With the federal election just days away, climate change is a top issue on voters’ minds.

Alternatives North reached out to the territory’s five federal election candidates to ask for their views on this important topic.

In a six-question survey, the candidates were asked how they would tackle the climate crisis while addressing Indigenous rights and whether they would spend what’s necessary to get it all done.

They were also asked how socio-economic inequality can be addressed using a new progressive concept known as “just transition” to handle “the grand decarbonization” that lies before us.

On top of that they were asked whether Canada should create new institutions and corporations to solve the problem, as it did during the Second World War, and if they were prepared to offer clear and realistic communications about the emergency.

Finally, they were asked if they were prepared to switch from incentive-based, voluntary policies, like a carbon tax, “to mandatory measures to combat the climate crisis” such as the public health orders governments have used to fight the pandemic.

Replies were received from Jane Groenewegen, who is running as an independent, Kelvin Kotchilea, the New Democratic Party candidate, and Michael McLeod, the Liberal Party incumbent.

No reply was received from Roland Laufer, the Green Party candidate, and the organization could not find contact information to provide the questionnaire to Conservative Party candidate Lea Mollison, it said in a statement (APTN has reported that Mollison, based in Northwestern Ontario, has been instructed by the Conservatives to decline interviews before election day).

On a ‘just transition’ to decarbonization

Groenewegen said Northerners are well prepared to pursue a just transition to decarbonization as consensus government has prepared them to arrive at decisions “to ensure no one is left behind.”

“I think as Northerners and as Canadians we are all interested in a just transition to build … a low carbon economy,” she stated. “Through a process of economic, environmental, and social policy the federal government can certainly create a framework to engage Canadians in this transition.”

Kotchilea said “the federal government has a major role to play in making a just transition happen,” by investing in sustainable agriculture and alternative energy.

“One way to do that and hit both the climate and equity goals is to focus on supporting education and training for workers in these industries,” he stated. “We would also support retraining and relocation of people now employed in carbon-intensive industries into renewable and sustainable industries.”

McLeod said a re-elected Liberal government would bring forward just transition legislation and would also propose new rules to require the state to study the link between race, socio-economic status and exposure to climate-related dangers.

He also said the Liberals would establish a $2 billion fund for communities in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Labrador, who are reliant on the fossil fuel sector, to encourage economic diversification.

“As well we will identify and prioritize the clean-up of contaminated sites in areas where Indigenous, racialized, and low-income Canadians live,” he stated. “With several of these sites located in the Northwest Territories, I know this will be of specific interest to many Northerners.”

Indigenous people and climate change

Regarding the added strain climate change is having on Indigenous people, lands and culture, Groenewegen said: “They are and will be an integral partner in the consensus that will be required to deal with a path forward to reconciliation.”

“From flooding along the Slave and McKenzie rivers, record water levels on Great Slave Lake to the continuation of erosion up and down the McKenzie River to the coast of Tuktoyaktuk. The Indigenous peoples of our territory see these changes in their lives,” she continued.

Responding to the same question, Kotchilea, who describes himself as a Tłı̨chǫ person from the Indigenous community of Behchoko, said “we need Indigenous-led and Indigenous-informed climate and environmental policy with the flexibility to find local solutions, rather than top-down strategies dictated from Ottawa.

“Indigenous governments want more autonomy and they want to deal directly with the federal government, nation to nation,” he continued. “In order to make right the injustices of the past, the federal government must prioritize settling land claims equitably and honourably. We must encourage the GNWT to treat Indigenous governments as genuine partners.”

McLeod touted his government’s past accomplishments protecting the environment and funding Indigenous-led projects.

“From the marine protected area in Darnley Bay, to the Edéhzhíe Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area, and Thaidene Nëné National Park Reserve and beyond, we’ve partnered with Indigenous communities as part of our goal to protect 25 per cent of Canada’s lands and waters by 2025 and 30 per cent of each by 2030,” he said.

“We were also the government that launched the Indigenous Guardians pilot, which has been incredibly successful in the Northwest Territories and across Canada. We are committed to helping the program grow by investing in new Guardians projects and networks,” he continued.

On mandatory measures to combat the crisis

Using the example of the pandemic, when governments used mandatory public health orders “to shut down non-essential parts of the economy when needed,” Alternatives North asked the candidates whether they were prepared to implement the same kinds of compulsory measures to combat the climate crisis.

“We offer rebates. We send price signals. But what we have decidedly not done is require change. We need to set clear, near-term dates by which certain things will be required,” it stated, using the example of a proposal to ban the use of fossil fuels to heat all new buildings by 2023.

Groenewegen was non-committal.

“This is a complex question and the comparison to emergency health orders and the mandating of a free-market system are not necessarily equivalent,” she said. “I am in favour of a just transition and the work that would be required to fulfill that mandate. Consensus building and education is the way forward in creating societal change.”

Kotchilea said New Democrats believe that both mandatory measures and incentive-based policies will be needed to address the climate emergency.

“The mandatory measures we support are focused mainly on governments and corporations,” he stated. “The evidence shows that incentive-based policies such as carbon taxation have generally proven to be effective in changing individual behaviour.”

“A New Democrat government will get us to net-zero emissions with impactful emissions targets, eliminating fossil fuel subsidies, taking on big polluters, and more,” he continued. “We will strengthen the Canadian Environmental Protection Act and the federal environmental impact assessment process, and we will ban single-use plastics and ensure the Species at Risk Act is enforced.”

McLeod said the Liberals would focus on offering incentives necessary to make climate action more attractive to Canadians.

“To “switch” away from offering these incentives will only make climate action less realistic,” he stated.

However, he said a Liberal government would combine incentives with “enforceable measures and targets” and promised to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies by 2023, instead of 2025.

“That includes our carbon pollution pricing measures and our legally-binding five-year national emission targets on the path to net-zero by 2050,” he concluded.

The federal election takes place Monday, Sept. 20.

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