All five party leaders running outside of Quebec in the upcoming 2019 federal election. (The Canadian Press photos)

All five party leaders running outside of Quebec in the upcoming 2019 federal election. (The Canadian Press photos)

ELECTION 2019: Climate strikes push environment to top of mind for federal leaders

Black Press Media presents a three-part series on three big election issues

With nearly a million people across Canada pouring into the streets to call for climate action in recent weeks, the environment has quickly become a top priority for federal party leaders.

If elected, Justin Trudeau’s Liberals are promising a series of legally binding environmental regulations to bring in net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. They’re also pledging to install 5,000 electric-vehicle charging stations, plant two billion trees over 10 years, raise the price of carbon up to $50 per tonne by 2022, and ban single-use plastics. It will also start a $5-billion clean power fund to support the “electrification” of industries like mining and forestry.

Looking far into the future, the party says it will put any money generated by the sale or construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion towards a transition to clean energy. Construction has yet to begin.

Releasing their platform late in the campaign on Friday, Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives have pledged to scrap the carbon tax, and instead bring in standards for major emitters. Companies will be required to invest “a set amount” for every excess tonne of greenhouse gas they emit, to go toward research for emissions reduction in their industry.

The party has also promised to create tax credits on public transit and green home improvements, end the crude oil shipping ban on B.C.’s north coast, build the Trans Mountain pipeline, and stop cities from dumping raw sewage into Canadian waters.

Jagmeet Singh’s NDP is vowing to reduce emissions by 450,000 megatonnes by 2030 and continue carbon pricing, while switching all public transit to electric power by 2030, eliminating single-use plastics, and investing $40 million in coastline protection.

Singh has spoken out against the Trans Mountain expansion, but has not committed to stopping it.

Elizabeth May’s Greens, who have long made the environment the cornerstone of their platforms, vow to cut carbon emissions to 60 per cent by 2030 and hit net-zero by 2050, continue carbon pricing, and cancel the Trans Mountain expansion.

They also pledge to plant 10 billion trees by 2050, bring in a national strategy for safe drinking water, and ban single-use plastics by 2022.

The People’s Party of Canada claims there is “no scientific consensus” on human-caused climate change. The party says it will withdraw from the Paris climate agreement and abolish the carbon tax and subsidies for green technologies.

Kai Chan, a University of B.C professor at the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability, said the in-depth environmental plans are a testament to climate strikes worldwide.

“The tone is changing,” Chan told Black Press Media by phone, pointing to polls that suggest climate change is the top issue for nearly one-quarter of voters, even above jobs.

The Trudeau government’s $4.5-billion purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline was widely criticized when it 3was announced in May 2018. However, the polls suggest pro-climate action voters may still choose Trudeau because they see no viable alternative, he said.

READ MORE: Singh says NDP would form coalition with the Liberals to stop Tories

READ MORE: Advance voter turnout up 25% for first two days: Elections Canada

The Liberals and the Conservatives are nearly tied in the polls as of Oct. 15, with the NDP trailing nearly 15 percentage points, barely ahead of the Greens.

Those numbers suggest the purchase seems to have “stopped the hemorrhaging” of the party’s right-leaning supporters to the Conservatives, Chain said, while convincing voters in the middle that the party can protect the environment and the economy at the same time.

“I think it was a pretty effective ploy to keep pushing the climate pricing strategy while also spending billions of dollars purchasing a pipeline.”

David Tindall, a sociology professor at UBC, said the Liberals have been playing “a bit of a fear card” on the environmental front.

“They’re saying if you don’t vote Liberal, the alternative is going to be the Conservatives, and they’re going to go back the other direction,” Tindall said.

READ MORE: B.C. teen creates app to help voters know the issues ahead of Election Day

The previous Conservative governments, under Stephen Harper, was criticized for reducing greenhouse gas emission targets, withdrawing from the Kyoto Protocol, and “muzzling” scientists who publicly opposed its policies.

Voters will elect a Liberal minority government on Oct. 21, Tindall predicted, likely propped up by the NDP and the Greens, who could pressure Trudeau to bring in more climate-friendly policies.

READ MORE: Trudeau targeted in English leaders’ debate

The next story in the series, coming Thursday, is on taxation and the economy.


@katslepian

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