Speech on Climate Change

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Chambly—Borduas, who is a fine member.

I would like to introduce this motion that I will, of course, be supporting.

We are asking:

That this House:

(a) agree with many Canadians and the International Energy Agency that there is grave concern with the impacts of a 2 degree rise in global average temperatures;

(b) condemn the lack of effective action by successive federal governments since 1998 to address emissions and meet our Kyoto commitments; and

(c) call on the government to immediately table its federal climate change adaptation plan.

I want to add some of my personal experiences relevant to this motion before I get into spelling out what I would call government inaction and then expand on the New Democrats' position in terms of what we would like to see happen on climate change.

I got my start in terms of taking action when I swam the length of the Fraser River in 1995. It was a 1,400-kilometre swim. I did that both in 1995 and in 2000 to draw attention to the issues threatening the health of the Fraser River.

The Fraser River is known as one of the greatest salmon rivers in the world, but it is under threat. It is on the B.C. endangered rivers list. It is threatened in many different ways, but certainly climate change is one of the biggest threats to the health of the river and to the salmon that make the river so majestic. The Fraser River is known for its cultural, historic, environmental and economic values, but climate change threatens all of that.

I could speak quite a bit about the ten years of swims that I did to draw attention to the threats facing our environment on the west coast, but I want to move to my experience as an elected official.

Soon after those swims, I was asked to get involved to change public policy and speak out at the local level. I was a city councillor in the City of Coquitlam for seven years, from 2002 to 2009. In those early days Coquitlam was certainly very aware of the impacts of climate change and was trying to do its share as a municipality to make a difference in dealing with climate change, even at a local level. The city implemented many initiatives to try to mitigate the damage caused by climate change on the municipality of Coquitlam.

I was also a representative on the board for Metro Vancouver, and I want to talk about a specific motion I brought forward that I feel dealt with climate change, which was to move to zero waste. In fact, I was the director who put forward the motion calling on the region to move to zero waste. That is an ambitious target, but it has moved us from a 55% waste diversion up to what is now 75% diversion rate. Of course, the region is ideally looking to moving to 100% diversion, or zero waste, and recycling all the material it produces.

This is a part of defining what I have been involved with in terms of action on climate change and the environment and also to point out that there are many ways one can take action. The critical thing is the will to change and to outline how important it is to make change. This is where I have to turn to the Conservative federal government's inaction on this file.

In fact, it is an embarrassment that in this day and age we have a government minister who is accused of being a climate change denier. It is out there, people are talking about it, and it is unfortunate. Canadians from coast to coast to coast understand the urgency of the climate crisis. It seems that it is just the Conservatives who are out of step with Canadians and our closest allies when they refuse to take action.

I held town hall meetings just recently. This year I heard from many constituents who were very concerned with the government's refusal to act on climate change. They spoke out to me. They brought it up. They identified it in New Westminster, in Coquitlam and in Port Moody when I held town hall meetings in each of those communities. Even on the phone, when I talked to thousands of people, climate change was brought up. Certainly, health care was identified as the number one priority, but climate change was up among the top priorities on which they wanted to see the federal government take action. They pointed out that the Conservative government, in their opinion, was not taking action and they were very alarmed.

Let us identify the record of the Conservatives. They have been systematically dismantling environmental laws since they were elected, using omnibus legislation to weaken environmental protections. When I held my town hall meetings, the residents were very concerned about the undemocratic use of omnibus legislation. Attacking environmental legislation, using budget bills, was something they found to be very disingenuous.

The Minister of Natural Resources has vilified those who oppose the government's position, calling them "radicals". This is divisive and unnecessary and it is, in fact, appalling that the minister would come out and label people radicals. These are people who work, sometimes their entire life, or continue to passionately try to make change, on climate change.

This is not the way forward. It is not a healthy way to address such a serious topic. We need everyone working together, trying to make change. This is a huge issue and challenge that we are facing as Canadians.

The Minister of the Environment has even accused unspecified Canadian charities of money laundering and has refused to either retract, apologize or name names. This, I find, is very disingenuous. If the minister knows something, he should specifically cite those examples where this is the case, not put out fear and turn people away. Again, I have talked to many organizations or representatives of organizations trying to make change on climate change and the environment, and they are feeling the heat of these kinds of comments, this divisive language and these attacks on their work.

The Prime Minister and the Conservative government have made Canada a global laggard on climate change and green investment. The Conservatives have reduced Canada's national greenhouse gas emissions targets by 90% since taking power in 2006. They pulled out of the Kyoto accord just recently and pulled Canada out of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification. Meanwhile, they have given billions of dollars in annual tax breaks for fossil fuel companies and they have failed to monitor or regulate their emissions.

Conservative inaction on climate change is costing Canada jobs. The U.S. has again delayed approval for the Keystone XL project due to further climate change analysis. The European Union has plans to put a carbon penalty on Canada's unconventional oil and gas products because they have higher emissions than traditional fossil fuels. These decisions are the result of a Canadian government's failure and inaction. Despite promises to have the oil and gas regulations in place by 2010, there are still no regulations.

Budget cuts to environmental protections include gutting the Fisheries Act, weakening protections for endangered species, muzzling and firing scientists and defunding critics like the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy.

Let us not forget that it has been over six months since Justice Cohen released his landmark report on the sustainability of Fraser River sockeye. The government has not said one word about whether it will implement Justice Cohen's 75 recommendations. Again, I talked about the Fraser River, one of the key rivers in British Columbia, which is a Canadian national heritage river. Here are a series of recommendations that the government spent $26 million on and they have not said a word after half a year.

This is abysmal and it is not the record I support, but I am glad we have put forward this motion and I am happy to support it.