Federal candidates debate the environment in Barrie—Springwater—Oro-Medonte

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Leading up to Canada’s 2021 federal election, the Conservative, Liberal and NDP candidates in Barrie—Springwater—Oro-Medonte debated the environment and related issues.

Here’s what their answers were to some of the most pertinent questions in Wednesday’s conversation:

Moderator: Will you develop a new and credible plan to halt and reverse nature loss, protect species-at-risk and meet Canada’s commitment to protect at least 30 per cent of land, freshwater and ocean by 2030? Will you commit to require all sectors to reduce carbon emissions by 60 per cent by 2030 and make it law? Will you push your party’s leadership to end all government subsidies for and investments in fossil fuel infrastructures, such as pipelines and new highways?

Liberal Barrie—Springwater—Oro-Medonte candidate Tanya Saari:

She said a Liberal government would — and already has — developed a plan to meet Canada’s goal to conserve at least 30 per cent of land and water by 2030.

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“Our government has actually already committed to and is working toward protecting 30 per cent of our lands and waters by 2030,” Saari said.

“We will implement the recently passed Net-Zero (Emissions) Accountability Act and advance new measures to achieve a 40 to 45 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030.”

The local candidate also said her party has committed to eliminating fossil fuel subsidies by 2023, which she said is two years ahead of Canada’s G20 partners.

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

Conservative Barrie—Springwater—Oro-Medonte candidate Doug Shipley:

Shipley said the Conservatives are committed to reaching the targets set by the previous Conservative government in 2010 — to conserve 17 per cent of terrestrial lands through protected areas and other local conservation measures — though he said the party will increase its goal to 25 per cent.

He also said the Conservatives will fight climate change and protect the environment, though he insisted that his party “won’t do it on the backs of hard-working Canadians.”

“To reach our goal, we will work with provinces to make Canada a leader in climate action, recognize that the most efficient way to reduce our emissions is to use pricing mechanisms and not ignoring the fact that the U.S. does not yet have a national carbon pricing system,” Shipley said.

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Read more: Complete list of campaign promises about tackling climate change

He acknowledged that more than 40,000 jobs have disappeared in Alberta over the last seven years and said the government can’t leave behind workers in any sector or region across Canada.

“It’s not as simple as turning off the oil and gas sector,” he added. “I truly believe we must support people across the country in all regions and sectors.”

Shipley said the Conservative Party will support youth who are trying to get into the workforce and provide funding to women-led small businesses.

NDP Barrie—Springwater—Oro-Medonte candidate Sarah Lochhead: 

Lochhead said the NDP will protect 30 per cent of Canada’s land and water by 2030.

“Part of these plans include enshrining in law an Environment Bill of Rights, and we plan to also ensure that the Species at Risk Act is enforced and launch a 10-year nature plan to reverse species loss, as well as working with farmers in communities to monitor biodiversity and protect pollinator health,” she said.

“We also want to implement a national freshwater strategy.”

The local candidate said an NDP government will do “what the science requires” and that the party has a plan to cut emissions by more than half to meet 1.5-degree targets.

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“We also plan to create a climate accountability office, which will provide independent oversight of the federal climate progress to engage the public and to make recommendations on how to best achieve those goals,” she said, adding that her party is committed to eliminating fossil fuel subsidies and redirecting funds to low carbon and green energy initiatives.

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Moderator: Will you implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and calls to action in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC)? Will you invest in Indigenous-led land-use planning and the establishment of Indigenous protected and conserved areas?

Conservative (Shipley):

Shipley said the TRC and the National Inquiry of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls identified significant gaps in opportunities for Indigenous people in Canada.

“Conservatives have a comprehensive plan to implement TRC calls to action 71 through 76,” he said. (Calls to action 71 through 76 address missing children and burial information. They can be viewed in this Truth and Reconciliation document online.)

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Shipley also said Conservatives will address the ongoing mental health crisis that’s been exacerbated by COVID-19 by providing $1 billion to boost funding for Indigenous mental health and drug treatment programs.

“A Conservative government will recognize Indigenous and treaty rights and work together with Indigenous peoples as partners to resolve longstanding challenges,” he added.

Read more: Canada’s wildfires, extreme heat bring environmental issues to election campaign

NDP (Lochhead): Lochhead said an NDP government would implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and all of the TRC’s 94 calls to action.

“The New Democrats will work with Indigenous people to co-develop a national action plan for reconciliation, drawing on the calls to action to ensure that Canada’s laws, policies (and) practices are consistent with our human rights commitments,” she said.

“We want to establish a national council for reconciliation to provide oversight and accountability for this process and reporting regularly to both Parliament and Canadians.”

Instead of merely consulting with Indigenous peoples, Lochhead said an NDP government would set up a standard of free, prior and informed consent for Indigenous communities that are affected by government policies.

She also said an NDP government wants to transition remote communities to incorporating clean energy alternatives.

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“We believe that the Crown’s relationship to Indigenous people must be based and acknowledged on our country’s colonial history of genocide and stolen lands and include legally binding commitments to fair and equitable redress,” Lochhead said.

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Liberal (Saari): Saari said she fully supports the implementation of the TRC calls to action.

“With regard to Indigenous-protected areas, Indigenous peoples have been strong allies in working to protect land and waters often in the face of provincial resistance,” she said, adding Liberals have started work on Indigenous conserved and protected areas.

“(We) have launched Indigenous programs across the country to achieve the 30 per cent protection goal.”

Saari also said the Liberals have committed $340 million in additional funding to support Indigenous leadership in nature conservation.

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Moderator: What measures would you take to ensure housing as a right?

NDP (Lochhead): Lochhead said the NDP has a plan to create 500,000 units of affordable housing across Canada, which she insists will create jobs, build rental co-ops and social housing.

