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Wildfires, drought and record heat: Why climate change matters in Election 2021

Click to play video: 'Canada election: How does each party’s plan to tackle the climate crisis stack up?' Canada election: How does each party’s plan to tackle the climate crisis stack up?
WATCH ABOVE: What can Canadians do to avert climate crisis? – Aug 26, 2021

During an absolutely staggering heat wave in June, the town of Lytton, B.C., set all-time Canadian temperature records three days in a row — 46.6 C, 47.5 C and 49.6 C.

The next day, Lytton burnt to the ground as a fast-moving wildfire consumed nearly everything in its path.

“It’s absolutely devastating and tragic,” Scott Hildebrandt, a municipal government official, said at the time.

Health officials in B.C. blamed the heat wave for nearly 600 premature deaths.

Read more: At least $78M in damage estimated from devastating Lytton, B.C. fire

Since then, thousands of people in the province have been temporarily displaced from their homes due to out-of-control fires. Many thousands more have been put on evacuation alert.

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Satellite images reveal plumes of smoke moving across North America, while the skies over Vancouver turned red, making it difficult to breathe and dangerous for anyone with a respiratory illness to go outside.

Click to play video: 'Haunting images of Lytton in aftermath of devastating wildfire' Haunting images of Lytton in aftermath of devastating wildfire
Haunting images of Lytton in aftermath of devastating wildfire – Jul 7, 2021

There have been droughts, too, from B.C. to Ontario.

Cattle farmers in Saskatchewan are selling livestock because there isn’t enough food for the animals. One of the biggest cattle auctions in the province said the number of animals it sells has doubled since June.

It’s also been a banner year for grasshoppers — literal clouds of grasshoppers.

Farmers in Manitoba say their crops have been destroyed by the pests and at least 15 municipalities in the province have declared an “agricultural state of disaster” because of the drought.

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Read more: Farmers to see $400M more in funding from federal government

The federal government has pledged up to $500 million to help farmers in the Prairies offset losses caused by drought.

Meanwhile, a recent report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said many of the most catastrophic consequences of a warming planet have yet to be realized and may now be unavoidable.

Click to play video: 'Creepy-crawly crisis: Lethbridge at war with grasshopper infestation' Creepy-crawly crisis: Lethbridge at war with grasshopper infestation
Creepy-crawly crisis: Lethbridge at war with grasshopper infestation – Aug 2, 2021

The IPCC report also said that unless there is an immediate and rapid reduction in fossil fuel use, the agreed-upon threshold of a 1.5-degree-Celsius increase to global temperatures compared to pre-industrial levels will likely be unattainable.

“There’s really one key message that emerges from this report: We are out of time,” said Kim Cobb, a professor of earth and atmospheric sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology and one of the co-authors of the report.

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“This report really provides compelling, scientific linkages between the headlines that we see today and what we know about the physics of the climate system and how it’s being impacted by rising greenhouse gases.”

Read more: ‘Code red for humanity’: Climate change spiraling out of control, U.N. report says

As scientists warn about the increasingly imminent threat of climate change, politicians have had to adapt. Once a side note, protecting the environment and tackling climate change has become a pillar of all major party platforms.

So what does all of this mean for Canadians?

As the 2021 federal election campaign heats up, Global News is taking a close look at what the major parties say they’ll do about climate change.

The Liberals

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau hasn’t released his party’s campaign platform yet. This means it’s impossible to say what, if anything, will be different about the Liberals’ future plans to address climate change compared to their previous announcements.

Still, the Liberals have said they intend to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 45 per cent by 2030. This objective goes beyond what the government agreed to do at the 2015 Paris climate change conference, but is less than what both the NDP and Green Party are pledging.

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Read more: Trudeau increases Canada’s 2030 emissions target to 40-45%

To accomplish this goal, the Liberals have set Canada on a path toward “pricing carbon” at $170 a ton by 2030, through a consumer carbon tax. This plan is based on the current price of $40 per ton of carbon going up $15 a ton every year over the next nine years.

Attacked by conservative pundits and politicians — including Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole and Ontario Premier Doug Ford — the Liberal’s carbon tax was deemed constitutional by the Supreme Court of Canada earlier this year.

Click to play video: 'Trudeau increases Canada’s 2030 emissions target to 40-45%' Trudeau increases Canada’s 2030 emissions target to 40-45%
Trudeau increases Canada’s 2030 emissions target to 40-45% – Apr 22, 2021

The Liberals have also pledged to increase the supply of renewable energy across Canada, especially in the Maritimes. This includes supporting the Atlantic Loop project, which would connect electricity grids in the easternmost provinces with vast hydro-electric supplies in Quebec.

