July 2, 2020

19° C, Clear

Full Forecast

Help us deliver reliable news during this pandemic.

We are working tirelessly to bring you trusted information about COVID-19. Support our efforts by subscribing today.

No Thanks Subscribe

Already a subscriber?


Advertise With Us

Environmental issues fail to gain footing on election trail

A look at the top local environmental issues in Manitoba and the leaders' response


Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/9/2015 (1741 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Pope might be talking about it. No one else seems to be.

The environment -- a huge, catch-all category that covers everything from emissions targets to caribou populations -- hasn't earned much attentions on the national campaign trail and even less here in Manitoba. That's despite waves made recently in the United States thanks to tough talk on climate change from Pope Francis and Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton.

Though emissions targets and pipelines come up occasionally in debates and media scrums with Canada's federal party leaders, the environment has been overshadowed by the economy, the deficit debate, Canada's refugee policy and the Syrian crisis and the niqab.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said the economy and security trump battling climate change as national priorities. Both the Liberals and the NDP have talked about fixing the environmental assessment process, and both have pledged to get out of the fossil fuel subsidy business, but there have been few hard emissions targets promised.

But since the campaign began, new environmental promises have been small, mostly focusing on small-fry regional issues. NDP Leader Tom Mulcair hasn't made one new green promise since the writ dropped Aug. 2.

There have been blips of interest, though. Last week, a University of Victoria biologist made brief headlines with a pointed criticism of Canada's record on protecting endangered species. And, this week, pipelines were back in the news with Clinton's announcement she doesn't support the Keystone XL pipeline.

That might be because it's not a huge ballot issue. Even Winnipeg South Centre Green candidate Andrew Park, running the most aggressive Green campaign in Manitoba, said he hears about the environment from about one in 10 voters at the door. But, he said, those who care about green issues are really committed and vote on those issues.

Manitoba might not have huge emissions or oil sands that earn the ire of environmentalists, but it does have some green issues in need of federal attention. Here are three issues to think about in this campaign, and the basics of each party's policy.


Energy East pipeline

The project will see TransCanada Corporation's existing gas line through southern Manitoba converted to oil and used to ship Alberta crude to New Brunswick refineries. It's become a lightning rod in Winnipeg for local activists, some of whom relentlessly heckled Mulcair about his murky pipeline position when the NDP leader was last in town.

It's early in the regulatory process, so there are many questions outstanding about the pipeline project, said James Magnus-Johnston, a political economist with Canadian Mennonite University. Those include the real danger to local water, whether a pipeline will really decrease oil shipments on rail cars through cities and whether the move will hasten the development of the oilsands. Among local activists, including Magnus-Johnston, there is limited faith in the ability of the National Energy Board to protect the environment.

"I really love the idea that we should stop building infrastructure that puts us on a path to a two-degree rise in global temperature," said Magnus-Johnston. "But I think it's going to take a lot more than just opposing pipelines."

Conservative: Support Energy East, pending the regulatory review.

Liberal: Somewhat unclear. Trudeau has said he supports improvements to the way Canada ships oil to market and getting oil off rail cars, but said the environmental and regulatory approval process needs to be fixed. He's stopped short of supporting Energy East.

NDP: Somewhat unclear. The NDP opposes most other pipeline projects, but Mulcair has called Energy East a "win-win-win," as long as a rigorous environmental review process clears it and First Nations are consulted.

Green: Opposed to Energy East and the gaggle of other pipelines proposed for Canada and through the United States.


Lake Winnipeg

It seems the health of Canada's sixth-biggest freshwater lake has fallen off the radar, even though the nutrient problem isn't getting any better. This summer saw only spotty blue-green algae blooms hampering swimmers and cottagers, so attention to the lake's health continued to shrink.

Dimple Roy, the water director at the Institute for Sustainable Development, said she's heard little about freshwater issues at all on the campaign trail -- little about wetlands conservation, watershed management, data and monitoring, the need for a national water strategy or federal leadership in complicated cross-border issues. It's a gap Roy called alarming.

Though nearly every party leader has offered a vague shout-out to the importance of freshwater protection, Winnipeg South Liberal candidate Terry Duguid is one of the few candidates to highlight Lake Winnipeg specifically, partly because it bolsters his record.

Duguid said he hears not just worry in general about water issues, but also specific anger about cuts to research based out of Winnipeg, such as the much-diminished Freshwater Institute at the University of Manitoba and the nearby Experimental Lakes Area that nearly closed following federal cuts.

"Winnipeg used to be the go-to place for freshwater research," said Duguid. "Now it's kind of passing us by."

Conservative: The government's Lake Winnipeg Basin Initiative has funnelled $35 million to projects to help clean up the lake, and runs through 2017. No new announcements have been made during the election.

