A Long and Strong Record on the Environment and Climate Change
May 13th, 2019 - 11:58am
On the first Earth Day in 1970 I joined a small group of fellow students and we blocked rush hour traffic in the city where I was living. All we accomplished on that day was making a lot of people angry. It was a good lesson for me about needing to find ways to be more effective in winning people over to the cause and building the coalitions necessary to bring about the changes we need. Still the first Earth Day was the beginning of my on-going commitment to protection of the environment and the fight against climate change.
In 1989 I was hired as the Executive Director of Pacific Peoples Partnership, an indigenous led organization dedicated to building ties between Canada and the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Islands, and I went onto serve on the board of PPP for another decade. At that time Pacific Islanders were asking us to bring two problems to the attention of Canadians. One was the Great Pacific Garbage Patch which has recently been discovered and was as large as Vancouver Island. That was the beginning of my commitment to work to ban single use plastics. The other issue was global warming and the resulting sea level rise as a threat to the health of coral reefs and fresh water resources in the islands. I began to write and publish on these topics and even embarked on a speaking tour of BC high schools in 1990 with the hope of raising awareness of the coming crisis.
I have always been an optimist, but strangely it never occurred to me then that we would still be failing to act 30 years later. Today the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is larger than BC and Alberta combined and we are rapidly approaching the point when there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish. And it is abundantly clear that climate change threatens our very existence now, not in some far off future.
When I was elected to Esquimalt Council in 2008 I had the opportunity to step up the fight on the environment and climate change. I was shocked to learn at our first emergency measures meeting that Esquimalt had no plan or resources to deal with spills from existing tanker traffic. This led me to be the first elected official in Canada to move a motion against the Kinder Morgan Pipeline. It was also my motion in 2010 which led Esquimalt to be one of the first municipalities in Canada to adopt science based greenhouse gas reduction targets.
As an MP I have been one of the most active Members of Parliament on the environment and climate change. I have continued to oppose the Kinder Morgan Pipeline, to call for an immediate end to all fossil fuel subsidies for the oil and gas industry, and to ban all single use plastics and non-recyclable packaging. Facing ongoing inaction by the federal government, in 2014 I convened community roundtables to provide local input for the Southern Resident Killer Whales recovery program. I have twice introduced legislation to restore federal environmental protection to rivers, lakes, and streams in our riding.
As an MP I have also worked hard to build support for a rapid de-carbonization of our economy, but through a transition that leaves no one behind. We can create thousands of new jobs in renewable energy and energy retrofits. These will be good, family supporting jobs in all communities based on existing skills and technology. My party has begun putting forward our specific proposal for the next campaign that will be a Canadian version of what the American activists are calling a Green New Deal. Recently there have been some false public statements about my commitment to fighting for the environment and against climate change. No, I have never supported fish farms, the Site-C dam, fracking, or building and subsidizing LNG. When my provincial colleagues have made different decisions, I have stressed that their programs must fit within the necessary greenhouse gas reduction targets as they have promised. I believe we can get to a net zero carbon economy by 2030.
In my personal life I have worked to reduce my own carbon footprint, living in an energy efficient home and driving a plugin in hybrid electric car for the past six years and switching to a fully electric vehicle recently. (No, not a Tesla). Since being elected I have purchased carbon offsets for all my flying, something as a BC MP I really can't cut out. We must all do what we can, but the challenge is so great that only collective action will get us where we must go. Our very survival depends on it. That's what I want to continue working for in this and the next parliament, a Canadian version of a green new deal that will avert climate disaster and leave no one behind.
I have no doubt residents of Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke are concerned about the environment and climate change and I also know they also care about human rights, a just international order, and building a good life for themselves and their families where access to food, housing, and healthcare are not just rights, but a reality for all Canadians. For that we need a broad progressive movement and we can't win the fight on the environment if we don't join it with the fight for social justice and reconciliation.