The Senate

Motion to Recognize that Climate Change is an Urgent Crisis--Debate Continued

December 14, 2021


Hon. Raymonde Gagné (Legislative Deputy to the Government Representative in the Senate)

Honourable senators, I rise to speak to Motion No. 7 moved by Senator Galvez.

This motion calls on the Senate of Canada to recognize that climate change is an urgent crisis that requires an immediate and ambitious response. Honourable colleagues, as you know, the Honourable Catherine McKenna, the then Minister of Environment and Climate Change, moved a similar motion at the other place on May 16, 2019.

At the time, the minister’s motion noted the impacts of climate change, such as flooding, wildfires, heat waves and other extreme weather events, as well as other concerns, such as the fact that climate change impacts communities across Canada, with coastal, northern and Indigenous communities particularly vulnerable to its effects.

The disastrous flooding in British Columbia should serve a reminder that climate change is real and that governments around the world must act quickly and decisively. Inaction is no longer acceptable.

As the new Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Steven Guilbeault, said, Canada is doing its part and has taken the following measures.

To reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the government put a price on carbon pollution and set a price trajectory out to 2030 that is one of the most ambitious in the world.

The government is also offering support to help homeowners improve their home’s energy efficiency and help drivers buy zero-emission vehicles.

The government is accelerating its plan to phase out traditional coal-fired electricity generation and is offering industries incentives to decarbonize and develop clean tech. The government also introduced regulations to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas sector, and it is committed to doing the same for the entire Canadian economy.

Alongside that, the government is committed to protecting 25% of our land and oceans by 2025. That is why it earmarked $4 billion to support natural climate solutions, which include an initiative to plant 2 billion trees over the next 10 years.

Honourable senators, finding ways to speed up climate change action can be a frustrating experience for many of us.

As early as 1973, when many of us might have been learning of ecological problems for the first time, in his classic work Small is Beautiful, E.F. Schumacher wrote of:

An attitude to life which seeks fulfilment in the single-minded pursuit of wealth — in short, materialism — does not fit into this world, because it contains within itself no limiting principle, while the environment in which it is placed is strictly limited. Already the environment is trying to tell us that certain stresses are becoming excessive.

Nearly 50 years later, these environmental stresses have only increased. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change constantly reminds us — and more recently at COP26 — we are now reaching points of ecological exhaustion in several areas.

Before concluding, I want to commend Senator Galvez for tabling this motion and for her relentless climate change advocacy.

Here at the Senate, as elsewhere, we need to tackle climate change on a number of fronts. We are up against a problem of titanic proportions that requires all hands on deck if we are to avoid the proverbial iceberg that is now well within sight.

Senator Galvez’s motion is an important action but, of course, more needs to be done. In this chamber, in committees and individually, we need to be creative and innovative in contemplating how we can act to increase greater climate action for today and tomorrow.

Thank you, meegwetch.

Hon. Marie-Françoise Mégie [ + ]

Honourable senators, I rise today to speak in support of Motion No. 7 moved by Senator Galvez that aims to recognize the urgency for action on climate change.

The responsibility is in our hands, colleagues, and we must take the lead so that all our legislative actions can contribute to finding appropriate solutions.

A few years ago, as a private citizen, my understanding of environmental protection was limited to reducing the use of plastic bags and bottles, reducing harmful emissions from vehicles and industry, and reversing the effects of holes in the ozone layer caused by chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs. This concept has evolved over time, with media coverage and speeches by politicians on the subject. In the Senate, my conversations with Senator Galvez and the reading of her white paper convinced me of the urgency to act.

In medicine, we use the word “emergency” when a patient’s life is in danger and they require immediate care. Today, this is true of our planet, which supports life. It can’t wait any longer for us to act. It needs intensive care without further delay.

Honourable senators, I would like to focus on the importance of part (d) of the motion, which reads as follows: “climate change is negatively impacting the health and safety of Canadians.”

In medical practice, the questionnaire on a patient’s environment includes questions about their home and workplace.

For example, if a person suffers from chronic lung problems and there are questions about why they have been repeatedly hospitalized despite using medication appropriately, a home visit may sometimes reveal a damp basement and signs of mould.

At work, if a person has an asthma attack or presents with skin lesions and itching as soon as they set foot in their office, this can be a sign of mould in the walls or poor air quality.

Two updates were published by the American Heart Association, in 2004 and 2010. They clearly established that air pollution is a risk factor and a cause of heart attacks and strokes.

In his article on the impact of atmospheric pollution on the health of Quebecers and Canadians, Dr. François Reeves, interventional cardiologist and associate professor of medicine at the University of Montreal, pointed out the following:

Extensive use of fossil fuels affects human health in two ways: through direct toxicity and through climate events. The environmental impact on our health is highly significant: air pollution is the leading global cause of death . . . .

It causes more than 8 million excess deaths a year, which is more than tobacco or COVID-19.

In 2019, the Public Health Agency of Canada reported that air pollution accounts for C$114 billion a year in health and disability costs.