Liberal: The Liberals will restore federal funding to the ELA and other freshwater research and establish a Lake Winnipeg council to bring together the four provinces and three states whose water ends up in Lake Winnipeg. The council will help set targets for nutrient reduction. Though no specific money has been pledged for Lake Winnipeg, Duguid said the province will have access to the Liberal's proposed $125-billion infrastructure fund for projects such as sewage treatment that could help the lake.

NDP: No specific pledges about Lake Winnipeg, but the NDP has promised to restore funding to the ELA and has lamented cuts to federal freshwater research.

Green: No specific pledges about Lake Winnipeg, though Winnipeg Centre candidate Don Woodstock has promised to fight for the lake.


Climate change adaptation

In Manitoba, that mostly means getting ready for more and worse floods in spring and more and worse droughts in summer, with some forest fires thrown in. Flooding in Manitoba in 2009 and 2011 cost the province billions. Though climate scientists won't definitively link short-term weather patterns with global warming, Manitoba has had no fewer than seven major floods in the last two decades. Local scientists and Manitoba Conservation have just begun working to determine how climate change will affect the province and where, but it's clear millions more will be needed to prevent floods and cleanup after they happen.

Conservative: No new policies announced related to climate change adaptation in Manitoba or nationally, but Prime Minister Stephen Harper did pledge to boost training for reservists in the Canadian military to better fight wildfires and floods. The government last spring set new emissions targets of 20 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

Liberal: Trudeau says he will meet with the provinces to develop a carbon pricing policy within 90 days of taking office, which would include developing national emissions reduction targets. The party promised flood-fighting money to Calgary, but has said little so far about Manitoba, though any province would be able to apply for flood-related cash from the Grits' proposed infrastructure fund.

NDP: Promises include overhauling the current system for evaluating pipelines so climate change is a key consideration, set national emissions targets ahead of the UN Climate Change summit in December, cancel all fossil fuel subsidies and reinvest that money in clean energy, and introduce a cap and trade system. There are few details of any of these promises, including how much any of them would cost, and little so far about adaptation.

Green: The party would create a climate change adaptation fund to help cope with disaster, but hasn't attached a dollar figure to it. And, it would create a special task force to create adaptation strategies on the Prairies.


Invisible issue: East-West power grid

Manitoba has long wished for vastly improved transmission lines across Canada, especially between Manitoba and Ontario. Some tiny improvements are on the horizon, including an 80-kilometre line into Saskatchewan, but power sales and the construction of new lines into the Unites States continue to trump any pan-Canadian improvements. That's despite Manitoba's reserve of undeveloped hydro power and Ontario's need for new generation. So far, the issue has not popped up on the federal campaign trail.



Here’s a look at what the party’s platforms have said so far in the campaign:


New Democrat Leader Tom Mulcair has pledged kickstart renewable energy production and drive down climate-changing emissions. He also said he will make "big polluters" pay to clean up their mess, strengthen the laws to protect Canada’s lakes and rivers. However, since August Mulcair has yet to make an announcement specific to the environment, with specific plans to tackle these plans. As part of his party’s platform, he has pledged to end fossil fuel subsidies, which he says will save the country about $240 million per year, by tightening the rules around the use of Canadian Exploration Expenses. (which is the cost incurred by the taxpayer for the purpose of determining the existence, location, extent, or quality of a mineral resource, or petroleum or natural gas)

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper has surprisingly been more vocal this campaign on issues pertaining to the environment. However, his policies lean more towards conservation for the angling and hunting-crowd as opposed to the tree-huggers.

John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press files
Manitoba has long wished for vastly improved transmission lines across Canada, especially between Manitoba and Ontario. So far, the issue has not appeared on the federal campaign trail.


John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press files Manitoba has long wished for vastly improved transmission lines across Canada, especially between Manitoba and Ontario. So far, the issue has not appeared on the federal campaign trail.

So far he made a series of pledges in September to support the Conservative’s National Conservation plan, including the creation of a wildlife conservation and enhancement program to the habitat for species which are "harvested by hunters and trappers.

In British Columbia, he announced that a Conservative government will help restore and enhance the salmon habitat and marine environment, by investing $15 million to restore and conserve key British Columbian estuaries, and to preserve the lower Harrison River’s salmon ecosystem. He also pledged to establish a National Marine Conservation Area Researve in the southern strait of Georgia to protect the area’s marine life,


Liberal leader Justin Trudeau has committed if electedto attend the Paris climate conference, and work on a "framework" for combatting climate; he also have pledged to establish national emissions –reduction targets as well as phase out subsidies for the fossil fuel industry.

