If you ask a climate activist how Justin Trudeau is tackling the climate emergency, their answer is likely somewhere on the spectrum from “very poorly” to “room for improvement.”
But if you ask most of the Canadian public, new polling shows that the answer is more likely to be good, or good enough. For anyone that actually wants to see Canada rise to the scale of this crisis, this is a huge problem — because Canada is actually one hell of a climate laggard.
Despite Trudeau’s lofty rhetoric and some laudable policy actions, Canada’s emissions haven’t dropped during his time in office. And even if they do start falling, our country’s climate targets are still woefully low. The government’s 2030 target of a 30 per cent emissions reduction below 2005 levels is, in reality, only half of the minimum 60 per cent cuts we need by then.
Meanwhile, the 2050 pledge to meet net zero mostly hinges on unproven technologies, wishful thinking and corporate greenwashing that will see more money spent on experiments and public relations than on actually retooling our economy to 100 per cent renewable energy.
But unless this information reaches voters, we’ll be stuck in a situation where Trudeau’s climate-friendly image shields the public from our country’s dismal environmental record. With an election on the horizon, we need big ideas in the electoral sphere to upend climate business-as-usual.
A great start would be a pact between the New Democratic Party and the Green Party — call it a “climate emergency alliance.” Putting partisanship aside, the two parties could agree to work together to elect as many climate champions as possible in the next election and actually present an alternative to our dangerous status quo.
Centering the climate change conversation
The hard truth is that what we’re doing to tackle the climate crisis right now isn’t working. For one, our current political system is poorly equipped to deal with a crisis of this scale. Look at the political thinking behind Trudeau's Pan-Canadian Climate Framework. The idea was that if Ottawa backed the Trans Mountain pipeline, Alberta and other provinces would adopt a carbon price. At no point did anyone behind that plan stop to think about the fact that Trans Mountain would make it impossible to meet our climate goals, that a carbon price alone would never deliver the kind of emissions reductions we need or that Big Oil and their allies on the right would stop at nothing to derail even that kind of moderate action. Instead, our governments looked for some kind of non-existent middle ground between people who wanted to do nothing to tackle the climate crisis and scientists saying we need big, radical transformations and landed on a plan that was both politically naive and far below the scale this crisis demands.
Add to this political status quo a corporate mainstream media that refuses to cover climate change as the civilizational threat it is, and you’re left with the perfect recipe for the almost 75 per cent approval rating that Trudeau seems to enjoy on this issue.
To break through this, we need to force climate change — and our government’s current level of inaction — to centre stage. Having two political parties in Canada set aside their differences to campaign together under the banner of a climate emergency alliance could do just that.
Imagine if, as we build up towards a federal election over the next few weeks and months, the top political story was an unprecedented Green-NDP alliance. Candidates would be able to make headlines calling out Trudeau and the Liberal government’s failure to tackle the climate emergency. Pundits would be forced to provide mainstream coverage on Canada’s failure to meet unambitious climate targets and juxtapose their milquetoast ambitions against a new U.S. government that seems poised to far exceed our level of action.
This alliance wouldn’t just compete for the airwaves, but would also have real political impact in this country. In 2019, Trudeau lost his majority government in an election where climate change was a top issue for voters all across Canada. Heading into another election, climate remains a top concern, falling just behind public concerns about COVID-19 and the economic recovery.
Against Liberal lesser evilism
In 2019, 46 per cent of Liberal voters considered voting NDP at some point in the campaign, and 29 per cent considered voting Green. But on voting day, these voters cast a ballot for the Liberals. This is far from unusual: many voters do so because they don’t think the other parties stand a chance at winning.
A climate emergency alliance between the Greens and NDP would give both parties a chance to make major electoral gains. If each party stood down in ridings where the other has a better chance of electing a climate champion, they could make a clear case to voters that elections aren’t just a choice between the Conservatives and Liberals.
There are Green supporters who will point out that the NDP isn’t strong enough on climate change, and there are NDP partisans who like to claim that Greens are nothing but Conservatives on bicycles. There are kernels of truth in both of these assertions, but we need to change the game if we’re going to force our government to tackle the climate emergency at the scale that both science and justice demand.
Beyond that, a Green-NDP climate alliance has the potential to address many of these concerns by forcing both parties to put forward Green New Deal–oriented platforms that support workers, families and communities while respecting ambitious climate targets. And, in the three ridings on Vancouver Island where the Greens and NDP regularly compete for seats, the two parties could run against one another, competing in vigorous campaigns and putting forth bold ideas for tackling the challenges we face today.
Choosing action over egos
At the end of the day, the challenge we face is enormous. Canada is, by all accounts, failing to tackle it — but the majority of people in this country are unaware of this reality. The Greens and NDP have a moral obligation to do everything in their power to change that. And they can change it best together.
Under our broken first-past-the-post electoral system, a Green-NDP climate emergency alliance could expose Trudeau’s climate veneer for what it is, and give us our best shot at finally tackling the climate emergency at the scale and speed required. Sure, there are plenty of reasons it might not work, not least of which are the egos of those in the upper echelons of both parties. But the climate crisis demands we set egos aside.
Protecting people and the planet needs to be more important than narrow partisan interests and political point scoring. Polls show that people in Canada will vote for real climate leadership — but first, our politicians need to show them what it looks like.