Hussein Wazneh, a researcher at Quebec’s centre for research and innovation in civil security, said the following:

Heat waves have significant health implications in Quebec and elsewhere in the world. For example, a five-day heat wave in 2010 led to the death of 106 people in Montreal. During this time, there were 280 extra deaths . . . .

Extra or premature deaths refer to deaths that would not have occurred if not for the adverse factor in question.

It is widely accepted that climate change will make the severity, duration and frequency of heat waves increase in the coming decades. The number of 30°C days could triple as early as 2080 in several Canadian cities.

These figures are masking some significant inequalities in terms of health determinants. People in precarious socio-economic situations often live near highways and urban heat islands.

According to Quebec’s department of the environment and the fight against climate change, road pollution accounts for 62% of the fine particles, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and ozone in the air. The difference between some wealthier neighbourhoods, which have ample green space, and working-class neighbourhoods, where every square inch is paved, reflects social and public health disparities. In its report entitled The Health Costs of Climate Change, the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices emphasized that:

Disadvantaged groups are at higher risk of heat-related illnesses and death

Some of the pre-existing diseases that affect heat risk are associated more strongly with disadvantaged groups.

A literature review published in March 2021 by Quebec’s public health institute, the INSPQ, paints a picture of the many climate phenomena that affect population health, from extreme heat to extreme cold, from storms to floods, from air pollution to smog events, from drought to forest fires, from human encroachment on natural spaces to zoonotic diseases, and so on.

As we saw in Western Canada, the catastrophic consequences of deforestation that depletes soils, combined with forest fires and extreme rainfall, caused devastating floods. It is therefore not surprising that we once again called in the Canadian army to help us cope with disastrous meteorological phenomena.

Climate disturbances are causing cascading effects that can be seen in Canada from coast to coast to coast. Canada has the longest coastline in the world, with about one in five people living on the coast. The impact of climate change is generally considered over the long term, that is, over 10, 20 or even 50 years. Coastal erosion in the Arctic can be observed from one day to the next. According to Natural Resources Canada, it is estimated that each year in the Arctic, 30 to 40 meters of coastline are lost.

Changes related to erosion have been affecting the food supply of Inuit populations for the past 10 to 15 years. The extraordinary and urgent steps we must take to counter the impact of climate destabilization are crucial to combat food insecurity among northerners.

While the health impacts of pollution are obvious, as I mentioned earlier, some of the effects of climate change on population health are more insidious.

Take, for example, zoonotic diseases, which are diseases or infections that naturally spread from an animal species to humans. Lyme disease has been in the news every summer for the past few years. Tick migration on white-tailed deer populations is responsible for the arrival of this disease north of the forty-fifth parallel.

The risk of zoonotic diseases increases as humans continue to encroach on wild spaces.

In a book on epidemics in Quebec entitled Brève histoire des épidémies au Québec, the author references a 2015 warning from virologist Patrick Berche:

With population and poverty levels rising and contact with animals becoming increasingly common, it is highly likely that we will see other epidemics, such as flu or coronavirus . . . .

We must take care of our ecosystems. This type of intervention will help prevent future epidemics or even pandemics.

Dear colleagues, we know what we need to do. The Government of Canada has proposed a number of concrete measures to improve our chances of reversing the devastating effects of climate change, including building sustainable and net-zero buildings, accelerating the energy transition to renewable sources, moving away from our dependence on dirty fossil fuels by electrifying vehicles, and purifying our air by planting 2 billion trees in Canada.

In the “Initiatives” section of Senator Galvez’s website, you’ll find other measures, such as improving soil health, improving the National Building Code and creating a circular economy.

Motion No. 7 reflects the observations made by the INSPQ. Even if we significantly reduce Canada’s production of greenhouse gases in the coming years, the effects of climate change are already being felt and will continue to affect our communities for decades to come.

This is why it is more important than ever that we work even harder to combat the causes of climate change.

This is the only way to guarantee a longer life expectancy and good health for current and future generations.

Thank you.

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore [ + ]

Senator Pate, there are eight minutes before six o’clock.

Hon. Kim Pate [ + ]

Honourable senators, I rise to speak in support of Senator Galvez’s motion as well. This emergency is real, though the extent to which each of us, in Canada and globally, feel its effects so far depends in large part on our class, our race, our gender and our access to resources — in short, on our privilege.

Environmental degradation has both amplified and been driven by systemic inequalities. Our climate action will not be successful if we continue to leave the most marginalized behind. Future generations will be shaped by our collective work. We must uphold international commitments to reconciliation, eradicate inequality and urgently act to redress environmental destruction.

The first of the UN Sustainable Development Goals is the eradication of poverty in all its forms. Millions of Canadians live below the poverty line. They are disproportionately bearing the consequences of our failure to manage carbon and other emissions, from increased flooding, droughts and fires to catastrophic weather events like hurricanes and tornadoes. Too many families and communities do not have the resources to shield themselves from the impacts of climate change.