They have also pledged to "modernize" the National Energy Board, conduct a "wholesale review" of the Harper government’s changes to the Fisheries Act and the elimination of the Navigable Waters Act.

As for water conservation, the Liberals say they will develop a "road map" to meet the country’s commitment to protect 17 per cent of land and inland waters by 2020. He will also invest $50 million annually to advance the development of Canada’s park system, national wildlife area and bird sanctuaries.

He will also increase "science spending" in National Parks by $25 million annually to identify ecological stresses.

Trudeau also says he will increase the amount of protected marine and coastel areas from 1.3 per cent to 5 per cent by 2017, and 10 per cent by 2020. He will alsorestore $40 million in funding to the federal government;s ocean science monitoring programs and restore $1.5 million in federal funding for freshwater research.

They have pledged  $200 million annually to create "sector-specific strategies" that support innovation and clean technologies in forestry, fisheries, mining, energy, and agricultural sectors.


Invest $100 million annually in clean technology producers, so that they can tackle Canada’s most pressing environmental challenges, whether in our air, in our water, or on our land

Their plan is to move to the virtual elimination of fossil fuel use in Canada by mid-century.

Green Party 

·        Only Green MPs will position our economy to reap the full benefits of the inevitable global shift to a fossil-fuel free economy.

·        Defend our coastal waters from risky pipelines and oil tankers

·        Only Green MPs will put our coastal communities first by standing against all new raw bitumen export schemes.


·        Kinder Morgan proposes a seven-fold increase in oil sands tanker traffic through Vancouver and Burnaby, while Energy East proposes to increase tanker traffic through the Bay of Fundy. These tankers would carry bitumen from the oil sands, mixed with toxic diluents to make it flow, a mixture that is impossible to clean up if spilled.

·        A single tanker accident would ruin our coast and the lives and livelihoods that depend on its health. That is why we recognize that the economic, social and environmental consequences of approving these projects is simply too high. We will take a stand and defend our coastline.

·        Poll after poll shows that the people of the West Coast will not allow this risky project. More than half of British Columbians say they oppose the Kinder Morgan expansion, including more than three-quarters of young British Columbians. Even the Ontario Energy Board has ruled that Energy East poses more risks than benefits. While the old parties use complaints about process to avoid taking a stand, or even fast track and support these projects outright, the Green Party is the only party standing up for the people and communities threatened by these projects.

·        2 

·        Arrest the growth in oil sands expansion

·        Protecting existing jobs in the industry, creating new jobs by upgrading and refining existing production, and providing skills training for workers who have been laid off or who want to transition to more stable, long-term jobs. This strategy (more Peter Lougheed and less Ralph Klein) would actually help Alberta’s economy avoid the disruptive boom and bust cycle.

·        Given climate realities and volatile international oil prices, expanding oil sands production is simply not on. Most of the bitumen in the Alberta oil sands must remain in the ground. We will create new jobs in Canada’s oil and gas sector by refining the product we already produce, rather than shipping it out raw for refining in other countries.

·        In addition to increasing our refining capacity, Canada should be leading the global clean technology industry – an industry that has boomed in other countries like Germany, where over 1.4 million clean-tech jobs generate over 11 percent of the country’s GDP.

·        We need to respect the oil sands workers whose livelihoods still depend on the industry, and to support the tens of thousands of oil sands workers who have recently been laid off. Canada should provide these workers with retraining to ensure they find good, long-term reliable jobs close to home, not jobs that are vulnerable to cycles of boom and bust and often thousands of kilometres away from their families.

·        We must also provide urgent support to First Nations living downstream from the oil sands, whose communities and traditional foods are being contaminated by oil sands pollution in the Athabasca water and air sheds, with devastating health consequences.

·        3 

·        Implement a robust Canadian Climate and Energy Strategy

·        Partnering with the provinces to price carbon, implement a Canadian Fee and Dividend Plan, rapidly phase out coal-fired electricity, and transition to a prosperous, decarbonized economy.


·        Climate and energy are two sides of the same coin. We urgently need a comprehensive, science-based national climate strategy to address rising sea levels, drought, extreme weather events, changing rainfall patterns, increased forest fires, melting permafrost and crumbling Arctic infrastructure.

·        A robust Canadian Climate and Energy Strategy begins with eliminating all fossil fuel subsidies. Canada currently provides more than $1 billion dollars a year in subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, meaning, on a per capita basis, Canadian taxpayers provide more handouts to the fossil fuel industry than almost every other country in the G20.

