Candidates debate action on climate change

Eric Plummer, October 3, 2019

On Sept. 30 candidates in the Courtenay-Alberni riding - which covers a large portion of Nuu-chah-nulth territory on Vancouver Island’s west coast - debated how their parties would attack the issue in Parksville. (Eric Plummer photo)

Parksville, BC — 

At a time when city streets around the world are being filled with demonstrations for governments to do more to fight climate change, how the global phenomenon is affecting Vancouver Island’s coastal communities was brought up during the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council’s annual general meeting.

“All of you are losing land to global warming and rising sea levels,” said Tseshaht Councillor Hugh Braker at the AGM on Sept. 26 in Victoria. “It’s happening far faster now than scientists thought it would.”

Braker explained that the Port Alberni-based First Nation has lost 10 to 15 feet along sections of the Somass River in recent years through erosion.

“I believe some of that is attributable to the fact that the river is running much faster and more frequently flooding than it did in the past,” he said. “We’re probably going to lose a large part of our main reserve in the flood plain area due to rising sea level.”

In August Fisheries and Oceans Canada drew a direct link between the warming of the oceans and the decline of West Coast fish stocks.

“The planet is warming and the most recent five years have been the warmest on record,” wrote DFO scientist Sue Grant in the 2019 State of the Canadian Pacific Salmon report.

The report stated that warmer water is putting B.C.’s salmon at risk – including chinook that are declining throughout their range and some southern sockeye populations that are facing extinction.

“The extent that we are able to curb our CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions will determine the magnitude of future warming,” the report states. “There is still time to moderate climate change impacts on salmon and people.”

What Canada can do to mitigate global warming has become a foremost issue in the 2019 federal election. On Sept. 30 candidates in the Courtenay-Alberni riding - which covers a large portion of Nuu-chah-nulth territory on Vancouver Island’s west coast - debated how their parties would attack the issue. Held in Parksville, the event was hosted by the local chamber of commerce, where written questions were directed to the candidates.

A global leader or laggard?

Early in the debate candidates were asked about the global effects if Canada reaches its pollution targets under the 2015 Paris Agreement.

“If we aren’t a leader, then why shouldn’t any other country do their share too?” asked Green Party candidate Sean Wood.

Byron Horner, who is running for the Conservatives, said the Liberals’ introduction of a carbon tax during their last term was an ineffective policy.

“The Trudeau Liberal climate tax is not working, it’s unfair,” he said. “Eight per cent is only paid by major polluters. You and small businesses pay the other 92 per cent.”

Horner also noted that his party would impose tighter emission standards on the largest polluters.

“We’re going to help take the climate fight global by a significant investment in Canadian green technology that we can export to countries like China and India that have a much bigger dependence on coal, which is the largest emitter in the world,” he added. “We believe in technology, not taxes.”

Sean Wood said part of the problem is that Ottawa has historically been beholden to oil companies.

“I like to call the fossil fuel industry the incumbent industry, because they’ve been influencing politics in Ottawa for far too long,” he said. “We need to move those subsidies from the fossil fuel industry to green technology and let’s make Canada a leader instead of lagging behind.”

NDP candidate Gord Johns, who served as the region’s Member of Parliament for the last four years, stressed that Canada is not doing its fair share to curb greenhouse gas emissions. According to the World Resources Institute, Canada accounts for 1.6 per cent of international carbon dioxide emissions, based on 2014 figures.

“We’re only 0.48 per cent of the global population - we’re laggards, we’re triple our output when it comes to greenhouse gas emission,” said Johns. “Canada is one of the biggest polluters per capita in the world.”

Although Canada’s share of this pollution decreased slightly over the previous decade, the country’s overall output of carbon dioxide increased by 19.5 per cent since 2005.

“We need a binding agreement, binding targets that are legislated in the House of Commons by the Government of Canada at a climate accountability office that’s going to make sure that we stay on track,” stressed Johns during the debate.

“We’re only responsible for 1.6 per cent of global emissions. We can’t win the climate change fight alone, we can’t win it within our own borders,” said Horner, noting the importance of exporting more environmentally sustainable technology to other countries.

Currently the Hesquiaht community of Hot Springs Cove is hoping for federal funds to complete a hydro-electric project that would be powered by a local creek. This would save the First Nation up to $750,000 annually that it spends on diesel for power.

Although the ruling Liberals have not committed support for Hot Springs Cove, an election pledge has announced support for industries to use more environmentally friendly power.

“We’re committing to move forward with a new $5 billion clean power fund,” said Liberal candidate Jonah Gowans during the debate. “This fund will support the electrification of Canadian industries, including our resources and manufacturing sectors and make Canada home to the cleanest mills, mines and factories in the world.”

Pipelines

The expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline has proved to be a divisive issue across the country, particularly after the federal government bought the project in 2018 as part of its commitment to push the project through to completion. While the pipeline’s twinning aims to lessen Canada’s dependence on exporting petroleum to the US as a discounted price, many are concerned about how an increase in tanker traffic will affect the West Coast. The tanker route passes through Pacheedaht and Ditidaht territory.

“There was no pipeline built in the 10 years before we took government,” assured Gowans. “We’re going to build a pipeline, and we’re going to use the profits to fund our transition to renewables.”

“The Liberal government should not have bought the pipeline,” argued Horner. “It was an inappropriate use of your tax dollars.”

“The government bought a leaky pipeline that nobody would buy,” said Johns. “If we’re going to invest in anything, we should be investing in renewables, it’s long overdue. We can’t continue investing in fossil fuel infrastructure - we certainly shouldn’t be subsidizing the oil and gas sector.”

While he’s against the federal government’s purchase of Trans Mountain, Horner is advocating for better support for Canada’s oil and gas industry.

“It’s wrong that we import over $17 billion a year of foreign oil to Canada,” he said. “We should own our own energy footprint in Canada. We should support our neighbour in Alberta and all of the families and workers who depend on that resource.”

“Fossil fuels are a sunset industry,” stressed Wood. “Don’t invest in it; invest in green technology for the future. We’re done with the pipelines and all the fossil fuels.”

Fish farms

The contentious topic of fish farms was also brought up during the debate. It’s an industry that employs thousands in coastal communities, but many fear that the ocean-based pens are affecting migrating salmon.

Earlier in the day the Liberals announced an election promise to transition aquaculture away from net pens to “close containment” systems by 2025. This announcement has been called a “destructive” measure by the B.C. Salmon Farmers Association, and Horner spoke against bans imposed on the industry.

“We need to support abundant and sustainable wild salmon stocks through enhancement, enforcement and habitat restoration, as well as the local jobs that come from the salmon farming industry,” he said. “Rather than banning anything outright, we need to take a science-based approach that fills in the knowledge gaps and settles conflicting science about fish farming.”

“We’re not banning, we’re transitioning,” responded Gowans. “It’s not that we’re going to take away the jobs, we’re going to change them to make it more sustainable for the wild salmon.”

Sean Wood stressed the need to get salmon farms out of the ocean.

“We need to move them onto land and get them out of our waters,” he said, noting the continued fishing of herring off Vancouver Island. “Our herring fishery needs to be rebuilt too - a lot of the herring goes to feed fish farms.”

Johns said that an NDP bill for closed containment farms was voted down by the Liberals and Conservatives last year.

“We have a sea lice epidemic. They’re allowing fish that are infected with PRV (piscine reovirus) to be transferred to open-net fish farms - that should be totally unacceptable,” he said. “This is our salmon which identifies us on our coast. It’s who we are, it’s what unites us - it shouldn’t be dividing us.”

Canada’s federal election takes place Oct. 21.