There was no shortage of plans, ideas, and calls to action during the townhall discussion on climate change at Concordia University’s Loyola Campus.on Thursday, September 15. Led by federal Minister of Transport Marc Garneau, the event gave a platform to the Montreal climate where they could voice their concerns about climate change, and suggest ideas on how the government should tackle the problem.
Throughout the night, Garneau said, “We have taken a leadership position,” referencing Canada’s existing efforts to curb carbon emissions, which have been widely criticized as insufficient, nationally and internationally. He emphasized the need to impose a nationwide carbon tax, a proposition which was met with applause from the attendees.
Garneau also announced the creation of four working groups, each dedicated to a different aspect of the government’s fight against climate change: mitigation, innovation, adaptation and resilience, and carbon pricing.
Despite his show of interest in the community’s propositions, Garneau seemed to be espousing much of the same rhetoric Canadians have been hearing since last year’s election brought the current Liberal government to power. The government has made many promises but has not necessarily kept all of them. By and large, the attendees seemed unimpressed.
“I really have my doubts as to whether they’re actually going to listen to any of this. I do come, but it’s because I’m trying to have a little bit of faith […] I am skeptical. I think they know the right things to say, but I think they’re going to have a really hard time delivering,” Kate Luthi, a member of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, told The Daily in an interview.
“I hope that they issue a federal price on carbon. I just don’t think it’s going to be enough to do any good if they are also saying ‘yes’ to pipelines,” Laurel Thompson, also a member of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, told The Daily.
“I really have my doubts as to whether they’re actually going to listen to any of this.”
This was an especially hot topic of debate during the open mic session, where citizens were invited to pitch ideas directly to Garneau and his staff about combatting climate change. One attendee said Canada should “leave the carbon underground,” which earned applause from the crowd. This reflected one of the main concerns of the night: the continuing expansion of Alberta’s tar sands and the prospect of more oil pipelines.
While admitting the necessity of halting fossil fuel infrastructure development, Garneau also noted that “we want to respect the provinces,” referencing opposition from certain provinces’ – particularly Alberta, and Newfoundland and Labrador – whose economies primarily depend on hydrocarbon extraction.
“I hope that they issue a federal price on carbon. I just don’t think it’s going to be enough to do any good if they are also saying ‘yes’ to pipelines.”
McGill student and Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) Secretary General Victor Frankel proposed a carbon flat tax and dividend plan, in which Garneau showed particular interest, even asking for a more detailed explanation to be sent to his office. The proposal couples a tax on emissions with a rebate to consumers to compensate for increased prices.
The sustainable development of transportation was another area of interest for those present. With numerous transit plans in the works for Montreal, many attendees worried that such projects will not reduce carbon emissions as much as they should, and may actually increase them.
One particular point of concern was the replacement of the Deux-Montagnes commuter line with a light rail. Another was the possibility of introducing a high-frequency train service within the Quebec-Windsor corridor.
Garneau assured the crowd that such plans have the potential to reduce emissions significantly, but only if people actually take advantage of expanded networks.
The development of the controversial “Site C” hydroelectric dam in British Columbia was also discussed; its very mention earning angry reactions from the audience. While proponents of the “Site C” project have called it as a step forward in bringing so-called clean energy to the province, numerous Indigenous communities have voiced ardent opposition to the project, which would flood thousands of hectares of traditional Indigenous land.
“I think they know the right things to say, but I think they’re going to have a really hard time delivering.”
Prime Minister Trudeau has come under fire for his administration’s support of the dam, and for its lack of consultation with local communities. This lack of consultation contrasts his repeated promises to respect Indigenous land rights and deal with Indigenous peoples on a “nation to nation” basis.
“I think [the new government] will be a positive change,” said a representative of the Climate Reality Project Canada. But the representative added that “it could be detrimental if they convince the public that they’re doing more than they’re actually doing. That’s the big danger right now, is them selling the PR of change without actually putting the shovel into the ground.”