After an 11-week election campaign – the longest by far in Canada’s history – the Canadian Liberal Party leaped to a majority victory and Justin Trudeau, the charismatic son of popular Canadian ex-Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was voted into office. Many political analysts describe the sudden surge as evidence of a desire for change by the Canadian people, provoked by a fundamental personality issue with Stephen Harper, the recent leader of the Conservative party and Canada’s prime minister for the past ten years.
‘In the end,’ says Dennis Pilon, Professor of Political Science at York University, ‘all that is clear is that almost 70 per cent of Canadians wanted to see Harper’s conservatives go. As voters scrambled to figure out how to do it, the Liberals ended up looking like they could win.’
Pauline Beange, Politics Instructor at the University of Toronto, says that ‘the message was changed and clearly the Canadian people turned around and said “You know what? We don’t want to do this the same way again”.
CHANGE FOR THE ENVIRONMENT?
Outside of Canada, Stephen Harper was most renowned for his stoic stance on climate and the environment. Crucially, oil and gas is the country’s top export – worth approximately US$105billion per year.
Throughout Harper’s three terms, he prioritised securing the future of oil-based industries in spite of research that warned 85 per cent must be kept in the ground to avoid a two-degree rise in global temperature.The Conservatives were also criticised by environmentalists for muzzling scientists and pulling out of the Kyoto Protocol in 2011. However, Beange says that the country ‘has always been resource-based economy’ and that the environment did not play a key role in the federal election.
‘I don’t think the environment played a big deal in this.‘ she says. ‘First of all, the climate is shared federally and provincially in Canada, so whatever a federal leader may promise to do, he is in fact hampered constitutionally. Secondly, there are wide disparities among the Canadian public when it comes to resources.’
THE ROAD TO PARIS
This disparity is probably why new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did deliver a solid environmental and climate policy as part of his campaign. However, for a country that is the third largest oil producer after Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, Canada has an important role to play in the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris (COP21). With just a few weeks to go, Trudeau’s environmental and climate incentives will be in the spotlight.
Stephen Leahy, environmental journalist from Toronto, tells Geographical: ‘Trudeau will not ignore or actively gut environment policies like Harper, but they are unlikely to be top priority.’ Contrary to US President, Barack Obama, Trudeau favours the expansion of the tar sands as well as pipelines like Keystone XL. ‘I don’t expect any new emission reduction commitments from Canada in Paris,’ says Leahy. ‘He’ll likely say Canada will be “nicer” and try to do more.’
However, the very fact that Trudeau will be attending COP21 in person is a shift in itself. Furthermore, he plans to have a major meeting with provincial leaders about climate, albeit after the talks in Paris are over.