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While in government, the Liberals have invested in new technologies, such as small-scale modular nuclear reactors (SMRs) and carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS). Both technologies could reduce greenhouse gas emissions in remote parts of Canada, which often rely on fossil fuels to generate electricity, heat homes and support industry.

But environmentalists and political opponents say there are significant shortcomings to the Liberal’s plan for a greener future.

Read more: Trudeau defends decision to buy Trans Mountain pipeline at Vancouver Island event

It was under the Liberals, after all, that Canada spent $4.4 billion to purchase the not yet completed Trans Mountain pipeline.

The project, which is supposed to carry bitumen from Alberta’s oilsands to the Pacific coast, is fiercely opposed by B.C. and several First Nations along its path. It’s also expected to take longer to complete than originally estimated, which will likely mean cost overruns, and a report recently published by the Parliamentary Budget Office said the pipeline might only be profitable if federal climate change policies don’t get stricter.

“The profitability of the Trans Mountain assets is highly contingent on the climate policy stance of the federal government,” the report said.

“If policy action on climate change continues to become more stringent, it is possible for the Trans Mountain assets to have a negative net present value.”

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The Conservatives

O’Toole and the Conservatives announced the most significant parts of their climate change policy in April.

The announcement was made just weeks after Conservative Party members rejected a motion at their annual convention that would have acknowledged the existence of climate change.

Read more: Conservative party members vote down resolution to officially recognize climate change

In their 20201 election platform, the Conservatives pledged to scrap the Liberal’s carbon tax, which they say is nothing more than a federal cash grab, and replace it with their own pricing mechanism.

O’Toole is adamant this scheme isn’t a tax because none of the money collected will go to the government. Instead, all proceeds from the levy will be deposited in personal savings accounts, which consumers can then use to buy items for a greener life, such as bicycles, electric cars, transit passes and solar panels.

Click to play video: 'Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole defends his party’s pitch to price carbon' Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole defends his party’s pitch to price carbon
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole defends his party’s pitch to price carbon – Apr 18, 2021

The Conservative platform says the program could be administered by a consortium of private financial institutions and function similarly to Interac or the various loyalty rewards programs Canadians are already familiar with.

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But critics of the Conservative plan say it’s overly complicated and more restrictive than the Liberal’s carbon tax. That’s because the Liberal tax re-distributes 90 per cent of all money collected back to taxpayers through a redeemable tax credit. This money can then be used to purchase anything, not just items pre-approved by the government.

Read more: O’Toole acknowledges Conservative concern over his carbon pricing plan

O’Toole has also faced backlash from within his own party because of the carbon levy. Some Conservatives, including those who vehemently oppose the Liberal’s carbon tax, have rejected the idea of a carbon price altogether.

“It does price carbon and I do get some questions about it and some people (are) frustrated about that, but it shows my commitment,” O’Toole said on Aug. 21 during a campaign stop in Edmonton.

The comment from O’Toole came a day after he was confronted by a Conservative supporter in Saskatoon at another campaign event. The supporter said he knew “a lot of pissed-off farmers” who didn’t support the levy.

Click to play video: 'O’Toole risks alienating Conservative base with carbon pricing plan' O’Toole risks alienating Conservative base with carbon pricing plan
O’Toole risks alienating Conservative base with carbon pricing plan – Aug 21, 2021

O’Toole has also promised to increase the number of electric vehicles on the roads by mandating that at least 30 per cent of all new vehicles by 2030 be electric. The Conservative platform also calls for changes to the national building code that would require a minimum number of electric vehicle charging stations for all new construction projects and existing federal buildings.

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O’Toole and the Conservatives say they’ll spend $3 billion restoring and protecting natural environments and ecosystems that help mitigate the effects of climate change, such as wetlands and forests.

Like the Liberals, the Conservatives also plan to invest in carbon capture technology and small-scale nuclear reactors.

Some environmentalists have, however, said investing in carbon capture technology encourages the continued use of fossil fuels and will inevitably lead to more greenhouse gas emissions. They say that this type of technology should be avoided and that the government should instead focus on increasing access to renewable energy, such as wind and solar.

The NDP and Green Party are opposed to nuclear energy because they say it produces toxic waste that’s harmful to the environment and has the potential to cause significant destruction if not properly stored and managed.

The NDP

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has repeatedly said neither the Liberals nor the Conservatives can be trusted to do enough to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prevent the worst effects of climate change.