“We’re going to set up a direct, faster fund to streamline applications to help communities get the expertise and assistance they need to get projects off the ground now,” she said.

“A New Democratic government will also spur construction of affordable homes by waiving the federal portion of the GST, HST on the construction of affordable rental units. This simple change will help get new units built faster.”

Read more: Singh pledges to make public transit fully electric by 2030 by doubling funding

Lochhead said the government needs to make sure that families who are suffering get immediate relief so that they’re not struggling to afford their rent.

“To help with the housing market, we’re looking to levy 20 per cent on home purchases from foreign investors to help cool the housing market,” she added.

“A core component of our approach is fully implementing the right to housing and working toward the goal of ending homelessness in Canada within a decade.”

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Liberal (Saari): Saari said the government needs to continue its work on housing.

“I was really pleased with the policy platform that came out with us that we’re going to build more affordable houses (1.4 million affordable houses across the country),” she said.

Saari said the Liberals will also introduce a Home Buyer’s Bill of Rights, a rent-to-own program for those who are trying to get into the housing market and a new multi-generational home renovation tax credit to help families expand their homes.

The Liberal candidate also said her party will invest in Indigenous housing and work with Indigenous partners to co-develop an Indigenous housing strategy.

“I can promise we will continue to work to end chronic homelessness,” she added.

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Conservative: Shipley said affordable housing must be a top priority for the next federal government.

“There is a serious problem with supply and demand, and Conservatives will swiftly increase housing supply across the country by effectively funding infrastructure projects,” he said.

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“That means building public transit infrastructure and requiring cities and towns receiving those federal infrastructure funds to increase density near transit.”

Shipley said the federal government is the largest property owner in Canada with over 37,000 buildings.

“A Conservative government will release at least 15 per cent of those properties for housing redevelopment,” he added.

“Conservatives will ban foreign investors not living in Canada from buying homes here for at least two years. Instead, we will encourage foreign investment in purpose-built rental housing that is affordable.”

Shipley said a Conservative government would ensure Canada’s real estate market serves the interests of Canadians first.

Moderator: Will you support designating the Bradford Bypass, a four-lane freeway that cuts through the headwaters of Lake Simcoe and the Greenbelt, for a federal impact assessment? Will you support a cost-sharing agreement with Ontario to get the Holland River Reclamation Plant online ASAP?

Liberal (Saari): Saari said she’d work with all levels of government to make sure the Bradford Bypass undergoes an environmental assessment.

“I’m committed to seeing that project through,” she said.

“Our government will make a historic investment of $1 billion to the Freshwater Action Plan, and this is a plan that will provide essential funding to protect and restore lakes and river systems, which includes our precious Lake Simcoe.”

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Read more: What’s needed from Canada’s federal parties to help save Ontario’s Lake Simcoe

Conservative (Shipley): Shipley said a Conservative government would reinstate the Lake Simcoe Cleanup Fund.

“During the last election campaign in 2019, I stood on the shores of Lake Simcoe and announced our plan to reinstate the cleanup fund of $30 million,” he said.

“That spurred the Liberal government to come to Barrie with their own $40-million commitment, of which none has been allocated to the project. I have advocated for the reinstatement of the Lake Simcoe Cleanup Fund to be fulfilled since the last election, and we have heard nothing from the current Liberal government.”

NDP (Lochhead): With respect to the region’s growth, Lochhead said she sees a need to support green solutions for getting around.

“An NDP government will focus on green infrastructure, such as public transit, as well as looking at our communities and helping minimize urban sprawl by creating good jobs where we live,” she said.

“There have been preliminary conversations between NDP candidates whose ridings are connected to Lake Simcoe regarding the possibility of a Lake Simcoe NDP Coalition.”

She said the seven ridings represent a little more than two per cent of the House of Commons and that they’ll have more power if they can vote as a block on issues pertaining to Lake Simcoe.

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Moderator: Given the urgency of the climate emergency, are you prepared to spend what it takes to contribute to the global effort to avoid the worst of the climate crisis and its social and economic impacts?

Liberal (Saari):  Since 2015, Saari said the Liberals have made “record” investments in the environment, have had renewed relationships with Indigenous peoples, increased taxes on the wealthy and made investments in green infrastructure.

“We have a climate plan that has been recognized as ‘marvelous’ by Tom Mulcair, the former leader of Canada’s NDP, as well as ‘bold and thoughtful’ by Andrew Weaver, the former leader of the B.C. Green Party, and ‘effective and economically efficient policies,’ and that’s from Mark Jaccard, the climate expert,” she said.

“Our government has the best climate plan.”

Conservative (Shipley): Shipley said Conservatives are committed to protecting the environment and will do so by investing in programs that support that commitment, including building public transit and other major infrastructure projects across Canada.

“We are also focused on cleaning up our waters and protecting water quality, including Lake Simcoe,” he said

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Read more: Former B.C. Green party leader endorses Liberal climate change plan

“That means ending raw sewage dumping into our lakes, rivers and oceans, and protecting our waterways from pollution.”

Shipley also said a Conservative government would ban the export of plastic waste.

NDP (Lochhead): Lochhead said a Canadian government needs to tackle climate change with a sense of urgency.

“We’re committed to avoiding the worst-case scenario and doing what it takes and what the science requires to avoid the worst of the climate crisis and the social (and) economic impacts,” she said.

“Our approach to raising revenues in order to fund such commitments will put people first and tackle the inequality crisis facing our country, strengthen the integrity of our tax system and ensure that large, profitable corporations and the very richest pay more to help us get there.”

Wednesday’s all-candidates meeting in Barrie—Springwater—Oro-Medonte was part of 100 Debates on the Environment. The upcoming federal election will take place on Sept. 20.

Some of the moderator questions have been edited for length and clarity.

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