camfenton camfenton, October 7, 2015

This election has been rough. It’s not just the eleven week marathon campaign, or the series of underwhelming shout-fest debates. For me, as someone who is direly concerned about the fate of our planet, it’s the simple reality that among Canada’s major political parties none have the courage to put forward a plan that reflects the simple scientific truth about tackling the climate crisis – fossil fuels need to stay in the ground.

Since Canada is home to of the world’s largest pools of carbon – the Alberta Tar Sands – this is a pretty big deal. Earlier in 2015 scientists calculated that 85% of tar sands need to stay in the ground if this country is going to play it’s part in meeting the globally agreed upon 2ºC warming limit. Climate scientists Thomas Homer-Dixon and Yonatan Strauch called it the “brutal math” of climate change, and yet the only candidate to mention this throughout the entire election was the NDP’s Linda McQuaig – for which she was eviscerated by opponents and chastised by her own party. Even the self-styled climate leaders in the Green Party are falling short, proposing that we build oil refineries in Canada as a solution to tar sands expansion, a strange proposal when you realize that we need to rapidly decarbonize our economy and that oil refineries are infrastructure projects built to last decades.

With all this, and as election day draws inevitably closer, I’m struggling to decide what to do.

The planet simply can’t handle another four years of Stephen Harper in power. During his time as Prime Minister, Canada has become a climate change pariah. He’s done about as much as one can, both at home and abroad, to stymie efforts to tackle the climate crisis. As Harper mentioned at the recent foreign policy debate, he has close friends working in the oil industry. For  close to a decade, these same friends have helped to write our dismal climate policy, gut our environmental regulations and been at the heart of dismantling the regulatory process for projects like the nearly half a dozen tar sands pipelines proposed to stretch from coast to coast.

These are all compelling reasons to get rid of Harper, but with none of the other candidates for Prime Minister acknowledging that we need to keep fossil fuels, starting with the tar sands, in the ground, there is no real vote that one can cast for the climate. The good news is that politics neither starts or ends at the ballot box, and so here’s a modest proposal for what we can do about it.

First, let’s get rid of Harper. He and the Conservative’s policies are bad for people and the planet, and it’s past time that they were turfed. The best way to make this happen is to sign up for the Vote Together campaign that has be tirelessly organizing for months. They have a plan backed up with polling, people power and the knowledge to best determine what candidates have the best chance of beating Conservatives in key ridings.

Second, let’s be ready to act quickly and decisively after October 19th. The simple truth is that ninety-nine times out of one hundred, governments have never pursued more progressive policies in office than they ran on during an election, unless they’re forced to by people power. We already know where every political party with a chance of forming Canada’s next government stands, and we know that it’s not enough when it comes to the kind of decisive climate action we need.

That’s why momentum is growing for something called “Climate Welcome” –  a series of serious, but gentle, civil disobedience actions starting November 5th to welcome the next Prime Minister and call on him to get to work on real climate action.

Canada is in a hole when it comes to the climate. When you find yourself in a hole this deep, the first rule is simple: stop digging. This is literally what we need Canada’s next leader to commit to. Freeze the expansion of the tar sands and commit to a rapid, just transition to a clean energy economy. We need a calm, deliberate, and steady plan to wean Canada off volatile boom-and-bust oil revenues, and reorient our economy towards 21st—not 19th—century technology.

We can’t afford to wait three, two or even one more year for Canada to get on the right side of history when it comes to climate change. It’s time to stop building huge new mines on top of the ones that already scar the landscape, poison the environment and violate Indigenous and treaty rights – it’s already big enough.

Building a just, clean energy economy that works for people and the planet starts with a Prime Minister that understands the basic math that climate action and tar sands expansion just don’t add up. So yes, let’s get rid of Harper on October 19th, but let’s be ready to demand the change we really need the next day.