·        Reducing our reliance on fossil fuel exploitation also means reducing our reliance on Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) development. Liquefying natural gas requires enormous amounts of energy, and new investments for export are inconsistent with our commitment to move toward a low carbon future. There are better more sustainable ways to take advantage of this resource, provide stable well-paying jobs, and reduce the negative environmental impacts. Our position on LNG development involves: respecting First Nations land claims and rights; repealing the federal 30% tax break for LNG investments; adopting the international shipping safety standards set by the Society of International Gas Tanker and Terminal Operators; expanding marine protected areas around proposed LNG projects; and banning industrial seawater cooling systems.

·        Next, we must work together to put a national price on carbon. In the complete absence of federal leadership, the provinces have taken up the challenge of climate change on their own. Although some progress has been made, notably in British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec, this patchwork of climate strategies is an inefficient way to tackle an issue that faces all Canadians.

·        The Carbon Fee and Dividend Plan is the smartest, most efficient, and most effective way to shift away from burning fossil fuels. We will place a fee on carbon, and pay the funds it generates directly to every Canadian over age 18 in the form of an annual carbon dividend. This plan will defend our climate, diversify our energy mix, grow our economy, and ensure energy security for Canadians.

·        Most economists and climate scientists agree that fee and dividend provides an efficient and comprehensive solution to a complicated problem. British Columbia has had a carbon pricing plan in place since 2008, during which time BC’s fuel use has dropped 16 percent, while GDP has outperformed the rest of Canada. It incentivizes investment in sustainable jobs and green technology, discourages waste and pollution, and puts money directly back into the pockets of average Canadians.

·        We need to invest in an infrastructure that promotes renewable energy, a more robust east-west electricity grid to promote renewable energy transmission between provinces, while reducing the enormous waste in our energy systems. We still waste more than half the energy we use. It’s time to save money and reduce pollution by going after waste.

·        4 

·        Create a National Transportation Strategy with strict new rules on rail safety

·        Strict new rail safety laws and new investment for Canada’s rail system - Restore Canadian railways with new funding and stronger rules to ensure efficient rail travel and safe movement of hazardous industrial goods including oil and gas.

·        Canada’s national rail systems are in decline. In much of Canada, rail routes that once moved thousands of people are abandoned. Edmonton to Calgary, Saskatoon to Regina, Halifax to Sydney have all been axed, despite their profitability.

·        Green MPs will re-invest in our national rail systems, building more train cars in Canada, increasing train speeds, phasing in high-speed rail where feasible, and creating green transportation and energy infrastructure corridors in key regions. An improved rail system will make Canada more economically competitive, create thousands of new jobs, reduce traffic congestion, and provide a fast, inexpensive and safe mode of transport in key commuter corridors.

·        We will develop a national transportation strategy – investing in local public transit and expanding VIA Rail to provide more modern, efficient, and frequent passenger rail service. We will invest $600 million in 2016-2017, building to $764 million by 2020 in VIA Rail.

·        Rebalancing the relationship between passenger trains and freight cargo will begin with a comprehensive plan to limit the burden on our rail system that has been created by exporting unprocessed oil by rail.

·        Further, in order to reduce the risk to our communities and ensure that a tragedy like Lac Mégantic can never again occur, we will strengthen Canada’s rail safety rules and give regulators the tools they need to protect our neighbourhoods from train derailments, especially those involving hazardous materials. We will fund the re-routing of tracks for freight and rail yards away from populated areas.


Advertise With Us

Your support has enabled us to provide free access to stories about COVID-19 because we believe everyone deserves trusted and critical information during the pandemic.

Our readership has contributed additional funding to give Free Press online subscriptions to those that can’t afford one in these extraordinary times — giving new readers the opportunity to see beyond the headlines and connect with other stories about their community.

To those who have made donations, thank you.

To those able to give and share our journalism with others, please Pay it Forward.

The Free Press has shared COVID-19 stories free of charge because we believe everyone deserves access to trusted and critical information during the pandemic.

While we stand by this decision, it has undoubtedly affected our bottom line.

After nearly 150 years of reporting on our city, we don’t want to stop any time soon. With your support, we’ll be able to forge ahead with our journalistic mission.

If you believe in an independent, transparent, and democratic press, please consider subscribing today.

We understand that some readers cannot afford a subscription during these difficult times and invite them to apply for a free digital subscription through our Pay it Forward program.

The Free Press would like to thank our readers for their patience while comments were not available on our site. We're continuing to work with our commenting software provider on issues with the platform. In the meantime, if you're not able to see comments after logging in to our site, please try refreshing the page.

You can comment on most stories on The Winnipeg Free Press website. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

By submitting your comment, you agree to abide by our Community Standards and Moderation Policy. These guidelines were revised effective February 27, 2019. Have a question about our comment forum? Check our frequently asked questions.


Advertise With Us