A group of activists in Toronto delivered a petition with nearly 48,000 signatures to the CBC Friday morning, asking the broadcaster to host a federal leader's debate on climate change ahead of the October federal election.
The petition was organized by four advocacy groups: Leadnow.ca and North99, along with the climate-change-focused 350 Canada and OurTime, which recently made headlines with a campaign for a Canadian Green New Deal. In a statement, LeadNow said the CBC has a responsibility as a public broadcaster to "provide a platform about this unprecedented national emergency so voters can clearly see where leaders stand on climate and what they’re prepared to do about it.”
"We look to political leaders to lead on serious issues like climate change, but there’s so much misinformation and confusion,” said Amara Possian, Canada Campaigns Manager with 350.org. “A federal leaders’ debate focused on climate change and a made-in-Canada Green New Deal will give voters much-needed clarity on which parties have the best strategy to tackle the climate crisis head on.”
The final signature total was 47,449, said LeadNow.
The environment has emerged as the top election issue for Canadians, found a study released Thursday by the Digital Democracy Project.
In the statement, the advocacy groups pointed to wildfires in Western Canada, heat waves in the east and north, shorelines that are disappearing as sea levels rise and severe floods — all extreme events that are becoming more frequent due to the climate emergency.
CBC spokesperson Chuck Thompson said the public broadcaster recognizes how important climate change is, and that will be reflected in its election coverage.
"As I'm sure you are aware, CBC News has covered climate change extensively, and we will continue to do so," Thompson said in an emailed statement. "As to whether or not there will be a debate specifically about climate change, that question is best asked of the Leaders' Debates Commission."
The commission is an independent organization established by the federal government earlier this year to co-ordinate two leaders' debates before federal elections. The CBC is one of a group of media organizations appointed by the commission to produce and stream the debates, as part of the Canadian Debate Production Partnership.
Jill Clark, a spokesperson for the commission, said the group has had discussions with several organizations that are interested in holding climate debates.
A group of activists plan to deliver a petition with over 45,000 signatures to CBC headquarters in Toronto Friday, demanding the broadcaster hold a federal leaders' debate on the climate emergency. Story by @EmmaMci #cdnpoli
"We intend to stick to our mandate of producing two nationally televised and streamed debates, one in English, one in French that cover a variety of topics most important to Canadians," Clark said in an email.
"We believe that our debates don’t preclude any other debates from happening and that we're always prepared to continue discussions with these groups and others."
Cherry Tsoi, a campaigner with LeadNow, told National Observer that Thompson came outside to hand-receive the petition as a group of about 70 chanted and gave speeches outside CBC headquarters. The activists will deliver copies of the petition to CBC newsrooms across the country next week, she added.
"The election is coming up and this is going to be a major focus for us," Tsoi said. "Whoever we elect will have an irreversible impact on our climate."
On July 17, protesters organized by 350 Canada demonstrated outside CBC offices across the country to make a similar request. And before that, the group organized a 10,000-signature petition asking the commission to hold a climate debate.
The advocacy group also penned an open letter to the CBC, which has been signed by over 40 public figures, including former CBC staff, Indigenous leaders, academics, activists and writers. Margaret Atwood, environmental activist Naomi Klein and Life of Pi author Yann Martel are on the list.
Right now, there are two debates expected ahead of the federal election, which must happen on or before Oct. 21. An English debate is proposed for Oct. 7, with a French one proposed for Oct. 10. Neither date has been finalized, but the events would be held in the Ottawa area.
The non-profit GreenPAC has also organized 117 local, climate-focused candidates' debates in ridings across Canada through an initiative called 100 Debates on the Environment. Those forums will take place on Oct. 3 — they were originally set for Oct. 7 but had to be rescheduled after the debate commission decided its English event would be held the same day.
Editor's Note: This story has been updated as of 4:10 p.m. on Aug. 9, 2019 to include the final number of signatures on the petition, comments from LeadNow, comments from the Leaders' Debates Commission and information on local climate debates happening across Canada.