Federal fiscal update a missed opportunity, say northern environmentalists

Northern environmentalists say the federal government should do more to help the region hardest-hit by climate change to emerge from the pandemic with a greener economy.

Promoting greener homes, electric vehicles and tree-planting don’t create meaningful change, says advocate

Solar panels in Colville Lake, N.W.T. Some northern environmentalists say the federal government should do more to help the region hardest-hit by climate change to emerge from the pandemic with a greener economy. (John Last/CBC)

Northern environmentalists say the federal government's fiscal update on Monday was a missed opportunity — and it should have done more to help the region hardest-hit by climate change to emerge from COVID-19 with a greener economy.

The wide-sweeping update includes promises to fund reconciliation efforts, speed up universal broadband access and body cameras for RCMP officers.

It says $380 million is going to a support fund for Indigenous communities during the second wave of the pandemic. It also points to $272 million that the government has given airlines and businesses to keep the North's supply chains connected, along with more funding for environmentally-friendly home retrofits, money for consultations on electrical infrastructure projects, and more electric charging stations for cars.

An organizer with a group that advocates for a "Green New Deal" in Canada, or a proposed package of government investments that build an environmentally-friendly economy by reducing social inequality, says that plans to promote greener homes, electric vehicles and tree-planting don't create meaningful change.

Ellen Gillies, the organizer with Our Time Yellowknife, said on Facebook to CBC that the update "is very much in line with the Liberal's playbook to date — progressive language and lofty promises with little to no transformative commitments or actions on social, economic and climate justice."

For example, the budget update promises $1.5 billion for closing the infrastructure gap in Indigenous communities, but the government is actually spending more than $16 billion on the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline alone, Gillies notes.

Sebastian Jones of the Yukon Conservation Society says certain green efforts, like those on habitat restoration and tree-planting, won't really apply to the North. (Yukon Conservation Society)

Gillies also says there is no mention of where the money will come from — and she and her organization want it to come from the wealthiest people and corporations.

"It's really disappointing to me that even with so many people in need, Trudeau's government shies away from taking on the billionaires who have been profiting from the pandemic," she said.

Planet on a 'bad trajectory'

William Gagnon, a green building engineer and former campaigner for Green Party leadership candidate Courtney Howard, agrees that the proposal doesn't go far enough. He compares the update to "when you crave moose meat … and someone delivers you cucumber sushi."

Gagnon points to the many jobs in the oil and gas sector that were lost because of the pandemic, saying this is the moment to help more people get jobs in renewable energy instead.

He also says that according to estimates he has done with other advocates for green building, making every building carbon neutral in the territory alone would cost almost half of the budget the country has set aside to pay for building retrofits across Canada.

Sebastian Jones, with the Yukon Conservation Society, says certain green efforts like those on habitat restoration and tree-planting won't apply to the North — home to sparse boreal forests and rocky tundra, where habitat loss in the vast region has been minimal.

"Our planet is in a really bad trajectory," he said.

"I probably wouldn't have whinged about this if it weren't for the signals we did get from the federal government … that this crisis is a chance to build back greener and better."

The fiscal update says an upcoming climate plan from the government "will highlight further work and investments in areas like renewables, clean fuels and hydrogen."

The fiscal update says $64.7 billion is also "proposed" to help the territorial governments with pandemic response for 2020 and 2021.


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