HALIFAX, N.S.—The principle of intergenerational equality was brought to the forefront of Canadian politics with the election this past May of dozens of MPs in their 20s and 30s, each of whom have a vested interest in the long-term future of Canada, particularly with respect to the environment.
They are joined in action by youth across Canada demanding environmental justice for future generations through aggressive action on climate change and commitment to innovative, modernized energy policies.
These demands are shared by Canadians of all generations, whose environmental interests range from the conservation of hunting and fishing grounds, to advocating for better public transport and improved air quality.
The government is very aware of the dangers posed by climate change. When the minister of the Environment took up his position in January, he was told by his advisers that global warming presented significant economic, health, and environmental implications and that Canada needed to take quick action to control the emissions from traditional fossil fuel energy sources. He was also told that green technologies and clean energy infrastructure could offer Canada significant economic opportunities.
The minister’s actions since then have shown that this government has little interest in improving environmental outcomes or supporting the transition to renewable energy sources. In fact, recent developments on the energy and environmental fronts indicate a continued lack of willingness to defend the principle of intergenerational equality.
Of great concern is the federal government’s decision to gut the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA), crippling the work they do evaluating environmental impact of proposed development projects with a 43-per cent budget cut slashing a third of their staff. Any major project, including the development of traditional or renewable energy, must go through rigorous initial and continuing environmental assessments. This is the key to protecting our air, land and water, and the health of individuals and communities.
Slashing the CEAA is the latest in a series of government moves that weaken the environmental assessment process, including allowing the minister to exclude projects from federal environmental assessment and handing over the assessment of major energy projects to the National Energy Board.
Even the positive step that Environment Canada took a few weeks ago in releasing its new monitoring design for studying oil sands pollution and biodiversity underscored this government’s continued reluctance to enforce better environmental standards. While a good monitoring plan will give Canadians a much better picture of the impacts of oil sands development, when it comes to curbing pollution and managing cumulative environmental impacts, this government has failed to enforce existing federal laws and has yet to produce promised new regulations.
The government squandered a real opportunity to make progressive change at the recent meeting of Canada’s energy ministers, which resulted in a commitment to a national energy strategy based on the expansion of fossil fuel production instead of decisive support for the transition to renewable energy sources. The tar sands were prioritized over green jobs and a clean environment—no surprise given that the meetings were co-sponsored by the oil industry.
We must not forget that the development of the oil sands in Canada was the result of substantial government-sponsored research and subsidies. As part of a federal initiative, taxpayer money was invested into figuring out how to extract and refine bitumen, which has led to enormous profits for the industry. However, we have not seen a similar long-term commitment from the federal government to support the transition to clean energy, including long-term investment in energy efficiency technologies.
As we develop a green energy economy designed to respond to the realities of the 21st century, we need innovation, creativity and federal leadership. We have an oil sands worth of energy at our fingertips in energy efficiency and in renewables. Taking steps like establishing a green bonds program to fund clean tech initiatives, fulfilling our G-20 promise to cancel billions in fossil fuel subsidies, and re-establishing major federal support for renewable energy would enhance the Canadian economy and put us back on the right track for tackling climate change.
Oil and gas subsidies have been touted as necessary for keeping the industry competitive through development of modern, cleaner technologies, yet a recent government study found that research subsidies for the fossil fuel industry have done little to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
It’s time to shift the focus of the government’s initiatives from big oil to renewable and conservation technologies. All Members of Parliament should commit themselves to supporting the much-needed and greatly-delayed transition to a green economy powered by renewables and energy efficiency technologies. This transition should include putting a price on carbon.
Achieving a healthy, ecologically-balanced environment will not come at the expense of our economic prosperity. In fact, green tech offers us the building blocks of Canada’s next-generation economy.
In this new Parliament, youth will have a greater voice than ever before. Their presence reminds us that while the transition to an economically, environmentally, and socially just energy policy will require bold and visionary federal leadership, it is above all work that we owe to future generations.
NDP MP Megan Leslie, her party’s environment critic, represents Halifax, N.S.
The Hill Times
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