As a family doctor and a mom, I’m concerned about climate change. I care because of our basic needs for clean air and water. They are essential for good health. Respiratory illnesses like asthma and infectious diseases like Lyme are directly related to a warming climate and extreme weather. Climate change also has dramatic impacts on health and safety with more floods, droughts, heatwaves, wildfires and severe storms. This is not to mention the potential loss of entire communities as sea levels rise.
Recognizing the impacts of climate change and knowing that human activity is the main cause has led Canadians to mobilize in support of climate action. Almost every day, I hear from constituents who understand their individual and collective responsibility to act. Over history, there are countless examples of societies facing catastrophe and it’s remarkable how people galvanize. It’s this kind of collective energy we need to rally in the face of climate change. Working together, we can address the climate crisis in a way none of us could on our own.
However, elected officials have unique obligations to lead on climate action. We should be held to account for how we will protect this planet for generations to come. Sadly, like so many political debates, action on climate change has become poisoned by excessive partisanship. Instead of working together to confront the common threat, politicians waste precious time fighting one another, searching for differences (called “wedges”) to drive voters away from their opponents.
Each political party comes up with its own climate action plan as they ignore or criticize ideas presented by other parties. The party sells its plan as the best and the only one that will work. But partisan plans have more in common than one might think and none gets it totally right. How could they if they don’t acknowledge the best ideas from others? Political partisanship will not provide the peace of mind of knowing our children and grandchildren will be able to thrive on this planet for generations.
Colouring outside the party lines
There is no shortage of evidence about what needs to be done to prevent the worst outcomes of climate change. Elected officials have a collective power to implement smart policies that will make or break our future. Each of us has an obligation to learn from best experts in Canada and around the globe and then figure out how to work together to implement a robust action plan. We need the best minds from all political persuasions. We must not get caught up in who leads the charge or who will get the credit.
As an independent Member of Parliament, I will be in a strong position to work across party lines to advance the best climate solutions for Canada. A Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change already exists. I propose the next government should swiftly establish two new bodies to build support for the climate action framework, improve it where necessary, and ensure its implementation. The first should be an empowered committee of parliamentarians representing all parties and independents. The second should be an arms-length body of climate experts who will provide oversight and accountability.
Emission reduction targets to avoid worst-case scenarios
Global action on a mass scale won’t happen without serious commitment to bold targets. Canada should lead in setting and meeting targets to help avoid the worst consequences of climate change. We need emission reduction targets firmly aligned with limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Canada set a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) by 30 percent against 2005 levels by 2030. But that target is widely perceived to be insufficient and we are not even on track to meet it. Climate experts insist GHGs must be reduced by 50 to 60 percent against 2005 levels by 2030. We must improve our emission-reduction targets and legislate them for accountability.
The price on pollution
No one wants to pay more for our daily activities. But experts are nearly unanimous that the most efficient, effective policy tool to reduce harmful emissions is a small fee added to activities and products associated with high GHG emissions. Support for this approach comes from academics, activists, oil and gas executives and leading economists. Similar public health mechanisms have worked to reduce use of other unhealthy products like tobacco and ozone-killing chlorofluorocarbons. At the front end, we acknowledge the public cost for activities that harm public health. This incents everyone to think about how to reduce potential harms and adjust our choices accordingly. Another positive feature of pollution-pricing in provinces like Ontario and Saskatchewan, is that all the money raised goes back to Canadians through the Climate Action Incentive. Most of us will come out ahead financially while we’ve all been forced to think about reducing our carbon footprint.
Incentives and regulations to transition Canada to a low-carbon economy
A price on pollution is essential but it won’t be enough. We must expedite the transition to a clean economy. We must share a grand vision for a nation powered by 100 percent renewable energy. A 100 percent green future is achievable as we harness energy from wind, water, solar and other sources. The right incentives and regulations will encourage Canadian individuals and companies to embrace the transition to a low-carbon economy.
- Investing in new careers: Thousands of Canadians depend on jobs in the fossil fuel sector. But the new, clean economy is even better at creating jobs than the fossil fuel sector. If we were to take the same dollars the government plans to spend on expanding pipelines and invest instead in the green economy, that would create a much higher number of new jobs and careers. This will require training and income support for workers as they transition out of the fossil fuel industry into the green economy, as well as investments in clean technology innovation.
- Electrification on a grand scale: Over 80 percent of Canada’s electricity is already zero-carbon. Electrifying every sector of our society is key to Canada’s great energy transition. Sustainable Canada Dialogues (SCD) is a network of over 80 researchers from across Canada. SCD reports confirm that “Canada could reach 100% reliance on low-carbon electricity by 2035.”
- Cleaner transportation: Carbon emissions caused by transportation account for about 26% of Canada’s total emissions. In order to reduce this, we need to expand affordable mass transit in and between communities, as I have proposed for Markham-Stouffville. Both regulations and incentives can play a role to spur sales and demand for zero-emission vehicles. The Clean Fuel Standard will also play in important role in reducing emissions caused by transportation.
Collaboration is our only hope
There is so much room for progress. I’ve only touched on a few good policy ideas. We can make our food systems more sustainable. We can retrofit every building for energy efficiency and ensure that new construction is Net Zero Ready by 2030. We can restore ecosystems by planting millions of trees.
But none of this is possible unless policy makers stop arguing, start collaborating and make climate action the grand collective project of this generation. As an independent MP, I’m determined to bring together the best and boldest ideas from across the country. Protecting this planet for our children and grandchildren will take courage and commitment from every Canadian. Let’s get to work!
What are your ideas for supporting climate action?