Four federal election candidates in the Kootenay Columbia riding gathered on Zoom on Sept. 8 with about 160 members of the public to answer questions about their climate change policies.
The polite and highly structured session was moderated by members of Fridays for Future West Kootenay and co-sponsored by Citizen’s Climate Lobby.
Candidates Robin Goldsbury (Liberal), Rob Morrison (Conservative), Rana Nelson (Green) and Wayne Stetski (NDP) took part. The People’s Party candidate was not invited to the forum because it is not represented in parliament.
One the moderators’ questions for the candidates came in three parts: Do you agree that we need to take sweeping action on the decarbonization of industry, what is your time frame for this transition, and how would you support workers affected by the changes?
All four candidates said yes, sweeping changes are needed.
Liberal candidate Goldsbury said the government has to balance a healthy economy with a healthy environment.
“That balance takes a tremendous amount of effort, a tremendous amount of detail, and it’s really easy to put idealistic ideas out there, but to actually put them in place, we are the only party that has a plan that addresses the next 30 years.”
She did not give details of the plan, nor did she explain how a Liberal government would help workers affected by the changes.
Referring to rapid decarbonization, Goldsbury said, “We are working on it.”
NDP candidate Stetski said he has met with industrial unions and found a great deal of interest in transitioning away from oil, gas, and coal jobs. He gave the example of pipeline workers transitioning to work on replacing the water and sewer infrastructure in many communities.
“It’s no good to sit there and say we need to move to a green economy or green energy future,” he said, “without actually sitting down with the people that currently work in those industries, and talk to them about the future, about retraining and perhaps in some cases about early retirement.”
Green candidate Nelson said her party’s plan is for a phase-out of fossil fuel-based industry between 2030 and 2035. She agreed with Stetski on the need to have discussions with workers on possibilities for retraining and early retirement.
“I was in Elkford on the weekend, speaking to a one woman who has lived there for 16 years, and she told me that 90 per cent of of workers in coal would prefer to be doing something else, and they’re wanting a job to feed their families. So absolutely these conversations need to take place.”
She said the Green Party plan is not to “waltz into a community and say, ‘Well that’s it, everything you guys do is terrible and here’s how you’re going to change.’”
Conservative incumbent candidate Morrison said the government needs to focus on developing renewable energy and he would recruit an expert panel of scientists to guide this. He said there should be a focus on natural gas and nuclear energy.
He said the energy industry is already moving toward renewables on its own.
“Right now they are already starting to retrain. I know one large oil company is looking at renewables, focusing away from our historic oil and gas.”
Morrison said a Conservative government would use tax credits to encourage carbon capture and storage technology (pulling carbon out of the air and storing it underground), especially in industries that “have few alternatives to burning fossil fuels like fertilizer and chemical production.”
He said economic recovery is a priority and that “we can’t build a greener future if Canadians don’t have jobs.”
The candidates were asked what their government would do about climate change and pollution in their first 100 days in office.
Goldsbury said, “It’s really, really super super important that, as a government we sit down and we push, and we push to ensure that climate change is top of the list. We have got an exceptional plan. I can tell you myself personally, I will be pushing for it.”
She did not explain any of the details of the plan, other than to say, “There are a plethora of programs that are available to us.”
Stetski said the first thing he would do is cancel oil and gas subsidies.
“The estimates range anywhere from $900 million to well over a billion dollars a year,” he said.
“I would like to see that money go to research and development in the green energy sector. There’s some great opportunities there, particularly around both solar and geothermal energy, but we need to put some additional money into the industry to develop better technology.”
He said he would form a caucus of MPs from all parties interested in climate, “because I know there are MPs from every party.”
He said he would use the response to COVID-19 as a model, set up provincial and federal committees across the country and give them authority and funding to work on the climate crisis.
Nelson did not restrict her reply to climate change issues. She said a Green Party government in its first 100 days would change the Canada Health Act to include pharmacare and increase health transfers to the provinces including for mental health and Indigenous health. The party would implement the UN’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, including rights to clean water.
She said our personal health depends on the health of the planet and she acknowledged the effects of heat waves, wildfires and drought. She said a Green government would ban fracking.
Morrison said he would find a way to work with the provincial governments to help them with forest management and firefighting, which he said is part of the climate crisis.
He reiterated his idea of convening a panel of scientists to help with the switch to renewable energy “with tax dollars from emitters … most important for me is looking at renewables and how what can we do that right now.”
He said he wants to develop an electric train between Trail and Cranbrook and said he is working on a project with a Columbia Valley trucker experimenting with hydrogen fuel. He said Conservatives would introduce a personal low carbon savings account, but did not say how this would work.
The candidates were also asked about their backgrounds, climate anxiety among youth, barriers facing rural youth on working on climate issues, old growth logging, and whether destruction of the environment should be declared an international crime.
The forum can be viewed at https://bit.ly/3zYcEWd.