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Environment front and centre in federal candidate debate

A re-cap of the 100 Debates of the Environment forum with Edmonton Strathcona Federal candidates

Edmonton Strathcona Federal candidates were questioned not only on their views regarding climate change, but also intersections of the issue at the 100 Debates on the Environment forum. 

The forum was organized by the University of Alberta faction of 100 Debates on the Environment, a group focused on having 100 debates with federal candidates on environmental issues such as climate change. Mediated by Debra Davidson, a U of A environmental sociology professor, candidates from all major parties except the Conservative Party of Canada were in attendance. 

Candidates from the Marxist-Leninist Party of Canada as well as the Communist Party were also given five minutes to address the audience, although they could not partake in the formal debate.   

This forum was dedicated to exploring candidates’ and their party’s view on various environmental issues. In the first half of the debate, candidates answered four pre-prepared questions from the mediator involving environmental policies, Indigenous rights, and support for a Green New Deal. In the second half, candidates answered audience questions about the Trans Mountain pipeline, the incarceration of marginalized environmental advocates, international environmental politics and the generational inequality of climate change. 

Indigenous knowledge — the key to environmental conservation

Candidates were asked by the moderator if they would support the incorporation of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) into future project approval criteria in order to protect water, biodiversity, and Indigenous rights. 

Green Party candidate Michael Kalmanovitch said he would support this incorporation because of the knowledge Indigenous communities hold regarding the environment.

“They are the most intimate people of the land,” Kalmanovitch said. “Simply put, we should not have financial gain through damage to our ecosystem or negatively impacting indigenous settlements and communities.” 

New Democratic Party (NDP) candidate Heather McPherson said previous members of her party in parliament fought for this before but were unsuccessful. Though she is in support of using UNDRIP, she believes the government should also look to the 94 recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. 

“This is something [the NDP] always fought for and will continue to fight for,” McPherson said. “My own personal research has been on how we use Indigenous knowledge and incorporate them into projects so we can actually achieve sustainable development and make sure we give Indigenous knowledge the same role we give all our knowledge.”

Liberal Candidate Eleanor Olszewski, also in support of UNDRIP incorporation, pointed quickly to the current Liberal government already including  UNDRIP in the new Impact Assessment Act.  Additionally, she said after 14 months of consultation with Indigenous communities the Liberals produced a framework of principles that respect the culture of Indigenous communities. Further, she mentioned that the Liberal government implemented a model for collaborative conservation in the 2018 budget.

“[The model] brings provincial and territorial Indigenous governments together to make decisions for the betterment of all… the leadership of Canada’s Indigenous Peoples in protecting our lands and waters has in fact been acknowledged,” Olszewski said. “Supporting Indigenous peoples through conservation efforts, I believe, is a fundamental and important contribution to reconciliation.”

People’s Party of Canada (PPC) candidate Ian Cameron said that his party aims for a strong mutually respectful relationship with Indigenous communities and UNDRIP is an aspect of this. 

“We would support using UNDRIP principles through this process with our Indigenous communities,” Cameron said. “The principles contained within UNDRIP exemplify the core values our party aims to achieve.”

The Trans Mountain Pipeline: To build or not to build

From the audience, candidates were asked their party’s position on the highly debated Trans Mountain Pipeline, which carries oil from Alberta to British Colombia.

Cameron gave what he called a  “straightforward” answer citing a section of the constitution which grants federal government jurisdiction over modes of interprovincial transportation.

“The People’s Party of Canada feels the federal function is to assert our constitutional right… to push for pipelines if it’s been deemed in the national best interest.”

Kalmanovitch said that being in support of the pipeline while preaching for conservation is a contradiction that cannot exist. Alongside not building pipelines, Kalmanovitch says Canada should no longer burn fossil fuels as it is not sustainable.

“I don’t think we should be building pipelines while at the same time we’re saying we want to take effective action on the climate crisis…. They are mutually exclusive,” he said. “No, I don’t think it’s in the national best interest to be building pipelines, especially with public money. That was an abuse of the Liberal government.”

Though she didn’t explicitly say she supports the pipeline, McPherson said she follows in the footsteps of current NDP Member of Parliament Linda Duncan in wanting to change the process behind approving such projects. She said because Trudeau has not fixed the National Energy Board of Approval process, approving pipelines has been a cycle of being denied in court. 

“From my perspective, we need to develop a strong process that looks at any energy project and looks at the upstream, the downstream, our constitutional obligations and our obligations under UNDRIP,” McPherson said. “If those projects are then approved with a strong process in place, then I would be supportive of them.”

Olszewski acknowledged her party’s decision to move forward with the pipeline which stems from the fact that moving bitumen by rail is no longer safe. Responding to McPherson, Olszewski said that new assessment act is in place. She also said she was surprised that McPherson would consider supporting pipelines when NDP leader Jagmeet Singh said he doesn’t support pipelines. 

“When we make decisions as a government we always have to consider the impact on families, on workers, and communities and that’s exactly what we did when we made the decision in respect to the Trans Mountain pipelines,” Olszewski said.

Giving a platform to Marxist and Communist candidates 

Although the Marxist-Leninist Party of Canada and Communist Party candidates were not part of the formal debate, they were each given five minutes to address the mediated questions.

Marxist-Leninist Party of Canada candidate Dougal MacDonald said his party is focused on democratic renewal and empowering people to no longer depend on leaders of parties “nobody trusts.”

“Canadians are capable of representing themselves and speaking in their own name and are increasingly doing so — the recent climate actions led by the youth are great examples,” MacDonald said. “People are clear that damage to the environment is mainly due to the greed of people in business and governments in their service”

McDonald focused on putting the power back into the hands of Canadian people and how the youth are a leading example. He also discussed how the Green New Deal is a way for the government to co-opt the youth, as well as get Indigenous communities to open their land to enterprises.   

“As long as people do not control their own destiny, decision making about the environment is not in their hands. Indigenous people upholding their hereditary rights as keepers of the land is fundamental, as are initiatives of young people to build a bright future for themselves.”

Communist Party candidate Naomi Rankin talked about her party’s strategy of an anti-monopoly coalition which addresses how corporations, such as those in Alberta’s oil and gas sector, have too much control over political processes and public debate. She also said that in order to talk about climate change, we must also stop bombing international cities through war.  

“The issue of peace, the issue of foreign policy, the issue of workers rights, the issue of women’s equality, the issue of Indigenous rights are all bound up together in the issue of environmental protection and environmental stewardship,” Rankin said.

Towards the other candidates, Rankin said one cannot serve two masters. Rankin believes that parties must be willing to take strong actions towards conservation, or they will end up building pipelines.

“Even if a progressive majority is elected to Parliament, they’re not going to be able to enact the sweeping changes that are needed to really change the balances of forces in the economy without real engagement and involvement from millions of ordinary working people,” Rankin said. “A kind of mass movement, a broad coalition [is needed] if we want to see real action on climate change or any other issue.”

Khadra Ahmed

Khadra is the Gateway's 2020-2021 News Editor, dedicated to providing intersectional news coverage on campus. She's a fifth-year student studying biology and women's and gender studies. While working for The Gateway, she continues the tradition of turning coffee into copy.

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