Climate

2015 Could Be The Year Canada Elects A Prime Minister Who Actually Cares About Climate

CREDIT: AP Photo/Petar Kujundzic, Pool

Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper witnesses a signing ceremony with China's Premier Li Keqiang at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China Saturday, Nov. 8, 2014.

It’s safe to say that, among environmentalists in Canada, Prime Minister Stephen Harper isn’t well-loved.

Harper, who assumed office in 2006 and who has been a staunch supporter of Canada’s tar sands industry, has tried to silence activists who speak out against the industry. But he hasn’t stopped there: his administration has been accused of muzzling its scientists and meteorologists in an attempt to stop certain information on climate change or environmental issues from reaching the public. Under Harper, Canada withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol — which the prime minister once referred to as a “socialist scheme” — in 2011 and cut about 500 jobs from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in 2013. The government also closed seven scientific libraries in 2014.

“All this underscores Canada’s new reality: Just about any kind of rational evidence has now come under assault by a government that believes that markets — and only markets — hold the answers,” Canadian journalist Andrew Nikiforuk wrote in Foreign Policy in 2013. “Any act that industry regards as an obstacle to rapid mineral extraction or pipeline building has been rewritten with a Saudi-like flourish.”

In October, however, all that could change: Canada is holding its 42nd federal election, which will decide the country’s next prime minister. Harper, as the leader of Canada’s Conservative Party, is running, but so are others, who have different views on how Canada should handle climate change and environmental issues.

As of this month, polls show Harper’s Conservative party neck-in-neck with Justin Trudeau’s Liberal party, and Thomas Mulcair’s NDP trailing behind the two. Remaining steady in single-digit polling are the smaller Bloc Quebecois and Green Parties. Here’s where some of the leaders of these parties stand on energy and the environment.

Justin Trudeau

Trudeau, leader of Canada’s Liberal Party and the son of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, announced his proposed climate policy last week. In a speech in Calgary, Alberta, he promised to create a national carbon pricing policy if elected prime minister, and said that he would invite leaders from Canada’s provinces and territories to accompany him to the U.N. climate conference in Paris. He also said that, within 90 days of the Paris conference, he would hold a meeting with Canadian leaders to develop a plan to combat climate change.

“Many in this room believe that a price on carbon is good for the environment, for the economy and for Alberta’s oil and gas sector,” Trudeau said in his speech, which was given at Calgary’s Petroleum Club. “You know Canada needs to have a price on carbon.”

Trudeau’s desire to tackle climate change doesn’t extend to his feelings on the Keystone XL pipeline, however. He supports building the pipeline, which he says is “an important energy infrastructure” for both the U.S. and Canada.

“I’m seen as a strong, young progressive with an environmental background. The fact that I’d be talking positively about the project I think got people thinking about the fact that perhaps it’s not as bad as it’s been caricatured,” he said in 2013.

Thomas Mulcair

Mulcair is the leader of Canada’s New Democratic Party, and, since the NDP currently has the second-highest number of seats in the country’s House of Commons — behind Harper’s Conservative party — he’s also the leader of Canada’s Official Opposition. He comes from an environmental background: he was Quebec’s Minister of the Environment from 2003-2006, and during that time he launched Quebec’s Sustainable Development Plan — something he’s vowed to recreate as a proposed national policy if elected.

In a speech in 2013, Mulcair spelled out his goals for Canada’s energy policy, which included a cap-and-trade program that includes a price on carbon and a plan to bring back tax breaks for homeowners who made their houses more energy-efficient. He also promised to “redirect a billion dollars a year in fossil fuel subsidies, and re-invest that money in clean energy,” which, while it wouldn’t totally eliminate fossil fuel subsidies in the country — a decision environmentalists have been pushing countries around the world to make — would be a step in the right direction.

In an op-ed in the Toronto Star last December, Mulcair also called for a more rigorous pipeline review process in Canada and criticized the Harper government’s policies, which he said have “gutted assessments and reviews and failed to address citizens’ valid concerns, exacerbating opposition to energy development right across the country.” Mulcair opposes Keystone XL and the Northern Gateway pipeline, which he says poses too much danger to Canada’s West Coast, but he’s in favor of the cross-Canada Energy East pipeline, which he says will keep jobs in Canada.

“New Democrats support increasing west-east capacity, which would make Canadian energy security a top priority and assist with maintaining and creating high-paying, value-added refining jobs here at home. We have also been clear that, unlike Liberals and Conservatives, we will never rubber-stamp pipeline projects,” Mulcair writes in the op-ed.

This month, Mulcair’s New Democratic Party introduced a bill that would require Canada to cut its greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. Right now, Canada isn’t on track to meet its goal of a 17 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions compared to 2005 levels by 2020.

Elizabeth May

As the leader of Canada’s Green Party, May doesn’t have much chance of winning the federal election: polls show the Green Party far behind the New Democratic, Liberal and Conservative Parties, and in 2011, her party only won one seat in Canada’s House of Commons, compared to the Conservative Party’s 166 seats. But fitting to her title, May has strong views on climate change and other environmental issues and Harper’s treatment of them.

“The most serious threat to our future is the climate crisis,” May wrote in a statement criticizing Harper’s budget plan in 2012. “A responsible government would be working to reduce fossil fuel dependence and maximize jobs in energy efficiency retrofits, conservation, and investments in renewable energy. This budget does not even mention climate change.”

May, who was born in the U.S. and became a Canadian citizen in 1978, served as the executive director of Canada’s Sierra Club from 1989 to 2006 — the year she became leader of the Green Party.