By Sean Willett, October 27, 2015 —
Canada has just elected a new government, ousting a leader notorious for his disregard towards environmental issues. Under Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party, Canada withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol, slashed funding to environmental agencies and refused to take any firm action on climate change.
Understandably, more environmentally-conscious Canadians are excited about the prospect of anyone else being in charge. But will things really be any better under Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party? Will Canada finally rise to a newer standard of environmental stewardship? Perhaps — if Trudeau keeps his promises.
The Liberal platform addresses several key areas of Canada’s environment that have been neglected in the last decade, including the country’s freshwater reservoirs. Trudeau has promised to restore funding cut from freshwater research while also reaffirming his commitment to protect Canada’s river basins. Funding cuts to ocean science will also be reversed, and the Liberals intend to work closely with regional communities to manage fish stocks.
National parks featured prominently in Trudeau’s platform, and will see both funding increases and initiatives to encourage more people to visit Canada’s parks. Entry to national parks will be free during 2017, the 150th anniversary of Confederation.
Environmental assessments are also slated to get a revamp under the Liberal government. More emphasis will be placed on scientific evidence and the needs of indigenous communities. Investments in clean technology industries and sustainable community infrastructure have also been promised.
Finally, there is the crown jewel of the Liberal’s environmental platform: climate change. Trudeau has promised to attend the upcoming Paris climate conference with provincial and territorial leaders, and to develop a new framework for the country’s fight against climate change within 90 days of the summit. This new framework will supposedly include input from regional leaders, and will set firm targets for carbon emission reduction.
All of these platform points mark a clear shift away from Harper’s style of environmental stewardship. While none of Trudeau’s promises are particularly groundbreaking, they are a huge step in the right direction for a country that has been lagging behind the rest of the world in environmental standards for more than a decade. However, none of this will be worth anything unless the Liberal Party keeps its word.
Pundits are fond of asserting that Liberals run left but govern right — an old adage that may or may not actually apply to the first Liberal government in over a decade. But many Canadians still fear that Trudeau’s newly elected government may not live up to their platform’s promises.
So far this doesn’t seem to be the case. We’ve already seen Trudeau be more inclusive than Harper ever was, formally inviting the leaders of the other federal parties with him to the Paris climate conference. But Trudeau has a majority government, and there is nothing holding him directly accountable to the promises he made during his campaign. He may very well turn out to be another Harper, cutting funding away from environmental research and removing protection from Canada’s parks and rivers.
So are Trudeau’s Liberals the environmental saviours Canadians hoped for? It’s too early to tell. If they keep their promises, then we might start to see that real change. But if not, we may need to brace ourselves for five more years of unregulated greenhouse gases, unprotected coasts and crushing disappointment.
Sean Willett is a third-year natural sciences student. He writes a bimonthly column about environmental issues called Parks and Conservation.