Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Salaberry—Suroît.
I am very pleased today to rise to debate a motion calling for a climate emergency declaration by Canada. It is very important to declare a climate emergency. That is a call for all of us to work together with urgency to meet the biggest challenge this country has faced since World War II and perhaps the biggest challenge in human history. I will be supporting the government motion and I will try not to engage in a polemic about who was first.
An NDP motion was followed quickly by the government motion. That is a good idea. Unfortunately, the new Green member has chosen to engage in a polemic before he has even come to the House, somehow taking credit for what is going on here. I welcome him to join us and I welcome a similar motion from the Green Party. We have to work together in the country to meet the challenges of climate change.
Since the Conservatives just moved an amendment, I want to address that amendment very quickly.
The member for Abbotsford says that we should wait for the Conservatives' plan, I am a little worried about their plan, given their amendment today. Let me point out three things their amendment would do.
First, it would eliminate climate emergency from the motion. It would take away the most important thing about the debate going on in the House now, which is the recognition that we have very few years left to act before climate change becomes irreversible and its impacts make this planet uninhabitable.
Second, it says that human action has an impact on climate. Here we are, back to the Conservatives denying the source of climate change. We know it is human activity. We know we are causing the rise in temperatures and the great variations in our climate. Therefore, because we are causing it, we can do something about it.
The third thing the proposed Conservative amendment does is blame everybody else. Its emphasis is on global action. Yes, of course, global action is required. Action by all of us is required to meet those challenges. However, the Conservative amendment places all of the emphasis on other people and what other people are doing.
I hope the whole world will react as one in the attack on climate change. That does not excuse us from ensuring we meet our responsibilities in the House and through our government.
A lot of things have been thrown around about who was first, who has the longest record and who has the strongest record. I want to put on the record that I know there are members in at least two of the parties here, three if we count unofficial parties, who have long and strong records on the environment. There have been some false things said lately in my riding about my environment record, so I want to talk just for a minute about this.
As a student, on the first Earth Day in 1970, I joined with my fellow students to block traffic during rush hour, and I learned a very powerful lesson that day. We made a lot of people angry and we made no change. I learned at that time that it is much better to build the coalitions we need to bring about the required changes.
The second time I got involved in climate change was when I got a job working for an organization called Pacific Peoples' Partnership. It is an indigenous-led organization that builds links between indigenous people in Canada and the Pacific Islands. I became the executive director in 1989. Pacific Islanders brought two issues to our attention in 1989, 30 years ago. One was the great Pacific garbage patch, the plastic patch in the Pacific Ocean. At that time, it was, horrifyingly, as big as Vancouver Island, and I will come back to that in a minute.
The second issue it wanted us to raise in Canada was global warming, as it was called then, as a threat to the habitability of the Pacific Islands, not requiring them to get swimming lessons, as it is often trivialized, but threats to the coral reefs, which protect the ecosystems of those islands. We are now seeing a huge die-off of coral reefs around the world, and increased storm surges. All of the Pacific Islands depend on a lens of fresh water that sits underneath the islands. With the storm surges, they were fearing increasing invasion of those lenses by salt water, which would make the islands uninhabitable.
That was, as I said, 30 years ago when I started working on the issue of climate change. We organized a tour of high schools and I published a series of articles, warning about the impacts of what we were then calling global warming.
I was elected to Esquimalt council in 2010. When we had the first emergency measures meeting, I asked what we had for oil spills, because we have long and beautiful coast in Esquimalt, and the answer was “nothing”. I was the first elected official in the country to move a motion against what was then the Kinder Morgan pipeline.
The second thing I was able to do on council was get Esquimalt to become one of the first municipalities in the entire country to adopt science-based greenhouse gas reduction targets. People asked at the time what that meant. It meant to me, and it still means in Esquimalt's policy, that we have to adjust those targets to what is necessary to keep the warming to 1.5°C or below. It was not simply saying that this is what we have to do; it was saying that we have to do this much and keep our eye on the ball and maybe do more as time goes on.
When I was doing a tour of high schools 30 years ago, I did not really imagine that, first, I would ever become an MP, but more important, that I would be standing here in this chamber when the great Pacific garbage patch was now not just bigger than Vancouver Island but bigger than B.C. and Alberta combined. I did not imagine that I would be standing here, when climate change is now clearly a threat to our very survival, and we would still be so far from any effective action to meet these challenges.
That is where I am disappointed with the government motion. As I said, I am happy to support it, because anything that brings us together to fight climate change is a good idea. However, I could not have imagined that this is what I would be standing here talking about, when reports show that we will soon have more plastic in the oceans than fish and when reports show that Canada will not meet its greenhouse gas reduction targets set in Paris, a reduction of 25% below 2005 levels by 2030, and that it will not meet those targets for 200 years with the current policies that are in place.
I am going to be supporting the government motion, despite what I would call omissions. One of the first of those, to me, is that there is no mention of reconciliation. On a side note, I have heard Liberals talking about our motion and saying that eliminating fossil fuel subsidies means cutting off power in remote indigenous communities. Nothing could be further from the truth. We have said that a climate change plan has to prioritize reconciliation, and that means dealing with those first nation communities that are the most affected by climate change: in the attack on traditional activities; in the flooding we have seen taking place; and in their dependence on diesel fuel, which makes life very unaffordable.
We have the example in my own riding of the T'Sou-ke Nation, which has become energy self-sufficient using solar power and now sells power back to the grid. That is what it means to prioritize reconciliation in a climate change plan to help first nations become self-sufficient on a renewable-energy basis that creates good jobs in their communities.
There is no mention of workers or jobs in the government's motion. I firmly believe that we cannot get the collective action we need on climate change if we have policies that leave certain parts of Canada, certain communities and certain kinds of workers behind. We know that the technology now exists for a transition to a net zero-carbon energy economy very quickly, and that will create good, family-supporting jobs in every community in this country.
We in the NDP have put forward some of our planks. One of those is an energy retrofit program to retrofit the entire building and housing stock in this country. That would create good jobs in every community and jobs that would use some of those same skills that people who work in the oil-based energy industry already have. A good example is geothermal. Geothermal energy uses almost the same skills, in terms of engineering, welding and all those other kinds of things, that are already used in the oil patch.
I want to conclude by saying once again that I believe that it is important to declare a climate emergency, because we are simply running out of time to change. It is no longer a question of the distant future. We have seen the massive forest fires around the country. We have seen the massive flooding. We are already in the midst of what is called the second great extinction. We are about to lose one million species of plants and animals. That will destroy the web of life that our very existence depends upon.
Many Canadians have already taken individual action to reduce their carbon footprints, but personal action alone will not meet these challenges. We must come together in urgent and major collective action to address the threat of climate change. We need a declaration of a climate emergency and plans to attack that emergency very, very quickly.