Vote as if the environment mattered

by Theresa Beer

Imagine if environmental issues dominated BC’s election in May. Typically, the environment gets brought up as an afterthought or is relegated to a separate forum for discussion. Yet how we treat the environment affects every British Columbian, in much the same way that health care and education do. Without a healthy environment, economic opportunities, for example, will be heavily curtailed.

Here’s an idea: political parties could base all their policies on the principle of operating within the bounds of nature. This would lead to a different discussion about meaningful jobs and health care, education and housing priorities. That’s why, during the election, the David Suzuki Foundation will be watching what parties say about climate, transit, oceans, grizzlies and the right to a healthy environment.

On the climate front, parties should put forward detailed plans on how they would meet emissions targets. We’re looking for parties to offer policies that would raise the carbon tax each year beyond 2022 and apply it to more sectors. An effective and gradually increasing carbon tax provides incentives to switch to low-carbon energy solutions and fosters innovation and economic competitiveness. We believe it’s time to reinstate predictable, annual increases to the carbon tax to provide industry with a stable market signal to reduce emissions.

In terms of transit spending, the Foundation is encouraging the next BC government to commit to funding 40 percent of the cost for new public transit infrastructure. Metro Vancouver is gridlocked and transportation accounts for 25 percent of BC’s carbon emissions. Congestion costs in Metro Vancouver alone are estimated by the C.D. Howe Institute and Clean Energy Canada at between $500 million and $1.2 billion a year. Political leaders must prioritize and fund transit to address population growth, health, environment and the economy. Adequately funding transit improvements is one of our most effective ways to address climate change. Support for the Mayors’ Council Transit plan is a good place to start. This is an achievable, costed and regionally considered plan to get Metro Vancouver out of gridlock.

As one way to meet our province’s legislated emissions targets, we’d like to see parties introduce plans to accurately measure fugitive emissions from liquefied natural gas production and cut those emissions by 45 percent. The Climate Leadership Team crafted recommendations that put us on the right course for climate action. They would be a strong starting point for parties to support climate solutions.

One of the most powerful ways we can move to living within the bounds of nature is to support healthy and productive oceans. The Foundation urges parties in this provincial election to commit to working with the Federal Government and First Nations to implement and budget for marine planning and a network of marine protected areas. During a tour of coastal communities, we heard serious concerns about the impacts of climate change, fossil fuel shipping and pipelines, pollution and industrial fisheries. Residents told us that ocean management decisions must recognize healthy ecosystems as the basis for healthy communities. To meet these and other biodiversity goals, we are asking parties to commit to reforming regulations and laws to better protect coastal ecosystems and species at risk such as southern resident orcas.

We’re also calling on all parties to support an immediate ban of BC’s grizzly bear trophy hunt. We recommend that the ban avoid loopholes, such as the continuation of the ability to hunt grizzly bears for meat. The Foundation supports regulations that make it illegal to remove, sell, traffic or trade in any grizzly bear trophy items. British Columbians overwhelmingly support ending the grizzly trophy hunt.

The right to a healthy environment is the simple, yet powerful, idea that everyone in Canada has the human right to clean air and water, safe food, a stable climate and a say in decisions that affect their health and well-being. Ontario passed their environmental bill of rights in 1993 and Quebec included the right to a healthy environment in its Environmental Quality Act in 1978. We believe it’s time that BC joined them, and others agree. The Union of BC Municipalities, for example, passed a resolution in 2015 calling for provincial environmental rights legislation. Passing an environmental bill of rights would mean that projects such as the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion would receive greater scrutiny given their impact on the environment.

An environmental bill of rights would put more power in the hands of citizens by ensuring greater transparency and participation in environmental decision-making, which could help balance a system that is heavily influenced by corporate lobbying.

Regardless of the issues under discussion, our hope is that environmentally minded people in BC will get out and vote on May 9. See you at the polls.

Theresa Beer is senior communications specialist at the David Suzuki Foundation, www.davidsuzuki.org

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