How Steven Guilbeault went from protester to new climate change minister

Story by CBC Kids News • 2021-10-28 08:04

Before he was a politician, he was an activist


Imagine having the job of tackling climate change and protecting the environment for Canada right now.

Well, that job has just been given to Steven Guilbeault (pronounced gill-BO).

His official title is minister of environment and climate change.

One of Guilbeault’s first assignments will be to represent Canada at the COP26 conference in Glasgow, Scotland, next week, which is an important event where world leaders will work together to find ways to fight climate change.

It’s the first of many challenges he faces, including helping Canada reach its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent before 2030.

Canada has never met its emissions targets before.

From left, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Steven Guilbeault and Governor General Mary May Simon pose at a cabinet swearing-in ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa, Ontario, on Tuesday. (Image credit: Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

His profile

Guilbeault is an avid cyclist and sportsman.

For the past 30 years, he says he’s ridden his bike all year round, even in winter.

Before becoming a politician he was an activist, something that started at a young age.

When he was five, he climbed a tree to protect it from real estate developers near his home in La Tuque, Quebec.

He’s perhaps most known for climbing the CN Tower from the outside in Toronto, Ontario, in 2001.

He did it to protest Canada’s inaction on climate change at the time and was even arrested but released.

A man in an orange jumpsuit walks with his hands behind his back, escorted by a police officer. A man in an orange jumpsuit climbs the outside of a building.

Guilbeault was led from the CN Tower by police after scaling the structure in protest in July 2001, in Toronto, Ontario. (Image credit: Aaron Harris/The Canadian Press)

His qualifications

Guilbeault was first elected to Parliament in October 2019.

He was re-elected in the last election in his riding of Laurier-Sainte-Marie, which is in downtown Montreal, Quebec.

Justin Trudeau holds up the hand of Steven Guilbeault, smiling, with a crowd of people carring signs that say Team Trudeau behind them.

Trudeau, left, raises the hand of Guilbeault during an event to launch his candidacy for the Liberal Party of Canada in Montreal in 2019. (Image credit: Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

He served as minister of Canadian heritage.

His current role of focusing on the environment aligns with his previous jobs, since he had a career in the environmental sector before entering politics.

He has worked for Équiterre, a non-profit environmental organization in Quebec, as well as Cycle Capital Management, a Canadian fund dedicated to the development of clean technologies.

His trip to Glasgow won’t be his first UN climate change conference.

He participated in the first COP conference in 1995 in Berlin, Germany.

Reactions to his appointment

The David Suzuki Foundation, an environmental organization, applauded Trudeau for his decision to give Guilbeault the environment portfolio.

Calling him a “well-respected leader from the environmental movement,” the foundation said it sends a strong signal for action on climate.

But not everyone agrees.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said this appointment sends a “very problematic” message to his province.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney expressed concern over Guilbeault’s appointment as minister of environment and climate change. (Image credit: Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

That’s because Alberta’s economy relies heavily on the oil and gas industry, and environmentalists like Guilbeault have said fossil fuels need to be phased out to tackle climate change.

“I certainly hope that [Guilbeault] … will quickly demonstrate to Alberta, and other resource-producing provinces, a desire to work together constructively on practical solutions that don't end up killing hundreds of thousands of jobs,” Kenney said.

Next steps

In an interview with CBC’s Andrew Chang, Guilbeault said one of his main priorities at COP26 is to help raise $100 billion from wealthy countries around the world so they can help poorer countries deal with the effects of climate change.

He also said countries around the world are moving away from fossil fuels.

“The economy of the future will be a green economy.”

Guilbeault said he’ll work with all provinces and territories as well as businesses to “do this wisely, in a way that makes sense, for people, for our communities, but also for the sake of our children.”

CBC Kids News asked his office to outline his promises to Canadian kids as the new environment and climate change minister, but we did not receive it by our deadline.

Have more questions? We'll do our best to look into it for you. Ask for permission from your parent or guardian and email us at

CLARIFICATION: This article was updated to clarify why Guilbeault's appointment may be seen as "problematic" to Alberta Premier Jason Kenney.

With files from Hannah Kost/CBC and The National
TOP IMAGE CREDIT: Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

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