problem is he tried to do it the "free market" way with a carbon tax because the business lobby had been talking that up as better than "heavy-handed" regulation or, God forbid, government actually doing things, so he thought if he meekly did it their way with the carbon tax the Cons and the Chamber of Commerce types maybe wouldn't go after him. Predictably he was wrong; those types always go on the attack if you retreat. People imagine that if you get flak for half measures, you would have gotten much more for doing real measures and less for doing quarter measures, but it's not true; the source of flak is trying to move the Overton Window to zero or negative measures being standard, so they will give the same flak for ANYTHING positive. And the carbon tax is not completely useless, but it's not very effective.

But really I'm giving Trudeau too much credit. Bottom line is, Trudeau didn't do more because the Liberals hang constantly with the oil patch lobbyists (the stats on how many high level meetings they have with them are just huge) and are beholden to them for campaign finance donations (and post-retirement corporate directorships and whatnot).

Saying nobody should be pushing him for more action is basically taking the side of the oil companies.

Tiresome and unhelpful, perhaps ... but it's the first time I've heard one of the major parties actually speak some sense on climate change.
Don't forget that Trudeau's first term was a majority government. The second, and this one, he's had access to all the votes he could hope for on climate change. But he sat on his derriere, taking advice and climate strategy from the "War Room" (which, btw, has changed its name to Canada Energy Centre Ltd.
If you look at the GSAT page (and they've doubtless got a useful product), they're plumping all the loser measures that CAPP was pushing before the CECL.
Trudeau talks big, but does nothing. One of the most important things to understand in life is the difference between talking the talk, and walking it.