Wildfires, sustainability and what a 2050 Canada will look like were on the minds of voters who tuned in to watch an all-candidates debate on the environment on Wednesday night (Sept. 8).
Six of the seven federal election candidates in Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo took part in the debate, with Conservative Frank Caputo citing a scheduling conflict as the reason he could not attend the forum.
Held online via Zoom by Transition Kamloops and the Kamloops Chapter of the BC Sustainable Energy Association, the debate was mostly cordial, with Liberal Jesse McCormick, New Democrat Bill Sundhu and Green Iain Currie exhausting most of their permitted rebuttals after the first few questions as they criticized each others’ party’s records and plans on climate change.
In total, 14 questions, with answers kept under a minute in length, were posed to the candidates.
Sundhu stressed the need for new leadership through the NDP after years of the “same old politics” from the previous Liberal and Conservative governments, while McCormick was quick to tout his experience in Ottawa as a policy advisor to the minister of Environment. Currie was frank, conceding his party is not likely to form government, but that if elected, he would be a strong policy advocate on the environment and not a functionary doing as his party leader directs.
Asked for yes or no answers on whether they would commit to reducing carbon emissions from 2005 levels by 60 per cent by 2030 and make it law, McCormick, Corally Delwo of the People’s Party and Independent Wayne Allan said no, while Currie said yes.
Independent Bob O’Brien said he didn’t think it would be enough, noting the need to reduce emissions from other countries to have a real impact, and suggested labelling carbon emissions on goods similar to the food industry to encourage consumers to buy from net-zero producers.
The Liberals’ plan pledged to have emissions up to 45 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, according to McCormick, while Sundhu said the NDP’s plan will cut emissions by 50 per cent by 2030.
Delwo said a People’s Party government would focus on its own governance on the environment and pull out of the Paris Accord.
“It would be difficult to make any laws around this as climate change alarmism is based on flawed models that have consistently failed at correctly predicting the future,” she said.
All candidates supported the idea of updating the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, which didn’t make it past the first reading in the last Parliament and hasn’t been amended significantly since 1999, despite changes in the understanding of toxic materials’ impacts on the environment.
The idea of reshaping the economy in the wake of the pandemic, with a focus on sustainability and social equity, yielded affirmative responses from McCormick, Currie and Sundhu, while Delwo said her party doesn’t support the “globalist UN agenda.” She added that, given the amount of economic damage done by COVID-19 restrictions, it would be irresponsible of any government to use this scenario to push said agenda.
Wildfires and climate change
Asked how they will address climate change locally, given an ongoing drought, a June heat dome and a summer of forest fires in the riding, McCormick said he would work with the City of Kamloops and Indigenous partners on climate change solutions, while collaborating with industry partners.
Sundhu said the NDP is prepared to commit $3 billion to respond to disasters.
Currie said while forest management and wildfire prevention is primarily a provincial responsibility, he noted there are plenty of opportunities for the federal government to invest in forest-fuel management.
Allan said B.C. should prioritize building a water bomber production factory to produce “at least a couple squadrons of water bombers” to be strategically located around B.C. to address fires within minutes.
Delwo said wildfires shouldn’t be blamed completely on climate change, but more so on bureaucratic red tape delaying action, which she intends to cut through a public inquiry, if elected.
Questions from the public included what candidates think a sustainable Canada will look like in 2050, agriculture, how to make transportation more sustainable and how to protect nature in the face of mass species extinctions, to which all candidates committed to work on protecting at least 30 per cent of land, freshwater and ocean by 2030.
As for making transportation more sustainable, Currie said a date needs to be set for transitioning away from internal combustion engines and more support needs to be given to electric car infrastructure, as well as hydrogen cars, which Allan also supported exploring.
“Electric cars are only going to go so far and, when we run out of lithium, what are we going to do then?” Allan asked.
McCormick said if the Liberals are re-elected, they would phase in the exclusive sales of zero-emission vehicles by 2050, build 50,000 more charging stations across the country and make the vehicles more affordable with $5,000 rebates.
Sundhu said there are opportunities for well-paying jobs in the areas of zero-emission vehicles, high-speed trains and electric transit through government investment. What is lacking, he added, is the political will to do so.
“It’s a question of choosing new leaders,” Sundhu said, noting big corporations seem to have the ear of the Liberals and Conservatives.
O’Brien said he likes the idea of electric cars, but questions where the electricity to drive them comes from and what would happen to road maintenance taxes that comes from gas sales.
How will each candidate and/or their party assist young farmers with the cost of getting into agriculture and will they support those who are using regenerative practices?
Sundhu said family farms and innovation need to be encouraged over big agricultural producers, Delwo said she would support farmers with subsidies and Currie said moving subsidies away from big agriculture to family farms and increasing food security is an important part of the Green’s platform. Allan, meanwhile, said older farmers need to get their fair share, having historically had no support from government.
Sundhu said to get to 2050, meaningful action needs to be taken this decade on the climate emergency, while McCormick said he envisions electric vehicles and their stations around the country in 2050, the end of non-metallurgical coal and Canada as a world leader in green technology.
By 2050, Green candidate Ian Currie said, the internal combustion engine needs to something only read about in history books and food supply chains need to be shortened, with more produced locally.
O’Brien said what can be done by 2050 can be done now, noting he is building his own house that will utilize solar power and underground heating.
“I think we’re there now. We just have to make sure we want to do it,” O’Brien said.