A rally outside of CBC North on Wednesday urged the broadcaster to hold a federal leaders debate on climate change before it’s too late.

Rally attendees’ placards called for “green jobs for all” and a green new deal.  Others simply stated “11 years” — a reference to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2018 report that the planet will heat 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2030 and will then face increasingly disastrous extreme weather as a result.

Our Time, a national campaign aiming to spur a Canadian green new deal through the upcoming federal election, organized the event.

“We’re in a climate emergency,” organizer Thomas Gagnon-van Leeuwen told Yellowknifer at the rally. “Just in the north, we’ve seen the impact of wildfires, (and) ice roads closing early.”

Our Time organizer Thomas Gagnon-van Leeuwen speaks to the rally attendees in front of CBC North on Wednesday evening.
Nick Pearce / NNSL Photo

In response, the organization is calling on CBC to host a federal leaders debate. However, CBC told Yellowknifer that it was up to the Leaders’ Debates Commission to select the media outlets hosting the debate. Once chosen, individual outlets make an editorial decision on the theme of a debate.

“We know climate change is an issue that is important to Canadians and it will be reflected in CBC News’ election coverage approach. We have covered climate change extensively and we will continue to cover this issue,” CBC English Services Head of Public Affairs Chuck Thompson wrote over email.

“Separately, it’s the debate commission who determines which media organization will host the official leaders debate. Any decisions around topics of the debate would be driven by the editorial group that will be producing it.”

Speaking to the rally attendees, Thomas Gagnon-van Leeuwen said Our Time had been collecting signatures to push the debate commission to organize a climate debate. He said its response was “it’s the broadcaster’s job.”

Gagnon-van Leeuwen told Yellowknifer the rally was held at CBC because it’s a publicly-funded broadcaster with clout in the broader media landscape, and is also a large member of the debates commission.

“They have the most power to push for a climate debate and a debate on the green new deal,” he said.

Green Party nominee Paul Falvo also attended as a candidate, but said it wasn’t a partisan event. He added he supports a national leaders debate on the issue, saying that party leader Elizabeth should be in the national debates “to put daylight on these issues.” There should also be a local equivalent, he said.

Neesha Rao tells rally attendees that vulnerable people will bear the brunt of climate change.
Nick Pearce / NNSL Photo

One of the rally’s speakers, Neesha Rao, said the risk of no climate debate is “we’ll just have one question about the Kinder-Morgan pipeline. Trudeau will just talk about jobs and Andrew Scheer will just talk about the carbon tax and we won’t have a real conversation about climate change.”

She said that while the green new deal is associated with progressive politicians in the US, she didn’t want it to alienate conservatives, liberals or non-voters.

One rally attendee, Jay Butler said he supports both an Amercian and a proposed Canadian green new deal. “They make an awful lot of sense,” he said. “It creates jobs, makes for a better environment.”

“I have two kids around 20. Thirty years, I’m (not) going to be dealing with the fallout of this, but they will,” he said.

Emma Butler, his daughter, said she was involved with the green team at her school and the recent student climate strikes. “Anything to move this cause forward, I’m there for,” she said.

“I don’t think I know any people around my age, any kids, who (don’t think) it’s important … to protect the environment,” she said.

“I want to be a part of something that’s ensuring I have a good future in the same world I’m growing up in, not one that’s changed and ruined.”

Nick Pearce

Nick Pearce is a writer and reporter in Yellowknife, looking for unique stories on the environment and people that make up the North. He's a graduate of Queen's University, where he studied Global Development...