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The environment is the top issue for Ontario voters, but are candidates taking it seriously enough?

The environment is the most important issue for Ontario voters this federal election, according to CBC's Vote Compass. But some in the GTA say they're dismayed candidates have yet to step up with ambitious plans to tackle climate change, curb emissions and instill hope for the future. 

Some GTA voters say there's a big gap between their concerns and the federal campaign so far

Toronto climate activist Alienor Rougeot says she's looking for candidates to step up on environmental issues this federal election. (Joshua Best)

The environment is the most important issue for Ontario voters this federal election, according to CBC's Vote Compass.

But some in the Greater Toronto Area say they're dismayed candidates have yet to step up with ambitious plans to tackle climate change, curb emissions and instill hope for the future. 

Vote Compass, developed by Vox Pop Labs researchers, received responses from more than 34,000 Canadians last week. The greatest proportion of respondents, 32 per cent nationwide and 27 per cent in Ontario, said the environment, including climate change and global warming, was the top issue. 

"One would think in an election launched in the middle of a pandemic, the pandemic itself would be the number one issue," said Vox Pop Labs founder and CEO Clifton van der Linden. 

"The fact that the environment stands out so prominently at the moment should speak to how seriously voters are taking environmental issues in 2021." 

Twenty per cent of Canadians said the economy was the most important issue, followed by 12 per cent who said it was COVID-19. 

Smoke from wildfires in northwest Ontario makes for a hazy evening in Toronto on July 26, 2021. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Alienor Rougeot, 22, a climate activist in Toronto, said there's a big gap between the grave concern she feels about global warming and how little politicians on the campaign trail have mentioned it.

"It has been totally insufficient," she said. "The fact that climate change doesn't come up every single time we talk about health or jobs or the economy or youth, that's a sign there's something missing."

Rougeot said she's not looking for candidates to talk about what their party has done in the past, or point out mistakes of incumbents. Instead, she wants to see them commit to stopping the expansion of the fossil fuel industry and demonstrate how they'll address the dire warnings from the latest United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report.

"When we're facing a crisis, we really have to be looking at what's going to happen in the future," she said. "This is my future. The fact that we keep only looking back at the past is pretty exhausting." 

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'Strong and courageous' leaders needed

In the last federal election, in 2019, parties realized it's impossible to form a government without a carbon pricing plan, said Juwairihya Rafi, 24, an organizer for Future Majority, a non-partisan youth activism group. Now, young Canadians are waiting for what the next big plan is to tackle climate change. 

Pickering resident Garrett Peters, 56, agrees the environment is the most important issue this election, but has yet to feel inspired by any local candidates.

"We need leaders who are going to take a strong and courageous stance and say that climate change has to be dealt with because if we don't, the consequences are dire," said Peters, a retired teacher. 

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He said the "horrendous" wildfires in B.C. forced his mother of her home. 

"This can't be the way of the future," he said.

Promises to watch for

Only a couple of weeks into the federal election campaign, Environmental Defence's Keith Brooks is waiting for specifics.

But as for the big picture, he said he wants to see all parties commit to the more ambitious climate change target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 60 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030, and to take concrete steps to wind down the fossil fuel industry. 

He said he wants  GTA voters to keep an eye out for commitments that would address the two biggest sources of Ontario's carbon emissions, transportation and buildings, including:

  • Retrofitting residential and commercial buildings to make them more energy efficient and reliant on electric heat rather than gas.
  • Building up public transportation, walking and cycling infrastructure. 
  • Making electric cars more accessible and affordable through clear policies and mandates.

"No party today is going to say they don't care about climate change," Brooks said, adding it'll be up to voters to cut through the spin to decide which policies will be the most effective. 

"I would encourage Canadians to get informed and then send some climate leaders to Ottawa." 

  • Use Vote Compass to compare the party platforms with your views.

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