The Current

History will judge 'reckless, even criminal' politicians ignoring climate change crisis: Elizabeth May

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May tells Anna Maria Tremonti the fall election could be Canada's last chance to shift directions on the climate change fight.

Fall election could be last chance to shift direction, Green Party leader says

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May says not enough is being done to tackle climate change, and the future is at risk if that doesn't change. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)
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Canada's politicians are failing to act on the climate change emergency because of their own short-term political interests, according to Green Party Leader Elizabeth May.

"History will look back on these politicians as inexplicably reckless, even criminal, in the way they're using climate crisis as a political football," May told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

May has been the Green Party's only federal MP since 2011, but that changed last week when Paul Manly won the federal byelection in the B.C. riding of Nanaimo-Ladysmith. Gains at the provincial level have fuelled the party's hopes of a breakthrough during the fall election — one that could elevate it to official or recognized party status in Parliament. 

Based on recent polls and previous elections, the CBC Poll Tracker suggests the two Green seats in Ottawa could increase to 10, or fall to one.

Paul Manly became the Green Party's second ever elected federal MP this week, winning his byelection in the B.C. riding of Nanaimo-Ladysmith. This follows the Green's provincial breakthrough last month in P.E.I., where they came second, marking the first time they'll sit as the Official Opposition. 7:57

May gave Tremonti her views about the climate change emergency, what needs to be done, and why Canada's politicians aren't doing it. Here is part of their conversation.

What's your view on the Conservative-leaning premiers — including Jason Kenney in Alberta, Doug Ford in Ontario — fighting the federal carbon tax?

History will judge them ... history will look back on these politicians as inexplicably reckless, even criminal, in the way they're using climate crisis as a political football. They will not be judged well.

Fortunately, the federal government has all the jurisdiction that's needed to do what's required. But the actions of Jason Kenney, Doug Ford, Scott Moe … fail what's required of responsible leadership, but then again at the federal level, despite good words … our target is the same target left under Stephen Harper.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer are divided on actions needed to reduce Canada's greenhouse gas emissions. (Chris Wattie/Reuters, Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

So while yes, it's an improvement to have carbon pricing in place, all the cumulative federal Liberal plans on climate change fail to meet the current target. And the current target remains unchanged from that left behind by Stephen Harper, which we know from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is approximately half what's required. So we're not there yet.

Are the Liberals and Conservatives lying to us about their climate change plans?

I don't use the word lying easily. I'd say that Andrew Scheer is at this point unfit to govern. He hasn't shown any understanding of climate science. I don't know that he understands climate science, so let's put Scheer to the side.

Justin Trudeau certainly understands climate science, as do his ministers. But they're refusing to take action on it because of short-term political concerns. So going from saying, 'we're going to be climate leaders,' to 'we're buying a pipeline and we're going to continue to subsidize fossil fuels even though we promised we wouldn't.' [That] was more directed by the short-term political considerations of 'how do we help Rachel Notley stay in power in Alberta? I know, we'll give her a pipeline.'

In the case of Justin Trudeau, I wouldn't say ... lying is a hard word. I would say massively disappointing in breaking far too many promises.- Elizabeth May, Green Party leader

This is not the way decisions should be made. There should be a review of the evidence, an acknowledgement that there isn't an economic case for expanding a pipeline 100 per cent dedicated for export of bitumen — which is a product for which there isn't an export market outside the United States. There's a lot of propaganda that contaminates a discussion around what we should do about pipelines, how our economy may or may not be dependent on exports of raw bitumen.

In the case of Justin Trudeau, I wouldn't say ... lying is a hard word. I would say massively disappointing in breaking far too many promises.

Let me ask you then. What sacrifices do you believe Canadians have to make to meet targets? What should we prepare to do without? How, what do we need to confront, in your view?

I think we need to confront the truth, and this is a hard thing to talk about. The honest truth is that we're in far more trouble if we continue down a path that fails to meet what's required by science, than we are if we take action.

What does that look like? What would you set in motion?

It looks like democratizing energy supplies, it looks like individual communities and homeowners being able to generate the electricity they need for their house and then more. From things like solar panels and geothermal and making sure every building in Canada doesn't leak energy to the outdoors.

May said that many British Columbians are already plugging their car into their house, powering it through the solar panel on their roof. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

It means that we create millions of jobs in just the physical retrofitting of our buildings, whether institutional buildings like universities and hospitals, as well as commercial buildings, as well as residential. It looks like making sure the East-West electricity grid is actually modernized and can deliver renewable green energy from those provinces that have it to those provinces that are in transition to run 100 per cent on renewable.

A lot of British Columbians are already plugging their car into their house, and the solar panel on their roof is delivering the energy they need for their car. And then if you're on the road, you're plugging in to a station that's run off of the hydro that B.C. has been relying on for energy.

What it looks like in the future isn't scary. What's scary is if you look at a future where we don't take action, where we pretend we can kick this down the road to a different government, and a different election.

The hard reality of it is that the 2019 election in Canada is the last chance we have to actually shift course, and take the decisions that are necessary so we can reach targets in 2030.

Click 'listen' near the top of this page to hear the full conversation.


Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Idella Sturino.

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