By: John Woodside, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
As the federal election campaign nears its end, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is fighting off criticism from progressive environmentalists by trying to shift the focus back to Justin Trudeau’s climate record.
In the past week, the NDP has appeared vulnerable on the climate file. A demonstration Thursday by Climate Justice Toronto called on Singh to protect old-growth from logging at Fairy Creek. The party also recently took flak for not having a clear stand on the Trans Mountain expansion project, at the same time the Liberals have been highlighting endorsements from climate experts like Mark Jaccard and former B.C. Green Party leader Andrew Weaver.
But in the days since Trudeau was in B.C. to welcome the endorsement from Weaver, the Liberals’ support has fallen in that province to the NDP’s benefit.
With voters heading to the polls Monday, Singh is attempting to capitalize on the moment by stressing that when it comes to climate, the incumbent Liberals have been an “abject failure.”
Singh summarized Trudeau’s climate record as the worst of any G7 country, saying the Liberals promised to end fossil fuel subsidies but increased them instead, and exempted the largest polluters from the carbon tax.
Canada has a G20 commitment to phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, referring to subsidies that incentivize oil and gas exploration. The Liberals have promised to end those by 2023 instead of a previous commitment of 2025. But since 2018, the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) found governments in Canada have spent at least $23 billion on three megaproject pipelines. The IISD also found that 2020 saw a 200 per cent increase in fossil fuel subsidies to the oil and gas sector.
“We believe we need to fight the climate crisis with everything we have,” Singh said on Friday.
“Our kids deserve it, the future deserves it, and we need to do it right now.”
When asked about old-growth logging, Singh said he believes in protecting old-growth and the environment, but that the environment is not the only consideration.
“I believe very deeply in protecting and conserving the environment, (but) I also believe very strongly in respecting Indigenous rights and Indigenous land rights,” he said.
“I don’t believe at all that it’s the position of settlers to tell Indigenous communities what to do with their land,” he added.
Instead, Ottawa should provide resources to Indigenous communities to help with conservation, Singh said.
“Our plan would be to release $500 million in funding to truly support Indigenous communities in conservation and stewardship,” he said.
“They know what to do, they have the knowledge, they have the experience, they need support, and for a long time, they’ve been stripped of economic resources.
“We would support them in a real way,” he said.
As videos of police pepper-spraying and dragging protesters at Fairy Creek went viral earlier in the campaign, the Liberal Party promised $50 million to protect old-growth. North Vancouver Liberal candidate Jonathan Wilkinson said at the time that a re-elected Liberal government wouldn’t try to assert its jurisdiction over the province, but that it would work with it.
Liberal spokesperson Alex Deslongchamps said the party has a track record of delivering on promises, citing the carbon tax and increased Paris Agreement targets.
“The NDP (seems) to care about climate change, but independent experts gave their climate plan an F,” he said.
On Friday, Singh highlighted an endorsement of his climate plan from Protect Our Winters, which gave the party the highest ranking of the three leading parties. The NDP got an A-, Liberals got a B, and the Conservatives a D. Of the other parties, the Greens tied the NDP, the Bloc Québécois got a B-, and the People’s Party of Canada was given an F.
This week, the global Climate Action Tracker analyzed countries’ updated 2030 greenhouse gas emission reduction targets and called Canada’s “highly insufficient.” That means that without increased action, Canada is on track for 4 C warming — far higher than the Paris Agreement goal of as close to 1.5 C as possible.
Last month’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report estimated five scenarios, ranging from very low to very high emission growth; in the highest emission scenario, it estimated global warming at 4.4 C within 80 years.
As the campaign draws to a close, the leaders are scooping up U.S. endorsements. Trudeau picked up an endorsement from former president Barack Obama. Singh, meanwhile, landed an endorsement from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders on Friday.