Saskatchewan

Climate change action the deciding factor for some Sask. voters this federal election

After a tumultuous summer of droughts and rising mercury, many Saskatchewan voters are giving priority to climate change action in the coming federal election. 

Many say major federal parties failing to understand urgency of crisis

After a summer of droughts, soaring temperatures and wildfires, climate change will be a priority for many voters in the federal election. (Mike Hutchings/Reuters)

After a tumultuous summer of droughts and rising mercury, many Saskatchewan voters are giving priority to climate change action in the coming federal election. 

Micheal Heimlick, a program evaluator at Two Bridges consulting in Saskatoon, said climate change is his "number one priority." He uses an electric car and has turned vegetarian, but said these actions are not enough to save the future for his five-month-old daughter.

"Climate change has been the main source of my anxiety. I want a lot of action right away. I just don't feel like there's a lot of people in Saskatchewan that really care and that's really disillusioning," Heimlick said.

Micheal Heimlick, father of a five-month-old daughter, is considering to move to New Zealand following Canada's inaction on climate change. (Submitted by Micheal Heimlick)

While Heimlick has voted for the Liberal Party of Canada for the past two elections, he is thinking of voting for the New Democratic Party due to its climate action plans. He wants action on ending oil and gas subsidies, and more support for people who want to bring change. 

Heimlick is even considering moving away to New Zealand due to climate inaction.

"If hypothetically, the Conservatives come into power — they've got the weakest environmental plan — that would be the final thing," he said.

"The type of leadership we need is one that doesn't play politics first then acts for the people second. That's what we have now."

He said he has met and emailed many politicians asking for urgent action, but nothing has happened. 

Urgency being sidelined

Sehjal Bhargava, a fourth-year medical student at University of Saskatchewan, will base her vote on the strength and urgency of climate action plans.

Sejal Bhargava says political parties are missing the urgency of climate change in Canada. (Tayyaba Bhatti)

Bhargava wants to see a just transition from the fossil fuels industry, specific targets for reduced emissions, investments in green vehicles and city-wide composting programs. 

She said the Liberal platform addresses some of those, but is disappointed with the party's inability to follow through on previous promises.

"I see everyday, as a medical student, people are coming in with allergy exacerbations because of the wildfire smoke that we know is climate-related. These are things that I'd love someone to address," she said.

"We're only as healthy as our environments."

Parties failing to forefront climate change

Chris Harris, an undecided voter in Regina, said the four major parties are failing with their climate strategies.

"I would call myself undecided because I don't think that any of the parties really are doing the best across the board when it comes to climate change," he said.

He said the Liberals' plan seems to be the most concrete and have the most measurable goals, but hopes for a Liberal-led minority where the NDP can have influence too.

Jim Clifford, associate professor of environmental history at University of Saskatchewan, said climate change has been his most significant issue for the past 20 years. He said past governments have not treated it that way. 

"We've had successive governments talk about climate change during elections and then proceed to do next to nothing. We failed in Rio. We failed to meet our Kyoto Protocol and Copenhagen promise," he said.

Jim Clifford, associate professor of environmental history at University of Saskatchewan, says past governments have been ineffective carrying out promises on climate action. (University of Saskatchewan)

Clifford is a father of two. He said that makes climate change a constant issue for him. 

"My children's summer vacations were disrupted because we were driving in 40-degree weather. We had a weekend engulfed in smoke. We paddled past the fire at Devil's Lake up in northern Saskatchewan," he said.

He said it is no longer only about the future generation, but a harsh reality of the present day.

Carbon tax isn't enough

Emily Eaton, associate professor at department of geography and environmental studies at University of Regina, said climate change is not considered a high priority in Saskatchewan. 

"That's because our leaders have not been pleading on this issue. In fact, they've been misleading us to believe that we're not part of the problem and that we're already doing enough," she said.

Emily Eaton, an associate professor in the department of geography and environmental studies at the University of Regina, said the government needs to have a much more aggressive policy than just carbon taxation. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

Eaton is looking for a much more aggressive policy than the current carbon tax. She wants to see policies phasing out fossil fuels and strong commitments to net-zero emissions. 

"We actually need to look at how we refashion our economies. Saskatchewan is Canada's second largest oil and gas producing province, more than 20 per cent of our emissions come from that industry, just the production of fossil fuels. That doesn't even include the consumption of those fuels for combustion and vehicles," she said.

She said Canada is on the brink of a climate emergency and that incentivizing people to buy electric vehicles will not be enough. She wants policies to curb urban sprawl and invest in transit.

"The Green Party understands most of the urgency of the crisis, but all party platforms fall a little bit short," Eaton said.

"Leadership is extremely important. We need leaders to tell the truth about the scale and the scope of the crisis and to propose solutions."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Pratyush Dayal is a reporter with CBC Saskatoon. He has previously written for the Globe and Mail, the Vancouver Sun, the Province and the Tyee. He holds a Master of Journalism degree from UBC and can be reached at pratyush.dayal@cbc.ca Twitter: @Pratyush_Dayal_

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