When I launched this Blog, Against the Flow, four months ago, I vowed that it would: “Salute those who recognize that our planet is both burning up and drowning due to climate change and undertake to fight on behalf of Planet Earth… The fires, floods (and winds) of the past few months have shown that every political party in Canada, at both the federal and provincial levels, must bring forward a comprehensive strategy and action plan to combat this challenge.”
Climate Change is not something dreamed up by starry eyed youth or overly sensitive scientists. It is very real. We must salute our youth for their vision as they will inherit the mess that we leave behind for them, and our scientists are doing their duty in sounding the alarm.
On June 6, 2023, there was a forest fire burning in every province of Canada except for Prince Edward Island. On one day in late December, temperatures above zero were recorded in every province in the country. In New Brunswick just before Christmas, a wicked and costly wind and rain storm took out untold numbers of trees and resulted in lengthy power outages. In 2022, tropical storm Fiona ripped into the south coast of Newfoundland sending entire houses out to sea and making some people afraid to live, ever again, next to the coast.
The start of the 2024 year is a good time to grade the performance on the climate change issue of the main Federal and New Brunswick political parties.
Pierre Poilievre, the leader of the Federal Conservative Party, has toured the country crying “Carbon Tax” as the greatest issue facing Canada, and the one on which he wants to fight the next federal election. Throughout his tour and in the House of Commons, Poilievre ignored the staggering statistics. Natural Resources Canada reported that as of October 2023, there had been 6,551 wildfires in Canada. That year’s fire season was the most destructive ever recorded. The Insurance Bureau of Canada reported insured damage for severe weather events, fire, wind, and flooding totaled $3.1 billion in 2022.
Poilievre and his party have done little or nothing to formulate a policy or strategy to combat climate change. If Poilievre is soon to become Prime Minister, as appears likely according to the opinion polls, we must ask what he will say to fellow world leaders about the climate crisis which many are shouldering. Like good ostriches, Poilievre and his Conservatives are sticking their heads in the sand. They deserve a Grade of F.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the federal Liberals have shown determination and courage in introducing the carbon tax on fossil fuels. No other current national political leader has grasped the seriousness of the challenge Canada and the world from climate change. However, Prime Minister Trudeau has underestimated the importance for the average Canadian of affordability issues such as food and housing costs, on which Poilievre and the Conservatives have focused.
A prime example of the Prime Minister’s miscalculation was in surrounding himself with Liberal MPS from the Atlantic region when announcing the much-needed cancellation in the region of the carbon tax on home heating oil. This left him open to claims that the action was a mere ploy to hold onto Liberal seats in the next federal election, rather than doing the right thing. Still, Mr. Trudeau’s sincere concerns about climate change and his positioning of Canada reasonably successfully on the world stage on this issue, earn the Prime Minister and his party a Grade of A-.
For Sagmeet Singh, Leader of the federal New Democratic Party, “The climate crisis remains an urgent priority.” But Singh and his caucus, despite being closely allied with the governing Liberals in Parliament, do not have a clear policy on climate change, and do not go out of their way to defend the Liberals’ carbon tax. The party makes vague proposals such as “a new Canadian Climate Bank that will help boost investment in renewable energy, energy efficiency and low carbon technology across the country.” The NDP appears to make the right noises, but does not deserve more than a Grade of B.
On December 30, New Brunswick’s Conservative Premier, Blaine Higgs, took out a major advertisement in the Telegraph Journal extolling his government’s accomplishments in 2023. Over two full pages of the newspaper, paid for by the province’s taxpayers, the ad made no mention of climate change or any other environmental concern. It did state the following: “We continue to push the federal government to end the carbon tax that is driving up the cost of life’s necessities.” A recent Angus Reid opinion poll found that Premier Higgs and his government are dead last among all provincial Premiers and governments on satisfaction ratings, except one, reducing the deficit and cutting government spending. On climate change and overall performance, the New Brunswick Conservative government deserves an F Grade.
The New Brunswick Green Party has just three members in the provincial Legislature, but under the leadership of David Coon the party continues to “punch above its weight” in combatting climate change. A former policy director of the New Brunswick Conservation Council, Coon speaks with conviction on the issue: “We have a choice. We can choose to fight for our children’s future and set a course to get off fossil fuels, or we can avert our eyes and tinker with the status quo. As a Green, I choose to fight.” Of course, the chances of the N.B. Greens becoming the next New Brunswick government are slim. Coon and the Greens must increase their number of seats in the Legislature, to have strong impact. Good politics is about finding a way to make positive change. The Greens show promise, but they haven’t arrived yet. Coon and his Greens earn a Grade of B+.
The intentions of New Brunswick Liberal Leader Susan Holt on climate change and other policy areas appear to be good. She is fresh, sincere, and progressive. She likes to listen, in contrast to Premier Higgs who struggles to consult even with his own Conservative MLA’s. Yet, Holt’s policy statements lack depth. When asked at one point to comment on the federal government’s carbon tax, she said there are aspects of this measure that should be improved, but she did not specify what those changes should be. Holt has been artful in navigating the great complexities and strengths of New Brunswick’s official bilingualism, North/South divisions and the important role of the province’s First Nation peoples. A good understanding of these aspects has escaped Premier Higgs.
Unlike the New Brunswick Greens, the N.B. Liberal party has a strong legacy of governing over the last 60+ years. Two particularly strong Premiers, Louis Robichaud and Frank McKenna assembled a brain trust of strong thinkers, advisors and candidates who could help them move into government. Valued advisors do not necessarily always agree with their political leader. Holt has a broad, networking approach to gathering advice. But New Brunswick is a small province, and having a well- known team adds credibility in preparing for government. Holt and the Liberals are on a positive path but have more work to do. They receive a Grade of B.
The record of Canadian and New Brunswick political parties on climate change is spotty at best. The national governing Liberals have done well but have squandered their opportunities through political missteps. If the national NDP are to remain allied with the Liberals, they should harden their position on climate change and push the Liberals to rekindle their courage on this file. The New Brunswick Greens need to keep up their strong work on climate change and, as David Coon says, continue to fight for future generations. As for Susan Holt and the N.B. Liberals, they will likely be the next government of the province. They should work especially hard to deepen their policy foundation, for instance on climate change and vital health issues. They need to show voters that they are ready to govern and will he a good government if elected.