On Sept. 12 and 13, 15 speakers from various disciplines participated in the McGill Climate Conference, a comprehensive event spanning six panels held at the McGill Faculty Club. Emphasizing equitability and inclusion, the speakers confronted some of the most pressing issues facing Canada in its transition to a green economy, ranging from carbon pricing and the phasing out of fossil fuels, to closing the partisan divide.
Former NDP leader Thomas Mulclair opened the event with a speech on cross-party collaboration.
“Few challenges so clearly expose the frailties of our system of government [as climate change],” Mulcair said.
Mulcair’s speech touched on the Russian Revolution, trailblazing writer Rachel Carson’s work on pesticide usage, and the fight against acid rain in the ‘90s, putting in perspective a history of change and struggle and the advances made possible by political collaboration. Referencing the Trudeau government’s empty promises, Conservative disregard for the climate crisis, and progressive in-fighting between the Greens and the NDP, Mulclair implored Canadian politicians to work together for the sake of the environment.
The keynote address was followed by speakers Olivier Pineau, the chair in Energy Sector Management at HEC Montréal; and Greg Mikkelson, a professor in the McGill School of Environment, each representing different perspectives on the mitigation of Canadian emissions. While Pineau advocated primarily for reducing consumer demand, Mikkelson emphasized curbing oil sand extraction to cut down the industry’s disproportionate share in Canadian per-capita emissions.
Another panel focused on broader policies, including infrastructures and social impacts surrounding carbon pricing, a fee attached to carbon dioxide emissions. One way of doing this is by adding a carbon tax to the sale and use of fossil fuels. The carbon tax is a flagship policy of the Trudeau government and has been a major source of contention for Conservative premiers opposing the tax in Ontario, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and Manitoba.
Erick Lachapelle, a professor in the Political Science Department at the Université de Montréal, discussed the factors influencing Canadians’ views of carbon taxes. He has found that, though support for carbon taxation is increasing year-to-year, it remains polarized along partisan lines. Those who oppose carbon taxes largely do so due to increased costs for consumers; however, people are also more likely to favour carbon taxation if they know that their taxes are being put to good environmental uses, such as to fund sustainable energy development and lower the cost of green energy.
Lachapelle believes that carbon taxation has been molded into a political weapon and urges parties to find areas of agreement.
Normand Mousseau, a physics professor at the Université de Montréal and the Academic Director of the Trottier Energy Institute, covered the hidden costs and inequalities of the carbon tax, which must be accounted for to build a just green economy. For example, someone might be saddled with higher fuel costs but unable to afford a more fuel-efficient car. In Mousseau’s view, the financial onus should not be placed entirely on individuals to change their behaviour: Institutional transformations are necessary to make it easier for people to adapt. For this, civil participation is key.
“The upcoming election is perhaps the most important in Canadian history,” Mulclair said.
With the Montreal Climate Strike on Sept. 27 and a federal election looming, the ongoing climate crisis has dominated the Canadian consciousness. As an increasing sense of urgency sets in around the country, the McGill Climate Conference and other such forums for discussion and debate of the climate issues that divide the Canadian public are essential for finding lasting solutions.