Ottawa Centre comes out in force for McKenna climate change consultation

Well over 300 Ottawa Centre residents packed a room last night to participate in Environment and Climate Minister Catherine McKenna's climate change consultation. The public townhall is part of new initiative launched by the federal government encouraging people to 'have our say' on climate change.

There is no doubt of the appetite for public consultation towards a national climate plan.

I had RSVP'ed on Monday and wound up getting an email yesterday afternoon suggesting I was too late to participate in one of the official group discussions, but could attend in 'overflow.' I know others who wanted to participate but sent in their request after Monday and received a reponse saying the event was at capacity, and they would be contacted were there another townhall held, so who knows how many others may have attended (note: there absolutely should be!). 

Enough people showed up that event coordinators quickly gave up on sign-in's and opened the doors and allowed people to self organize into tables on four different discussion topics:

  • Mitigating the effects of climate change by reducing emissions
  • Putting a price on carbon
  • Growing good jobs through clean technology
  • Preparing our communities and protecting them from the effects of climate change

I quickly headed to a table focused on reducing emissions to share the fundamental point that infrastructure further expanding the tar sands and other forms of extreme energy (Arctic offshore drilling, fracking) doesn't have a place alongside an effective climate plan towards limiting temperature rise to 1.5 degrees, as referenced in the Paris Agreement. 

This is one of the 3 core principles of the Peoples Climate Plan (focused on getting lots of people to these town halls and conveying three core principles) the Council of Canadians has endorsed alongside a number of other community, environmental and faith-based groups.

The 3 principles are: 

  1. We want a plan that aligns with the science of climate change. Bold climate action ensures Canada meets its commitments to a 1.5°C world by keeping its fossil fuels reserves in the ground.

  2. We want a plan that builds a 100% renewable energy economy. Bold climate action ensures Canada transitions to a 100% renewable energy economy by 2050, creating over a million clean, safe and rewarding jobs.

  3. We want a plan that is justice-based. Bold climate action enshrines justice & reconciliation for Indigenous peoples, ensures no worker is left behind in the transition to a clean energy economy, and takes leadership from those hit hardest by the climate crisis.

McKenna sets a good tone for the evening, but questions remain

McKenna kicked off the evening recognizing we were on the traditional territory of the Algonquin and Anishinaabe Peoples and shared her experiences hearing from First Nation communities, including in Canada's north, on the front lines of climate change. 

Her presentation outlined the challenge we face noting the trajectory of Canada's emissions and where emissions are coming from (by sector), and the process for the evening - one hour of discussion on the group subject, led by a moderator.

McKenna said this was the first of many town halls to come across the country and that the conclusions and recommendations would be reviewed by Environment Canada staff and 'fed back' into a national climate plan presented to Premiers this coming fall. 

You can watch this video of McKenna describing the process (thanks Aurore, 350.org)

Despite this explanation, questions still remain for me. Primarily, how exactly will the conclusions from the town halls influence the development of a national climate plan?

For example, when the Ontario Energy Board held consultations on Energy East, the company hired to run the public meetings were taking notes during the discussion (seen up on a screen live at the event) which were then summarized in a final document. This document fed the final report on Energy East alongside content from expert reports hired and stakeholders (unions, environmental and community groups, businesses etc).  

Also, will MPs be coordinating town halls like McKenna's across the country? This is a bit vague and last night didn't clear it up. The website set up for this effort encourages people to coordinate their own townhalls, and then feed the conclusions into the online portal where individuals and groups are also encouraged to send in their opinions. 

While I certainly think people are capable of organizing town hall events, I also think it is critical that MPs step up and play this coordinating role and are present, listening and learning from their constituents. In other words, now is a good time to be in touch with your Liberal MP asking when they will be coordinating a town hall on climate change in your riding!

Ottawa says NO to Energy East, tar sands expansion and YES to climate solutions and just transition

Following the one hour group discussions, McKenna circulated the room, one minute was given to the group's spokesperson to give a high level summary. Clear themes emerged. More than half of the groups affirmed up front that we need to stop fossil fuel expansion particularly the tar sands, and in particular the Energy East pipeline (also a local issue - a spill from the 1.1 million bpd pipeline threatens to contaminate the Rideau River which runs through the riding).

There was much discussion of the concrete solutions the government could be championing immediately - a national energy conservation programme, a building retrofit programme (with First Nation, low income communities first in line), support for public transit and renewable energy. Examples like Iron and Earth and the Green Economy Network's One Million Climate Jobs campaign emerged.

TPP came up as a barrier to climate action at a number of tables (way to go Ottawa crowd in knowing our stuff!).

The reality of how the global oil price crash is impacting Albertan workers, families and communities was frequently acknowledged, it was matched not by recognition of the need for new pipelines (the economic argument for this is very weak) but rather just transition programmes that support impacted oil workers and get them into the over 144,000 jobs that could be created in Alberta in public transit, renewables and energy efficiency.  

My highlight of the night? McKenna joined our conversation for a couple of minutes and I was able to report that over half of the participants first comment on how we reduce emissions - well Energy East definitely shouldn't happen! 

TAKE ACTION: Sign up at the Peoples Climate Plan for campaign updates and get in touch with your MP about a townhall on climate change in your community.