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According to a CBC poll, 32 per cent of Canadians believe the environment is the most important issue in this election, higher than both the economy and COVID-19. It is not hard to understand why. From the wildfires that have raged across Canada and the world to the cataclysmic Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, we are witnessing the deadly impact of climate change play out in real time. 

So what do Canada’s political parties plan to do about it? 

What the parties are promising

All the parties make similar promises regarding investing in green technology, upgrading Canada’s electric grid, and encouraging the use of electric cars and renovating homes and buildings to make them more energy efficient. Commitment to the Paris accord, which sets the insufficient target for net-zero emission by 2050 and no more than a two-degree increase in temperature, is another common theme. All but the Conservatives promise to ban single-use plastics and improve environmental protections. What sets them apart? 

The Conservative platform on the environment is predictably sparse, considering the climate-denialist views of some of their candidates. They promise to introduce “low carbon savings accounts” for individuals to “enable Canadians to save money every time they fuel up”—money that they hope (fingers crossed) will then be spent on buying electric cars and renovating homes to be more efficient. They also promise to “stand up to major polluters”. However, they do not mean the 100 companies responsible for 71 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions. Instead, they want to “stand up to China” with “carbon border tariffs”, adding a distinctly Sinophobic and protectionist twist to the thin greenwash of Tory policies. 

While the Conservatives’ platform on the environment is a self-parody, the Liberal platform is entirely uninspiring. It has little content outside of the standard gestures that politicians have been making for years: promises to meet the Paris targets, to help individuals and families lower their carbon footprint with electric cars and remodelled homes, to invest in green jobs, etc. Their one unique policy is a pledge to hire 1,000 more community-based firefighters. After this year’s wildfires, there is an obvious need for more firefighters, but the shift in rhetoric from “fighting” climate change to “adapting” to it is more than a little dystopian. Seeming to lack any self-awareness, the Liberals say, “We will help Canadians make their homes more resilient from the impacts of climate change. And we’ll partner with the private sector to innovate climate adaptation, including by lowering insurance premiums that would save Canadians money. Canada can’t go backward to the Harper days, when nothing was done to fight climate change and protect our environment.” How lowering premiums to insure against the impacts of extreme weather does anything to “fight climate change” is not addressed. 

The NDP are notably the only party that talks about using economic power to take action. They’re also the only ones who mention dealing with corporate polluters in some way beyond “ensuring accountability” from those who take COVID bailouts. They say, “We will support Canada’s net-zero target by reviewing financial legislation, such as the Bank of Canada Act, the Export Development Canada Act, and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board Act, to ensure federal financial levers and Crown corporations are aligned with the goal of net-zero.” They talk about creating a Canadian Climate Bank to boost investment in renewable energy. They say that they will be “getting tough on polluters and forcing big oil companies to pay to clean up inactive wells.” They also float the idea of “joint workplace environment committees – modelled on the successful joint workplace health and safety committees.” At the same time that the NDP talks about “getting tough” on big polluters, however, they also talk about “working with partners”—ie. the same polluters they want to get tough on. 

One might expect that the Green Party would have the most thorough platform on the environment. It does not. Aside from the standard platform planks, the Greens promise to plant more trees and create more public green space, and create more governmental positions to oversee the climate crisis. 

What’s missing? 

Commenting on the recent IPCC report, Helen Mountford, vice president of climate and economics at the World Resources Institute, said, “Our opportunity to avoid even more catastrophic impacts has an expiration date. The report implies that this decade is truly our last chance to take the actions necessary to limit temperature rise to 1.5°C. If we collectively fail to rapidly curb greenhouse gas emissions in the 2020s, that goal will slip out of reach.” Climate change is a pressingly urgent problem, and many Canadians feel that urgency. The fact is that no amount of R&D investment or “partnerships” with corporate polluters will create the needed changes, and certainly not fast enough to avoid the predicted temperature increases.

As we previously mentioned, and as is commonly cited, just 100 companies are responsible for 71 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. The best way to address climate change is to nationalize these corporations under workers’ control, and run them on the basis of public need instead of private profit. Carbon pricing, subsidies for “green” technology and the like are all attempts to accommodate the profit motive, which is currently the biggest obstacle to saving the planet. Instead of working around the profit motive, we must sweep it away entirely. 

The Conservatives barely pretend to care about climate change, and the Liberals seem to have accepted it as the new normal. While the NDP talks about “getting tough” on polluters, in the same breath they talk about “partnering” with the private sector. They cannot explain why the capitalists would want to “partner” with a government that is trying to “get tough” on them; or how they can do a better job enforcing regulations than any previous government, without sparking divestment and capital strikes. 

While it is good that the NDP wants to “get tough” on the big polluters, the only real way to do this is through radical measures that hit at the heart of the capitalist system. We cannot trust the fate of the very planet we live on to the decisions of a small group of mega-corporations who put profit before all else. Bold socialist measures such as expropriating the top polluters and placing them under democratic workers’ control to reorientate the economy to tackle climate change is the only way to stop the climate catastrophe in its tracks.