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Climate change debate cancelled after Conservatives refuse to join

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer walks down Roxham road to make his morning announcement at the Canada/USA border during a campaign stop in Lacolle, Que., on Oct. 9.
Conservative leader Andrew Scheer walks down Roxham road to make his morning announcement at the Canada/USA border during a campaign stop in Lacolle, Que., on Oct. 9. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

A national debate on climate change that had been planned for next week has been cancelled because the Conservatives refused to participate.

READ MORE: Canada election: What federal leaders have pledged on climate change

The University of Ottawa’s Smart Prosperity Institute was set to host the debate Oct. 16 in conjunction with Climate Action Network Canada.

Invitations were sent out Sept. 9 asking the Liberals, NDP, Greens and Conservatives to send any of their nominated candidates from across the country.

The first three signed up immediately.

Climate change emerges as one of the top ballot-box issues among voters: Ipsos poll
Climate change emerges as one of the top ballot-box issues among voters: Ipsos poll

The Conservatives initially signalled an intention to participate but on Wednesday told the organizers they couldn’t find anyone.

“It’s incredibly disappointing,” said Catherine Abreu, executive director of the Climate Action Network Canada.

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In August, 48,000 Canadians signed a petition trying to convince the CBC to host a national climate debate with the party leaders. The CBC, which is part of the media group hosting the two official English and French language national leaders’ debate, declined.

READ MORE: Climate change emerges as one of the top ballot-box issues among voters: Ipsos poll

Abreu said in an election that has been so much about mudslinging and so little about issues, climate action is one of the few things getting any attention.

Conservative party spokesman Simon Jefferies said the date of the debate was moved around.

The debate was initially to be on Oct. 15 but it was switched earlier this week to Oct. 16 at the request of the Liberals.

Federal Election 2019: Trudeau says he was ‘happy’ English federal leaders debate brought much talk about environment
Federal Election 2019: Trudeau says he was ‘happy’ English federal leaders debate brought much talk about environment

The debate was to happen in Ottawa but the Liberals chose not to send Ottawa MP Catherine McKenna, who is the Liberal environment minister. Instead, they were putting up Montreal candidate Steven Guilbeault, who is a founding member of Equiterre, one of the largest environment advocacy groups in Quebec. Guilbeault was also director of Greenpeace Quebec for a decade.

A day after the Liberals confirmed Guilbeault’s attendance, the Conservatives pulled out.

“Conservative candidates have been participating in plenty of debates across the country, including a number focused solely on environmental issues,” Jefferies said in a written statement.

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READ MORE: Trudeau pitches climate change plan during Arctic visit

The group GreenPac organized more than 100 environment debates in local ridings. According to GreenPac data, Conservative candidates attended 39 per cent of those debates, compared with 96 per cent for the Liberals, 79 per cent for the NDP, 96 per cent for the Greens and 43 per cent for the People’s Party of Canada. The Bloc Quebecois attended all 20 of the debates in Quebec ridings.

The Conservatives have criticized Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau for declining to attend two of the five national leaders’ debates organized this campaign. He would not participate in a debate on Sept. 12 that went ahead without him, and also declined to participate in a foreign-policy debate organized by the Munk Debates in Toronto. It was cancelled without Trudeau’s attendance.

“Let’s not forget that Justin Trudeau bailed on two leaders’ debates because he didn’t want to defend his record of scandal and failure to a national audience,” Jefferies said.

Federal Election 2019: Scheer says he has engaged with concerned Canadians on climate change
Federal Election 2019: Scheer says he has engaged with concerned Canadians on climate change

The organizers of the climate debate also decided it was not good to go through with theirs if one of the main parties that could win the election wasn’t represented.

Guilbeault said the Conservatives clearly don’t have the will to defend their climate policy if they can’t find a single one of their 338 candidates to make it on Oct. 16.

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“In our nation’s capital, that they can’t find someone who is willing to show up to debate about the environment speaks volumes that they simply don’t care about this issue. They could have found someone if they really wanted to.”

Climate change is listed in most polls as one of the top issues for voters in this election. Abreu said there are some distinctions among the parties’ climate platforms that aren’t entirely clear to voters yet and a national debate that would have been televised on CPAC could have helped voters understand those differences.