Contrary to polls and pundits, who have been saying the federal election is all about the economy, questions and answers at Chemainus Secondary School, where a Cowichan-Malahat-Langford candidates came together Sept. 29, zeroed in on other issues, particularly the environment.
The central debate was on how best to avoid a two degree increase in global temperatures – which many scientists have flagged as a global warming tipping point – without deflating the Canadian economy.
Even when the candidates addressed other issues the answers often turned back to the environment, and how to deal with it.
Conservative candidate Martin Barker said his party has done a good job addressing climate change under the leadership of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He warned that the other parties want to curtail the extraction and export of Canada’s ‘black gold,’ a course that would damage the economy.
NDP candidate Alistair MacGregor said Canada is falling behind in the high tech transition from fossil fuels to green alternatives, that we cannot afford to continue relying on oil and gas as main drivers of Canada’s economy, and that money earned through fossil fuel exports should be plowed back into research and development of a sustainable energy sector.
Green candidate Fran Hunt-Jinnouchi said no other party in the House of Commons has said ‘no’ to pipelines that would ship raw bitumen overseas, or to B.C.’s plans to pin its economic prosperity on another fossil fuel, liquefied natural gas. Only the Greens can be counted on to make the changes necessary for Canada to transition from fossil to renewable energy.
Pointing out that the oil and gas industries currently receive ‘billions of dollars’ in federal subsidies, MacGregor said it’s time to redirect our investments.
“We all know that in this century climate change is going to be the number one issue,” he said. “If we don’t keep global temperatures below a two degree Celsius rise, we are going to see catastrophic change to our planet.”
The NDP would end subsidies to the oil and gas industries. “It is time to stop taxpayer money from going to an industry that is polluting our skies and worsening the climate.”
There’s an opportunity waiting for countries that get ahead of the curve when it comes to developing alternative energy technologies, but that means shifting support from fossil fuels to renewables. “We want to take that money and invest in an alternative energy future,” MacGregor said.
Barker said the reality of energy use right now is heavy reliance on fossil fuels. “We have to examine our own use of greenhouse gas emitting products,” he said. “The fact is, we are all consumers, the whole world is consumers. Cutting off the production is not going to change the fact that we are consumers.”
That is driving demand for fossil fuels. “As long as we’re going to drive on our roads, run a car, or run a computer, there’s going to be a demand for carbon products.”
Canada is well positioned to fulfill that demand. “Canada is suited to supply those carbon products,” Barker said. “Canada has the most vigorous environmental regulations in the world. We have to ask ourselves: Where do we want the world to get their carbon from?
“Do we want it to come from Nigeria, where they have the dirtiest fuels, where they have no consideration for greenhouse gas emissions or environmental standards? Or do we want it come from Canada, where we have the highest regulatory standards?”
Barker said that if we ‘cut off production’ of oil and gas, we would impact 500,000 jobs and 10 percent of income received by ‘every level of government.’ The result would be unemployment, deficits and a reduced standard of living.
Hunt-Jinnouchi said the Greens would “remove all transfers and subsidies to big oil and gas.”
The oil and gas industries are big in the news, but Hunt-Jinnouchi pointed out that the economic reality does not match the hype. “Oil and gas make up less than three percent of our GDP,” she said. “The only reason we are so focused on it is because our premier, that’s her singular focus; and our prime minister, that is his singular focus.”
The Green Party of Canada would increase the taxes on ‘big corporations’ from 15 to 19 percent and introduce a polluter-pay carbon fee, she said. “We would also introduce a carbon dividend, which is revenue neutral,” she added.
She said we have to go deeper than the Conservative perspective of seeing Canadians as consumers. “Martin talks about us as consumers, but I really ask the question: Do we want to be consumers, or do we want to be citizens? I really believe we want to be citizens.”
Transitioning from carbon based to alternative sources of energy will take time – we can’t shut down the oil sands today, Hunt-Jinnouchi said. “But we need to diversify our economy.”