Climate change a hot-button topic at Barrie-Innisfil candidates debate
Four out of five federal candidates in Barrie-Innisfil attended the GreenPAC debate on the environment at the Lakeshore Library in Innisfil
By Miriam King Barrie Today
Climate change and the state of the environment have become key issues in this federal election.
On Thursday night, one of ‘100 Debates on the Environment’ took place at Innisfil’s Lakeshore Library, organized by GreenPAC, a non-partisan, non-profit organization.
In fact, it was one of 107 such debates, taking place across Canada this week.
Deb McGrath moderated the event, which was held in partnership with the Innisfil ideaLAB & Library and the Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition.
“All five parties were invited,” said McGrath, although People’s Party of Canada candidate Stephanie Robinson declined.
That left the debate and discussion around questions posed by GreenPAC, local youth and the audience, to four candidates, including John Brassard (Conservative), Bonnie North (Green), Pekka Reinio (NDP), and Lisa-Marie Wilson (Liberal).
There were some memorable quotes, starting with each candidate’s two-minute introduction. Speaking order was determined at random.
Wilson: “In the past four years, we’ve done more to fight climate change than any previous government in Canada’s history, and there’s more to be done.”
North: “We’re all on the same page. Let’s work together.”
Brassard: “None of us in this room would disagree with the fact that manmade climate change is real. Unfortunately, what we’re seeing is a lot of political posturing… It’s a global problem.”
Reinio shared his memories of moving to Innisfil, the wetlands that existed, and sprawling growth that has occurred since.
The first four questions were posed by GreenPAC.
Question 1: What will you do as MP to ensure we have a safe climate?”
Reinio: “We will legislate science-based targets… We cannot change climate change in isolation. We have to address inequality (in society). People can’t install solar panels on their roof when they can’t even keep a roof over their head.”
Brassard: “New technology, not new taxes. Incentivize new technology… We can help lower what is a global problem, not just a Canadian problem, but a global problem.”
North: “We need to co-operate across party lines. We need to fundamentally adjust our priorities.” She called for “no new fossil fuel projects… 100 per cent renewable energy by 2030.”
Wilson: “(The Liberals) are phasing out coal by 2030 while making sure we are being fair to workers.” She pointed to $3 billion in funding to plant two billion trees, money to ‘green’ school buses and transit buses, and a target of zero emissions by 2050.
Question 2: How can the federal government work with municipalities and farmers to reduce water pollution and the risk of flood events aggravated by industrial development and climate change?
North: “We believe water is sacred and safe drinking water must be treated as a right… Grassy Narrows is a shame.” She called for all levels of government to come together on the issue. “Nothing is going to be accomplished if we all operate in silos.”
Brassard: “Certainly, the federal government has a role to play in this… to ensure we mitigate and adapt,” through the provision of infrastructure funding and incentive-based programs. He defended farmers. “Farmers are the stewards of the land. They make a living off the land.”
Reinio: “An environmental bill of rights would protect our watershed.” He also noted that affordability issues in municipalities like Toronto have fuelled an exodus of people into smaller communities, putting pressure on the environment. He called for federal support for infrastructure, to help municipalities meet those pressures, and maintain high standards at sewage treatment plants.
Question 3: What will you do to protect the quality and quantity of wilderness in Canada?
North: “Ecological wisdom is one of our core values.” The Green Party calls for $100 million per year for Indigenous-led conservation, increased funding for Parks Canada, and a national forest strategy. “We’re in a sixth mass extinction right now.”
Brassard: “Maintain the community-led species at risk program,” one of 55 “action items in the Conservative platform. “It’s also important that consultation take place,” he said, noting that Tories have offered hunters and anglers a “seat at the table.”
Wilson: “Massive new efforts under the Nature Fund” and a promised $1.3-billion investment, will provide protection to marine and terrestrial habitats, increasing the protected areas.
Reinio: “We are losing our biodiversity and our ecosystems are at risk.” He again called for an environmental bill of rights and stricter regulations.
Question 4: What will you do to ensure that Canadians are better protected from the health and environmental impacts of toxic substances?
Wilson: “We are committed to eliminating coal by 2030… Our plan to ban single use plastics will mean less microplastics in our water and food.” She noted the Liberals banned asbestos in 2016, and called for the Environmental Protection Act to be reformed “as soon as possible.”
North: “We believe in using evidence to protect the environment for all of us,” noting that environmental degradation has a negative impact on health. “It is degrading our quality of life and it also creates a financial burden.” She called for regulation of microfibres, and the reduction of pesticide use.
Brassard: “The Environmental Protection Act hasn’t been updated since 1999,” although the government has amended the EPA, as in the 2016 ban on asbestos. “We are absolutely going to ban the practice of dumping thousands and thousands of tonnes of raw sewage in our waterways.”
Reinio: “The EPA should be updated… however, we also need a government that has a political will to enforce this act.” He mentioned Grassy Narrows, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s response to an Indigenous protester who attended a Liberal fundraiser.
Question 5, from the Youth of Innisfil: What decisions will your government make now to protect the environment so that Canada is a safe place for future generations?
Reinio: “We will listen to scientists, not lobbyists,” he said, calling for an end to all subsidies to the fossil fuel industry and a switch to green incentives. “Establish an Environmental Bill of Rights, one that is funded and one that is enforced… This is a golden opportunity to fix many problems (and) transfer to a low carbon future where no one is left behind.”
Brassard: “We need to take a parallel path. We can’t just flip the switch tomorrow, and not have it impact our economy and… individuals.” He noted that 20 per cent of the economy is fossil fuel-based; the green economy contributes only three per cent.
North: “We adults are failing you. We politicians are failing you.” She invited the audience to look at ‘Mission Possible’, the Green Party’s “20 achievable and ambitious action plans.”
Wilson: “We are committed to phasing out inefficient tax subsidies for fossil fuels,” introducing a clean power fund that will support the transition to green energy for northern and Indigenous communities. “I was inspired by the thousands who came together to protest climate change.”
Questions ranged from cutting phosphorus levels in Lake Simcoe, to shifting from animal-based to plant-based agriculture. There was also a debate on the carbon tax.
Wilson noted that a carbon tax has worked elsewhere. “Using prices to change behaviour just makes sense… The approach we’re using is widely recognized as best practices.” She added, “All the revenues from carbon pricing go back to Canadian families and small communities” in rebates.
Brassard: To be effective, a carbon tax would have to go from the current $20 per tonne to $102 per tonne. “There is an affordability issue for Canadians right now,” especially those living outside of centres that have reliable transit. “It puts at a very threat the economic stability of families here in Barrie and Innisfil.”
Brassard called for the carbon tax to be scrapped, to boos from the audience.
There was an exchange between Brassard and Wilson, over the Lake Simcoe Clean-Up Fund.
Brassard said the $30-million fund was “unfortunately not renewed, or as I put it ‘cancelled,’ by the Liberal government,” and promised to restore the fund, to “continue the great work that was done.”
Wilson called the “cancelled” comment an “absolutely false statement… It expired,” never renewed by then-prime minister Stephen Harper because of the election, or by the Liberals because it was a Conservative program. “However, I am committed, if I am elected, to get that back,” she said.