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May The Only Federal Leader Who Showed Up At Climate Emergency Debate

Canada's House of Commons formally declared climate change an emergency on Monday.
ParlVu screengrab

OTTAWA — The House of Commons passed a motion Monday evening declaring climate change a national emergency, and Green Party Elizabeth May was the only federal leader present during the debate.

“Procrastination has left us where we are right now. There’s no time for incrementalism anymore,” May said.

Watch: Elizabeth May says climate debate is happening in an era of ‘extreme cognitive dissonance’

The motion, tabled by Environment Minister Catherine McKenna last month, recognizes climate change as a “real and urgent crisis, driven by human activity” marked by extreme weather events. The motion moves that the House commit to meeting “national emissions target under the Paris Agreement.”

Under the accord, Canada committed to a 30 per cent cut in emissions from 2005 levels by 2030.

The motion passed 186-63, backed by Liberal, NDP, Bloc Québécois, and Green Party MPs. Conservatives voted against the motion, along with People’s Party Leader Maxime Bernier who, like many MPs, only showed up for the vote.

Greens support Tory amendment

The motion’s passage also signals a majority of MPs are committed “to making deeper reductions” in line with the Paris Agreement’s target of “holding global warming below two degrees Celsius and pursuing efforts to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius.”

During the debate, May made an appeal in French that the true threat to Canada’s future “isn’t a foreign enemy, it’s our human nature.”

Before the motion was called to a vote, MPs voted on a Conservative amendment to McKenna’s motion, tweaking the wording to recognize climate change as a global problem, urging Canada to take a leadership role in developing international solutions.

May and Green MP Paul Manly supported the Conservative amendment, which was handedly defeated by the Liberal majority with support from the NDP.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did not attend the debate or vote, nor did NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer. All three men were in Toronto Monday for the parade celebrating the Toronto Raptors’ NBA championship.

Leaders of major federal parties rarely attend House debates. McKenna represented the government during the first hour of debate.

The Prime Minister’s Office told HuffPost Canada that despite Trudeau’s absence, he remains dedicated to climate action. “Unlike the Conservatives, we are committed to protecting the environment for future generations and taking strong actions to fight climate change,” spokeswoman Chantal Gagnon wrote in an email.

Singh introduced his own climate emergency motion in the House in May, on the same day McKenna gave notice about hers. Though it touched on some of the same themes, the motion also called for Liberals to abandon the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project and was easily defeated.

With a federal vote just more than four months away, the Liberal motion marked the latest effort to pressure the Conservative leader to pair his criticism of the federal carbon tax with an emissions-reduction plan of his own.

Scheer is expected to unveil his climate plan Wednesday. He has previously suggested his plan will “speak to Canada’s international targets, international obligations” — without a carbon tax.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer speaks in Toronto on May 28, 2019.
Cole Burston/CP
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer speaks in Toronto on May 28, 2019.

The Tory leader has steered away from linking climate change to extreme weather events. Scheer initially supported implementing the Paris Accord, but has since changed his tune.

Aside from partisan criticism, the Liberals’ emissions-reduction plan has been given some sobering reality checks.

Canada’s environment commissioner tabled two reports in April concluding the government isn’t on track to hit its Paris target.

And last week, the parliamentary budget watchdog released a report noting that the current carbon price needs to be five times higher to help Canada meet its 2030 Paris targets. The government has since stated that it doesn’t plan to increase the price after 2022.

The plan has also sparked considerable federal-provincial fighting over the Liberal government’s carbon pricing system, which includes a rebate program for Canadians.

But the Green Party leader said she’s about had it with the politicization of an issue that carries catastrophic consequences for humanity.

“We can’t continue to talk about whether a carbon tax is a good wedge issue in politics,” May said, suggesting partisan battles over the carbon tax to be a waste of finite time.

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