Week One: Tracking the environment through #elxn42

During past elections, I have often bemoaned the absence of environmental issues from campaign narratives–most explicitly when I helped cover part of the 2012 Alberta election. (The 2008 federal election was certainly an exception, when Stephane Dion’s green shift plan proved notable for its centering of important environmental and climate change questions in the media.)

Going into an incredibly long federal election campaign, I’m undertaking a weekly project to track media coverage of environmental issues in Canada. Every Monday until Oct. 19, I’ll be using this space to relay and sometimes critique key election stories, press releases, videos, and whatever else I can cobble together in time for election day.

This effort is not partisan: If you are reading this, I genuinely hope that matters of the environment, including how natural resources are moved to markets, carbon emissions, safe and available drinking water, and more will be on your mind when you cast a vote. They should be–these issues define our economies, as well as our relationships to where we live and how we live. But I am not going to suggest how you should actually vote.

This effort is an opportunity to learn new things: At the outset, I do not know how the media will cover environmental issues through this election. I do not know how different political parties will make environmental issues central in their platforms (through sustained attention, not just a few words here or there). And I do not know precisely how information will move through this election, though as a communication studies type, I am excited to approach this project with a pretty open mind as to what constitutes media (hint: not just legacy print, radio and television institutions).

Every week I will offer the best cross-section of information I can find, and if I am missing anything, please send me a note on Twitter, @taudette, or comment here.

So, let’s get started with some background on the party platforms and key issues as we know them so far:

The Ottawa Citizen (and much of the Postmedia network) published this story online yesterday, rounding up party promises and party records on a cross-section of key election issues. Let’s break out some of those items:

1. Pipelines

It is not at all an understatement to say pipeline politics–or questions of how we move oil sands oil to international markets–are key going into an election, and regionally divisive.

The story referenced above deals with the four main national parties, but not the Bloc Quebecois, and this is something of an oversight on the pipeline issue. According to le Journal de Montreal, environmental issues are actually at “the heart” of leader Gilles Duceppe’s campaign, and we see him note, very specifically, opposition to the Energy East pipeline, which Duceppe describes as risky for Quebec.

Pipeline questions also came up elsewhere over the weekend ahead of Sunday’s election call. Here is Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau in Hudson, Que., answering questions about pipelines by focusing on what he calls the politicization of the National Energy Board’s process of seeing through pipeline proposals.

(Also on the weekend, The National Observer flagged this recent appointment to the National Energy Board.)

In recent years, the governing Conservatives have been supportive of pipelines, arguing access to international markets is absolutely necessary for Canada to realize its potential as a global “energy superpower.” Just a couple weeks ago, Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford described the need to move product out of Canada as paramount–or, as the CBC put it, “not a priority, [but] an imperative.”

More on pipelines:

A recent study shows potential losses of $100B to oil companies if new pipelines are not realized

The Northwest Territories and an Arctic Gateway for oil

Alternatives Journal outlines key priorities–including pipelines–for Canada’s 2015 environment agenda.

2. Environmental review and legislation

The NDP describes the Harper government as having “gutted” environmental laws in its outline of key campaign issues, while, in tandem with the story noted above, the Liberals “would roll back some of the Harper government’s changes to environmental assessment and introduce a new ‘evidence-based’ process that includes better consultation with Aboriginal groups.” 

Here is GreenPAC’s assessment of “two decades of decline” in environmental laws in Canada.

3. Climate change

Even before the election was called, Green Party leader Elizabeth May described climate as “the key issue” of the 2015 campaign. NDP leader Thomas Mulcair says that, if he becomes prime minister, he will “tackle climate change and protect the environment for future generations.” The Liberals promise to, “Partner with provinces and territories to establish national emissions-reduction targets…”

In the official transcript for Conservative leader Stephen Harper’s election announcement, the environment is not explicitly discussed. Maclean’s notes whoever wins a majority on Oct. 19 will be headed to Paris soon after for a United Nations climate change conference, and describes the Conservative record on carbon emissions as such:

Back in 2009, Harper signed the Copenhagen Accord, promising to cut emissions by 17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020, or down to 611 megatonnes. But Environment Canada’s annual “emission trends” report, released late last year, says the country is on track to be emitting 727 megatonnes in 2020. Clearly, tough new measures would be needed to hit the Copenhagen target. Meanwhile, at the G7 summit in June, Harper agreed to steeper reductions—30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. How could that be achieved? “Nobody’s going to start to shut down their industries or turn off the lights,” Harper said at the G7 meeting in Germany. “We’ve simply got to find a way to create lower carbon-emitting sources of energy.” Just that.

SOURCE: (2015, 2 August). “Election issues 2015: A Maclean’s primer on climate.” Maclean’s. Retrieved 3 August 2015: http://www.macleans.ca/politics/ottawa/climate-primer/

So, that’s it for Week One… Here’s hoping there’s more to discuss next week.

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