2015 Canadian Federal Debate: energy and pipelines.

 Image by Pekka Nikrus | flickr.com

Image by Pekka Nikrus | flickr.com

The national leaders of Canada’s political parties’ for the upcoming federal election on October 19th, 2015 finally had their first debate hosted by Maclean’s Magazine and moderated by Paul Wells, their political editor. While they touched on several topics such as the economy (Harper's government record especially), taxes, democratic reform, and Bill C-51, the most pressing issues for myself was to hear about energy and the environment for two reasons. First, climate change. As a prime minister, I want an elected leader to be concerned with climate change (that is, growing greenhouse gas emissions [GHG]) while growing the economy. I believe this means investing in other energy sources such as solar, wind, and nuclear (arguing why we need nuclear will require an entire article itself), while meeting the current energy demands Canadian lifestyles require. Here is the current trajectory of Canadian emissions.

If you watched the debate, Stephen Harper, leader of the conservative government claimed his government is the only one to grow the economy while reducing emissions. This is both true and false. It is true when you look at the big dip from 2008-2009 (refer to the arrow), you can see a decrease in emissions. This was attributable, however, to the global recession. Since then, his claim is false as emissions have continued to grow again and we are nowhere near meeting the Copenhagen target set out the by Harper government. This is important because while Canada’s emissions as a country in the global context is small (1.6% to 2%), according to Environment Canada as of 2013, Canadian emissions per person (GHG per capita) are 20.7 tonnes of CO2. In other words, Canada is one of the world’s largest per capita emissions and is only behind the U.S and Australia.

What is the breakdown of GHG in Canada’s economic sectors? The two biggest areas of our emissions are oil and gas followed by transportation. In terms of dealing with climate change through a price on carbon, where do the leaders stand? It was clearly articulated by Harper that he would oppose any price on carbon, which is a government grab and would only hurt Canadian consumers. Elizabeth May, leader of the green party, supports a price on carbon.

Thomas Muclair, leader of the NDP party, discussed sustainable development and the polluter pays principle, which suggests he would support a price on carbon but it was not entirely clear. Justin Trudeau, leader of the Liberal party, did not elaborate on support for pricing carbon but has outlined in his platform and previous speech delivered in Calgary how the federal government and each province would work on dealing with climate change. Ultimately, I believe Canada needs a prime minister that will consider dealing with climate change through multiple avenues such as investment in clean energy infrastructure, research and development, improved environmental protections and regulatory processes, and carbon pricing. There is no one golden solution to deal with climate change but once we throw out an option for a price on carbon, that already eliminates one possible solution to becoming a global leader on climate change. British Columbia, with their price on carbon is not suffering as a result so it should not be ruled out as a possible venue throughout Canada.

The second reason I wanted to hear about where our leaders stand on energy and the environment is national security and the economy. I believe these two go hand in hand because if a country completely relies on another country for its energy resources, it could spell trouble in times of a recession or worst case ever, world war. Further, if a country has to import all or the majority of its oil and gas resources, this will continue to increase debt for that country. As a result, I want a prime minister that will get Canadian resources (Oil and Gas) to market while keeping revenues in Canada and helping our economy grow through job creation and infrastructure development. Therefore, where do the leaders stand on future development of pipelines?

When asked about the various projects such as Energy East and Keystone XL, each leader answered somewhat differently. May does not support future pipeline projects. Muclair appeared to be open to projects but did not clearly answer whether or not he would approve them. Rather, he stated that there needs to be a more rigorous environmental assessment approach to projects. Harper stated that there needs to be future projects and allow for the approval process to play out. Harper attacked May for not allowing the regulatory process to unfold before accepting or rejecting a pipeline project. He also attacked the NDP’s track record for not being able to handle serious projects. Trudeau was not clear on his position for pipelines but has mentioned in the past he does not currently outright support the Energy East pipeline but is in support the Keystone XL pipeline.

Overall, it is somewhat clear where our leaders stand on the environment and energy. After one debate, it is not enough for myself to clearly know where I will vote (anything but Harper). The main problem for me with Harper is credibility. As Trudeau kept repeating, “Nobody believes you.” It is one thing to claim that a government has done something for emissions or to state that it could be improved. However, Harper clearly lied on the debate, as the facts do not back up his record. I was surprised by May and thought she handled herself professionally while bringing substance to the debate. Muclair also incorporated facts into his talk which I appreciate and has experience as an environmental minister, which is a bonus. However, I want to see where he will commit and what his actual platform is before it is time to vote. Trudeau was tough on Harper and clear that we can win with both the economy and environment. We do not have to sacrifice the environment in order to have a thriving Canadian economy. As more debates continue before the election, it will be interesting to see what our elected leaders will discuss when talking about Canada’s energy and environmental future.

This article was originally published via Sustainable Collective, which has since merged with The Starfish Canada.