Ottawa

Tornadoes, floods make climate change key issue among voters

As environmental activists hold politicians' feet to the fire across Canada and around the world, the floods and tornadoes that have struck Ottawa and Gatineau in recent years make climate change top of mind for many voters.

Extreme weather events in Ottawa-Gatineau could prove major influence at ballot box

A couple surveys floodwaters from behind a row of sandbags in east Ottawa on May 1, 2019. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Across the country and around the world this week, protesters are calling attention to the growing climate crisis.

For voters monitoring the federal election campaign in Ottawa-Gatineau, the changing environment — and the extreme weather that comes with it — weighs heavily on their minds.

One year ago, the howling fury of a tornado forced Marie Noreau and her four kids into their basement. Within 45 seconds, more than a dozen enormous trees had fallen onto the roof, smashed windows and crushed the family's two vehicles. 

Now, as Noreau's Nepean neighbourhood continues to rebuild, she's taking a different view on climate change, and the kind of political leaders she wants to battle it.

Toppled white pines crushed both of the Noreau family's vehicles. (Nick Noreau)

"It's a different reality. When I tell my kids this has never happened to me before, this is a once-in-a-lifetime event, don't worry, this will never happen again — it doesn't sit as well with me anymore," Noreau said.

"We've gotten ourselves pigeonholed between Liberals, Conservatives, and I think a lot of people are looking for something more ... and so yeah, I'm definitely ... very open-minded going into this election."

Marie Noreau and Mike Hogeboom, residents of Arlington Woods, say climate change is top of mind a year after a tornado caused widespread destruction in the community. Jean-Luc Cooke, Green party candidate for Nepean, said the storm represented a tangible example of climate change. 1:31

It's easier being Green

For voters in the National Capital Region, the destructive tornadoes of 2018 and the floods of 2017 and 2019 have transformed climate change from an abstract idea into a very real threat, according to Jean-Luc Cooke, the Green Party candidate in Nepean.

"I'm hearing a lot of folks saying this is a time where climate change is very real, it's tangible, and a lot of folks are really considering their usual choices aren't as appetizing," said Cooke, who's also president of the Green Party of Canada.

Jean-Luc Cooke, candidate for the Green Party in the federal riding of Nepean, speaks to a resident in Arlington Woods. The Ottawa neighourhood is still cleaning up from a tornado that struck one year ago. (Olivier Plante/CBC)

It's Cooke's third time running in a federal campaign. He said this election, there's a different vibe out there.

"This is 2019. This is the year to vote with your values," Cooke said.

Cooke is under no illusion that the Greens will easily take seats from Liberal or Conservative candidates in their respective strongholds in eastern Ontario, but he thinks the party can nevertheless build coalitions and influence environmental policy.

"If the Conservatives all of a sudden become crusaders for the environment I'd be very happy about that because that means all the political parties are on board," he said.

Scrapping carbon tax

But when it comes to responding to climate change, the Conservatives differ greatly from the other major parties, most notably on the federal carbon tax introduced by the Liberal government.

"Carbon taxes have not worked. They have not reduced emissions. They have just made everything more expensive. That's why we're going to scrap the carbon tax," said Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer while campaigning in Winnipeg last week.

Instead, Scheer's climate plan includes tax incentives for homeowners to retrofit and cut energy costs, as well as encouraging new technological innovation to fight climate change.

"[We're] recognizing that Canada can do so much to reduce global emissions if we export the types of clean technology that we've developed here," Scheer said.

Western Quebec voter Nicole Gagnon says she'll be looking closely at all the federal parties' environmental policies before making a decision next month. (Jonathan Dupaul/CBC)

Western Quebec voter Nicole Gagnon said she has friends among those affected by this spring's flooding in Gatineau, Que.

"It was awful, especially two years after the last floods. So it touched me," she said.

CBC's Julie Ireton talked to people hit by the recent floods and tornadoes in our region to see if the climate will be a factor in their vote. 9:47

Gagnon said she plans to look closely at each party's policy on the environment before making her decision at the ballot box.

"It's a lot on my mind. I think of the future. I'm not that young, but I have grandkids."

Climate change 'top issue'

"It's the top issue in my riding," said Will Amos, Liberal incumbent in the Pontiac, a largely rural riding in western Quebec that was affected by flooding in both 2017 and 2019. "I have many constituents who are still out of home, who are still struggling."

Liberal candidates Will Amos, centre, and Steve MacKinnon, right, campaign in Gatineau. (Jonathan Dupaul/CBC)

Steve MacKinnon, who's running for re-election in nearby Gatineau, agrees with Amos that most constituents in the region seem to support the carbon tax.

"So when I talk to them about the very first Canadian low carbon framework and putting a price on carbon, ending the fact that pollution is free in this country, people in Quebec and people in Gatineau specifically support that notion," MacKinnon said.

Price carbon, create jobs

NDP Leader, Jagmeet Singh recently took his campaign to Gatineau. On Sunday, he spoke directly to the climate change issue, promising an NDP government would more than double the disaster mitigation funds provided to communities.

The NDP is prepared to maintain a price on carbon, and is also proposing home and building retrofits that would create 300,000 jobs for electricians, plumbers and skilled tradespeople.

"We can take on the climate crisis, but only if we have the courage to take on the big polluters," Singh said before narrowing his message to young voters.

"This generation faces an economic system that is rigged against them, enabled by generations of governments that have sided with the interests of the wealthy and well-connected."

Michele Mariani, 17, said he's looking for politicians to work together on climate change solutions. (Amanda Pfeffer/CBC )

In Dunrobin, where a tornado tore a swath of destruction that residents are still struggling to recover from, 17-year-old Michele Mariani warned young people are indeed watching.

"Climate change is an issue and we need all levels of government to work on," he said. "We need to stop bickering about things that happened in the past... We have to know what's going to happen now and in the future."

About the Author

Julie Ireton

Senior Reporter

Julie Ireton is a senior reporter who works on investigations and enterprise news features at CBC Ottawa. She's also the host of the new CBC investigative podcast, The Band Played On. You can reach her at julie.ireton@cbc.ca

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