The Environmental and Climate Change Debate 

PATRICIA REMY reporting on an event.

Trent University, Stohn Hall, Thursday 12/May, 2022 Organized by the Kawartha World Issues Centre, GreenUP, 4RG (For Our Grandchildren), The Federation of Ontario Cottagers, and the Trent Student Environmental Debate Organizing Team

Around two dozen in-person listeners and over 220 zoom-viewers attended the event. 

Three of the four MPP-candidates for the Peterborough-Kawartha riding in the provincial election on June 2 presented their policies on climate change and environmental issues. Incumbent Dave Smith, PC excused himself because of an urgent family matter. Taking part were Jen Deck, NDP, Greg Dempsey, Liberal, and Robert Gibson, Green Party.

The Trent students’ Environmental Debate Organizing Team divided the event into two hour-long segments: the first for questions which they had prepared and the second for questions which had been submitted in advance by persons who had registered to attend. There were specified times for statements, rebuttals, and responses to rebuttals.

Question 1: Each candidate was asked what s/he regarded as the biggest challenge and/or opportunity re: climate change here in Peterborough.

  • Deck said it was the NDP’s The New Green Democratic Deal (of Nov 2021) and its implementation. Deck said policy should concentrate less on eliminating existing ills and more on incentivizing better options. All new buildings should be net-zero and the old ones retro-fitted. The NDP will make $15 million available, creating thousands of new jobs.
  • Gibson pointed to the lack of housing density and urban sprawl with the attendant loss of natural spaces and the increase in fossil fuel emissions due to commuting. Gibson said the Greens strive for zero emissions by 2045.
  • Dempsey stated that Doug Ford and his government are the greatest hindrance to climate action. Until the Conservatives won the election in June, 2018 Ontario was seen as a climate leader. The Liberals propose reserving 30% of Ontario’s land area as green spaces, increasing the number of provincial parks, and a policy of a buck-a-ride everywhere in Ontario.

All candidates are familiar with the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which states that humanity must reduce it greenhouse gas emissions by half by 2030 and that we have only three years until the ominous increase of global temperature by 1.5°C. is reached.

Dempsey and Gibson agreed that emissions must be reduced by 50% by 2030. Both agree that transportation has to be radically electrified.

Question 2 probed the candidates’ perceived relationship between the challenge of climate change and indigenous rights.

  • Gibson asserted that damage to the environment, and the genocide perpetrated on indigenous groups, most harshly on their women, are related toxic behaviours. Ministry Zoning Orders (MZO’s) ride roughshod over agreements codified in Treaty 20. The environmental movement itself needs to be decolonized.
  • Deck maintained that indigenous knowledge was essential to finding solutions to climate change. Doug Ford has bulldozed his way into the Ring of Fire with virtually no consultation with the indigenous stakeholders. The peatlands must be protected. The Wynne and Del Duca Liberals tokenized consultation by speaking with only two indigenous groups. Truth and Reconciliation deserves a statutory holiday. Indigenous wisdom has to be built into the school curriculum.
  • Dempsey was Canada’s representative for indigenous rights at the United Nations. Doug Ford has used MZO’s to bypass proper procedure. He garners donations through policies which allow mining companies to expand into vulnerable regions. Indigenous knowledge should have a place in our educational system, including the learning of local indigenous languages.

Question 3: What are your thoughts on the proposed Hwy 413?

  • For Gibson Hwy 413 is a no-go. Allegedly, it will shorten commutes; the Conservatives say by 30 minutes, the Liberals say by 30 seconds. It will destroy wetlands, encourage sprawl, and endanger the Green Belt. The Greens would invest $360 million in 38’000 new, ecological homes. [According to my internet search, Hwy 413 would cost north of $6 billion.]
  • Deck says the NDP would cancel Hwy 413 and the Bradford bypass. Farmland will be lost. The billions of dollars foreseen should be spent on social housing and better wages for under-paid workers. Green justice is social justice.
  • Dempsey would use the finances required for Hwy 413 as an investment in education and public transit. The Liberals’ buck-a-ride policy would remove over 400,000 vehicles from traffic.

Question 4: What is the status of Peterborough’s carbon sinks?

  • Deck would repeal Doug Ford’s MZO’s and restore previous, more ecological land-use plans.
  • Dempsey agreed and repeated the Liberals’ plans for more provincial parks and 30% natural land reserves. He would expand the Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park and bring back the Environmental Commission, which Doug Ford closed down.
  • Gibson would consult with First Nations and by 2030 expand protected areas: forests, wetlands, and peatlands. The Greens support the Clean Water Act, with an emphasis on clean water for First Nations.

Question 5: What would you undertake to protect marginalized groups vulnerable to pollution and hazardous waste?

  • Dempsey said his career has been built on action for human rights. The Liberals closed coal plants [in 2014/2015] as a response to the asthma crisis [a public health issue for more than a decade previous to closure]. The gas plant which replaced themwere an improvement, but even they will be closed by 2050.
  • Gibson explained that action related to climate change was the first priority of the Greens just because of public health. The Greens will engage for an Environmental Bill of Rights.
  • Deck reiterated that climate justice is social justice. Equity is paramount, and, thus, clean water for First Nations. The mercury clean-up in Grassy Narrows must be continued and a fund for damages and long-term effects be maintained.

All the candidates agreed to work across the aisle in the Legislature to reach their goals. All are prepared to participate in the All-Party Climate Coalition.

A number of questions from members of the public, and duly registered before the debate were considered.

The Catchacoma Old Growth Forest, all agreed, needs protection. Consultation with all stakeholders is necessary and a reversal of decisions made under the Ford government.

Climate Education has to become a priority. Climate science and indigenous knowledge have a place in the entire curriculum. An outdoor, hands-on approach is needed.

Affordable, efficient public transportation, is essential. All the candidates agree.

Conservation is also a priority for all candidates. Local, small businesses should be encouraged to buy, fabricate, and sell locally. Nourish, GreenUP, Sustainable Peterborough, Stewardship Ontario and similar organizations and groups should all be encouraged. Experts should advise on measures to manage flooding, recycling, and recreation.

What promises would the candidates make to young people?

  • Gibson would take action on wetland loss and reverse Ford’s cuts.
  • Deck would listen to her constituents and take their concerns seriously, give honest answers.
  • Dempsey would re-introduce the basic income pilot study and practise an open-door policy to hear from voters and experts.

Congratulations to the Environmental Debate Organizing Team for running a well-structured discussion. It was encouraging to hear how all the candidates are well-informed about environmental issues and that the three political parties represented at the Trent event have policies in place to meet the corresponding challenges.

Questions remain, of course.

  • Do the majority of Ontario voters share the same level of environmental interest and concern as the candidates who spoke on May 12?
  • How will the policies be financed?
  • Do voters have the courage, trust, and patience for the intensive planning and step-by-step implementation required?

Also, no mention was made about the source of energy for electrification. Hydro? Sun? Green hydrogen? Please, God, not nukes!

Further, no one questioned our lifestyle and its high energy consumption. We are going to have to get along with less. There is no way around that..

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