Don't let SNC-Lavalin detract from climate crisis, environmentalist tells McKenna

It took long-time Liberal supporter Grant Linney to bring up the SNC-Lavalin issue, and when he did, it seemed to suck the air out of the room.

Catherine McKenna, federal environment minister, held a climate change town hall in Hamilton Wednesday

Local environmentalist Don McLean talks to Environment Minister Catherine McKenna following her town hall on climate change at Mohawk College. "Unfortunately," he says, "it's still the old politics." (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

It took long-time Liberal supporter Grant Linney to bring up the SNC-Lavalin issue, and when he did, it seemed to suck the air out of the room.

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna was holding a town hall about climate change at Mohawk College as part of a four-city tour. She told the audience climate change is an urgent issue, and outlined what her government is doing about it.

Then she wanted to hear other people's thoughts.

Linney, a presenter for the Climate Reality Project, has given hundreds of climate change talks. He said he worries the recent SNC-Lavalin scandal will take the heat off the subject in the October election.

"It's absolutely critical to have climate change as the top issue," said the Dundas resident.

Grant Linney, a presenter with Al Gore's Climate Reality Project, says he worries SNC-Lavalin scandal will take the focus off climate change in the upcoming federal election. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should resign, he said, or "be much more forthcoming" than he has been on the SNC-Lavalin matter.

Otherwise, "I feel the opposition will focus on this to the point of preempting any meaningful discussion about climate change."

Bob Bratina, Liberal MP for Hamilton East-Stoney Creek, attempted to speed Linney along. "We're going to run out of time for other people who want to ask questions," he said.

"OK," Linney said. "I guess I'm going to feel betrayed if the federal Liberals allow these events around SNC-Lavalin to detract from climate change."

SNC-Lavalin has dominated headlines in recent weeks. Jody Wilson-Raybould says while she was attorney general, she faced "consistent and sustained" pressure from senior people in the Trudeau government to interfere with the potential prosecution of the Quebec company. The company was charged in 2015 with allegedly bribing Libyan officials.

Don McLean listens to Catherine McKenna's answers at Mohawk College. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott have both resigned from cabinet over the SNC-Lavalin affair. Trudeau and his former principal secretary, Gerald Butts, say they exerted no inappropriate pressure on Wilson-Raybould.

McKenna, a Hamilton native, said the SNC-Lavalin matter is a difficult one.

"Look, I think we've got two different perspectives on what happened," she said. "We need to look at particularly what lessons (have been) learned."

"Certainly we're not perfect as a government. Let's admit that."

But she's not distracted from climate change, she said. "I'm not stopping."

Catherine McKenna, a Hamilton native, gave a slide presentation about how climate change has worsened. "I'm not stopping on climate action," she says. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

McKenna took about a dozen questions at Mohawk College. She referenced an October report from the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that said humans have 11 years to change direction on climate change or face fatal consequences.

Conservative politicians spread misconceptions about climate change, she told the audience of about 200. It's urgent that Canada move forward, she said, and not backward.

Noted Hamilton environmentalist Don McLean wasn't swayed by the "better us than them" argument.

"It's so easy to say, 'We're not Doug Ford so vote for us. We're not Jason Kenney so vote for us,'" he said. "That's the old politics, and I don't think it's going to move people."

McLean was more interested in talking about Canada's increasing crude oil exports and the Trans Mountain pipeline.  "To say that we can continue to increase exports of oil to the rest of the world and fight climate change is simply not true," he said.

Catherine McKenna and Fred Eisenberger met at Hamilton city hall Wednesday afternoon. She also visited ArcelorMittal Dofasco and H&R Block. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

"It's good that (McKenna) is out there fighting climate change. It's good that she's presenting this information. But she's still being the politician."

McKenna said she understood some of the environmentalists in the audience were upset by the pipeline issue. She has to think about jobs too, she said. "This transition," she said, "it's going to take time."

"I'm as much a minister of environment for people trying to figure out jobs and the energy sector as I am for environmentalists who live in the arctic and people who live in the south."

Catherine McKenna answers questions with Filomena Tassi, minister of seniors and Liberal MP for Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

McKenna made a few Hamilton stops Wednesday. She met with ArcelorMittal Dofasco and H&R Block, then Mayor Fred Eisenberger at city hall.

Hamilton has planned a light rail transit (LRT) line from McMaster University to Eastgate Square, with construction due to start next year.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford says the province will still spend $1 billion to build the line. But property acquisitions on the project have been paused since last fall.

Asked if the federal Liberals would be willing to fill in any funding gaps, McKenna said "we'd certainly take any proposal seriously."


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