The party’s platform, released before the election was called, says Liberal commitments are insufficient to meet the target of a 1.5-degree-Celsius increase in global temperatures compared to pre-industrial levels. The platform cites recent government data that show greenhouse gas emissions increased each year between 2016 and 2019 when the Liberals were in office.

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Read more: Singh vows to end subsidies given to oil, gas companies if NDP wins election

The NDP is proposing to cut emissions by 50 per cent compared to 2005 levels by 2030. The party also promises to create a Climate Accountability Office that will offer “independent oversight,” engage with the public and make recommendations on how to achieve climate change targets.

It’s unclear in the NDP’s platform what, if any, authority this office would have to compel the federal government to follow its recommendations or whether it would have the authority to sanction the government or industries for failing to meet targets.

Click to play video: 'Canada Election: Singh blasts Trudeau’s record on climate change at same site where Trudeau joined 2019 climate protest' Canada Election: Singh blasts Trudeau’s record on climate change at same site where Trudeau joined 2019 climate protest
Canada Election: Singh blasts Trudeau’s record on climate change at same site where Trudeau joined 2019 climate protest – Aug 23, 2021

The NDP also says it’s committed to ending subsidies for the oil and gas sector, which, according to a report published by Environmental Defence and cited in the NDP platform, equalled $18 billion in 2020. The NDP doesn’t say when it will accomplish this task, however, just that it’s committed to transitioning off fossil fuels and will instead spend this money on renewable energy.

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The NDP is also promising a nationwide retrofit program with the aim of making all buildings constructed prior to 2020 climate-friendly within the next 20 years. The proposal includes a pledge to provide low-interest loans to help make family homes more energy-efficient, plus targeted assistance for low-income individuals and renters.

Singh also says he’ll extend federal subsidies for anyone buying a zero-emission vehicle. Currently, these subsidies are capped at $5,000 depending on the make and model of the vehicle, but the NDP would increase this subsidy to up to $15,000 for certain Canadian-made vehicles and eliminate the federal sales tax.

Read more: Electric vehicle sales plummet in Ontario after rebate cancellation

But similar provincial rebates for electric vehicles have been criticized in the past as unnecessary taxpayer-funded subsidies for the wealthy and ultra-wealthy.

A 2017 study, published by the Montreal Economic Institute, also determined that subsidizing zero-emission vehicles is an inefficient and costly way of reaching overall emissions targets. The report found that Ontario’s and Quebec’s subsidies — Ontario’s subsidy was scrapped in 2018 — would have cost taxpayers up to $17 billion by 2030 and reduce emissions by just four per cent.

“If the governments absolutely want to get to their (emissions) goals faster, the worst way of doing that is a subsidy to electric cars,” said Germain Belzile when the study was first published.

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The NDP also says it will protect 30 per cent of Canada’s lands and freshwater by 2030. This is more than the goals announced by the Conservatives and the Liberals. It’s also more than double the amount of land and freshwater currently protected, according to Environment and Climate Change Canada’s website.

The Green Party

Green Party Leader Annamie Paul also hasn’t released a full platform yet, but the party’s platform for the 2019 federal election and other statements on its website contain detailed plans for tackling climate change.

The party is calling for a 60 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, more than any other party.

Read more: Green Party faces challenges heading into fall election

Paul has also said she opposes the Trans Mountain Pipeline and the Green Party has pledged to reject any new coal, oil or gas projects. According to the party’s website, existing fossil fuel projects would be allowed to continue operating under reduced capacity, with the aim of being phased out completely by 2035.

The Green Party has also promised to overhaul Canada’s transportation sector. The party’s 2019 platform said it would ban the sale of combustion engine vehicles by 2030 and exempt all electric vehicles from federal sales tax.

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Click to play video: 'Greens take aim at NDP seats with new strategic focus' Greens take aim at NDP seats with new strategic focus
Greens take aim at NDP seats with new strategic focus – Feb 8, 2021

The party also has plans to invest billions of dollars in railways, including new high-speed trains between Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec City, and between Calgary and Edmonton.

The Green Party’s promise of true high-speed rail stands in contrast to the recently-announced Liberal plan to build a “high-frequency” rail link between Quebec City and Toronto, with trains maxing out at 200 kilometres per hour, much slower than other high-speed rail networks in use around the world.

The party’s past announcements have, however, been criticized by economists, such as former Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page, as unrealistic and lacking “responsible fiscal management.” But that assessment and many others were made prior to the era of COVID-19 and gargantuan federal deficits.

The Green Party has also promised to revamp the Canada Infrastructure Bank by directing it to invest in projects meant to mitigate the worst effects of climate change, such as drought, wildfires and flooding.

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