Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau took his campaign to Canada’s North on Tuesday, pitching his plan to fight climate change in a region more affected by global warming than the rest of Canada — and that could have unusual importance to his political fortunes in a tight federal election.
Trudeau touched down for the four-hour visit to Nunavut’s capital under overcast skies and chilly temperatures before making his way to the rocky banks of a nearby river where he sought to contrast his plan to protect the environment with that of the Conservatives.
The visit followed Monday’s English-language debate, in which the Liberal leader was attacked on the one hand by Tory Leader Andrew Scheer for putting a price on carbon even as NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Green Leader Elizabeth May said he was not going far enough.
The Liberals have committed to reducing greenhouse-gas emissions to 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 and in government they brought in a federal carbon tax, but they also bought the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project from Kinder Morgan for $4.5 billion.
“Unlike the Conservatives, Liberals believe that climate change is a real emergency that we must address now,” said Trudeau, who made the trip north with his oldest son Xavier and daughter Ella-Grace.
“It’s not something we can leave to our kids and grandkids to figure out. And I know the poeple of Iqaluit don’t need any convincing on that. Like so many of our friends in the North, you are truly on the front lines of the fight against climate change.”
Scientists have said the north is warming faster than the rest of the country due to climate change, which is having adverse effects on everything from infrastructure to traditional ways of life for Inuit and other Indigenous people.
The Liberals have promised that if re-elected to power, they would help northern, remote and Indigenous communities transition from diesel power to renewable energy sources, retrofit homes and expand protections over 25 per cent of Canada’s land and 25 per cent of its oceans.
Trudeau argued the Conservatives, who previously held the riding of Nunavut — the whole territory has one seat in the Commons — between 2008 and 2015, do not have a plan to protect the environment in the North and would roll back what progress the Liberals have made over the past four years.
“They see the North as a place to be exploited, not protected, but that’s not right,” said Trudeau, who later spoke about the need to balance developing Canada’s northern regions and ensuring their protection from the effects of climate change.
“We recognize the cost of living is a real challenge for northerners and we will continue to be there to work with them to bring down the costs of everyday lives,” Trudeau said. The Liberal platform promises more money for Nutrition North, a subsidy program for healthy foods in dozens of northern communities.
Following the news conference, Trudeau met with a group of Inuit elders where he could be heard repeating that message even as he spoke about having previously visited with his father when he was a child.
In August, Trudeau visited Nunavut to announced the creation of two conservation areas as well as funding for housing.
Just before the campaign began in September, the Liberal government unveiled a long-awaited strategy for the Arctic and northern communities. Trudeau said that policy is meant to tackle priorities identified by northerners, and that it includes development alongside environmental protection.
“We know that the only way to move forward is in partnership and respect with local peoples,” Trudeau said.
“That is why we are making infrastructure investments, why we are developing economic opportunities, but we will do it because we listen to Indigenous Peoples and their leadership in a way that sustains this gorgeous land for future generations as well.”
Trudeau is the first federal leader to visit the North during this federal election campaign. The Conservatives have confirmed that leader Andrew Scheer, who visited Iqaluit in June, will not be travelling to the territories during the election campaign.
While Canada’s territories have only one seat in the House of Commons each, they could prove important in a minority government.
The Liberals swept all three northern territories in the last federal election, including Nunavut, which was held by fisheries minister Hunter Tootoo before he resigned from cabinet and the Liberal caucus to seek treatment for addiction and to deal with personal issues.
Tootoo, who sat as an Independent MP, is not seeking re-election.
The Conservatives are hoping to win back the riding with Leona Aglukkaq, a health and environment minister under former prime minister Stephen Harper who represented Nunavut from 2008 until the Liberal victory in 2015.
The Liberal candidate is Megan Pizzo-Lyall, a former Iqaluit city councillor, who appeared with Trudeau during his visit to Iqaluit.
The NDP candidate is Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, who delivered a speech in the House of Commons about the Inuit youth suicide crisis in 2017 as part of the Daughters of the Vote program organized by Equal Voice.