Canada needs urgent emergency response to climate change and its worst impacts

Canada is facing a “catastrophic event,” according to a recent report from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Forty-two years ago, on Aug. 8, 1972, floods led to billions of dollars in losses across the country, including total devastation of part of Montreal. A flood of this magnitude would be impossible to overcome today.

Several individuals and organizations are addressing the twin issues of climate change and a looming national emergency. They include the Climate Leadership Group, the Nature Conservancy of Canada, the Nature Conservancy of Canada Foundation, and the Canadian Search and Rescue Dog Association.

The federal government has just named Bill Blair, a former Toronto police chief, as the Prime Minister’s Special Representative for Emergency Preparedness. He is expected to follow up on discussions earlier this year between cabinet members and representatives of NGOs that focused on climate change and emergency preparedness.

Previous efforts had languished in the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. As an Indigenous representative involved in numerous meetings with senior government officials, it struck me that the primary stumbling block to this effort is leadership from the top.

Related Image Expand / Contract Secretary of State for Canada Alain Rayes at the Western Wall in Israel on March 19, 2016. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

Is it possible to involve with municipalities and non-governmental organizations in a joint emergency response plan? Leaders must set the agenda for addressing climate change in the country. That must be the overarching goal.

It is shocking that Mr. Blair was appointed only seven months after leaders agreed at COP21 in Paris to “pursue international action to limit temperature rise.”

Critics point to the original Trudeau government’s plan, backed by Mr. Trudeau, to purchase more nuclear-powered carbon dioxide capture equipment, but no one has yet explained how it would be of any use for flood control.

In a speech last month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada “is a country in transition” because we are “more dependent on fossil fuels than ever before.” But 70 percent of our energy is still derived from fossil fuels, and we still have more than a quarter of the world’s land.

What message does that send?

More importantly, Mr. Trudeau appointed climate adviser David McLaughlin as his chief government adviser on climate change. His official title is senior special adviser in cabinet, meaning he reports directly to the prime minister.

With Mr. McLaughlin as the prime minister’s advisor on climate change, he should know of the widespread concerns Canadians have regarding greenhouse gas emissions.

Mr. McLaughlin has also published a lengthy report, ironically entitled “Federal Responses to Climate Change in the 21st Century.” The leaked copy was published by the Globe and Mail of Canada, a national newspaper, and includes a recommendation to “consider legally binding international agreements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at all levels, including national, provincial and municipal.”

It does not provide a timetable to reduce GHG emissions, and it makes no reference to the two treaties that have already been reached with nations such as India and China in recent years.

The Globe and Mail is not an unbiased news source, but by the standards of Canadian journalism, it is fair and balanced.

Recent increases in extreme weather events (earthquakes, storms, floods) demonstrate the urgent need for Canada to come up with a national emergency response plan. What would Mr. McLaughlin, with his background in that field, propose to do?

Climate change and a national emergency plan will not be solved overnight. The task ahead is great. We are getting some assistance with this effort from the Prime Minister’s new aide, but how will Canadian leaders respond when he finishes his term and they need to appoint a successor? Will they feel empowered to follow up?

Canada can lead the world in finding the solutions to climate change and dealing with its worst impacts, but we need to do so urgently. Our futures depend on it.

Nicki Macfarlane is a Toronto-based political activist and research associate at the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives.

Leave a Comment