Money pays for air conditioning as temperatures soar; money fills grocery carts as food insecurity increases; money pays for relocation and shelter away from natural disasters, such as floods, landslides and hurricanes.

Those living in poverty have fewer viable means to prepare for, protect themselves from and safely leave areas experiencing environmental disasters. Policy decisions intentionally ignore and abandon them.

In 2020, the woeful inadequacies of social assistance programs meant the poorest and most marginalized were left to survive a pandemic that cut them off from many community supports and services, on amounts ranging from 34% to 63% of the poverty line.

Let us be very clear, colleagues. This is below even Canada’s deep income poverty threshold. In some provinces, more than 50% were below that threshold.

While the poorest of the poor suffer the greatest consequences, the richest of the rich are actually driving climate change. Oxfam tracks the richest 1% of the global population as having used two times as much carbon as the poorest 50% over the last 25 years.

This inequality has only been exacerbated by COVID-19. The pandemic saw the wealth of billionaires increase by $3.9 trillion between March 18 and December 31, 2020, alone, while the number of people living on less than $5.50 per day is estimated to have increased to as many as 500 million in 2020.

During pandemic-related commercial travel bans, sales of private jets soared internationally. The jets and yachts of billionaires are the main contributors to their huge, unfair and unsustainable carbon footprints.

According to Oxfam:

. . . it is the richest who are least affected by the pandemic, and are the quickest to see their fortunes recover. They also remain the greatest emitters of carbon, and the greatest drivers of climate breakdown.

Their report concludes that the division between those who reap the rewards of carbon-producing processes and those who pay the price needs to be a top priority for global governments. As Oxfam states, “. . . The fight against inequality and the fight for climate justice are the same fight. . . .”

Bearing the brunt of this crisis are women. On average, women have lower incomes and are more likely to live in poverty than men. Black and Indigenous women in particular experience the highest rates of poverty. Globally, they also typically bear responsibility for tasks such as securing food and water — tasks made more difficult by climate change.

In 2017, the United Nations Development Programme reported that 80% of people displaced by climate change are women.

When natural disasters associated with climate change occur in Canada, they are accompanied by notable increases in violence against women.

Systemic racial inequality contributes to disproportionately negative health outcomes, overrepresentation in jobs being outside exposed to the elements and therefore face disproportionate exposure to extreme heat and air pollution. First Nations peoples living on reserve are 33 times more likely than others to face evacuations due to wildfires. Racialized and low-income communities in Canada are in peril as a result of our inaction.

Women and girls are a powerful force for climate action. Polls consistently indicate that women are more aware than men of environmental degradation and its harms, want the government to take urgent action on this issue and they vote based on issues relating to climate.

Action to arrest, mitigate and prevent climate change and environmental degradation is a fundamental part of upholding the right of women and girls to equality. Climate policies won’t last if they do not reflect feminism or intersectionality. Success depends on us identifying vulnerabilities, creating more inclusive climate policies and improving economic equality and inclusion.

As Senator Galvez’s white paper highlighted, guaranteed liveable income initiatives would help to foster climate resilience. Such programs create opportunities for everyone to participate in climate action.

Climate action:

. . . requires urgent, society-wide mobilization to provide children born today with the liveable environment and functioning health systems they need to thrive in a climate changed world.

The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated what governments can do to respond effectively to a global crisis. The climate crisis demands the same level of action. We need policies that reduce demand for energy, end subsidies to fossil fuel industries and we need banks to end investments in fossil fuels and ramp up investment in sustainable, renewable energy. We need to end tax benefits for fossil fuel corporations that, according to last week’s report of the Parliamentary Budget Officer, cost $1.8 billion annually or about $9.2 billion between 2015 and 2019.

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore [ + ]

Senator Pate, I am sorry to interrupt. Honourable senators, it is now six o’clock, and pursuant rule 3-3(1) and the order adopted on November 25, 2021, I’m obliged to leave the chair until seven o’clock unless there is leave that the sitting continue.

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore [ + ]

If you wish the sitting to be suspended, please say “suspend.”

Therefore, we continue with the sitting.

Senator Pate [ + ]

As we saw with the Canada Emergency Response Benefit during the pandemic, income support can help keep families and communities afloat through the challenges associated with such mobilization, from lost employment to ensuring that all have the means necessary to protect themselves from health hazards. This type of support could be particularly important as the economy transitions to better align with human, social and environmental well-being.

Looking forward, in addition to alleviating poverty, it is important to recognize and support Indigenous traditional knowledge and leadership in plans for climate action. Despite being differentially impacted by climate change and having fewer resources to adapt as a result of systemic inequities, Indigenous peoples continue to take the lead in protecting land and water in ways that benefit all of us. In spite of their laudable work, Indigenous peoples are too often criticized for causing “inconveniences” and depicted as transgressors of the rule of law, then criminalized and even imprisoned when they act to protect waters and lands.

Canadian legal systems have too often failed to protect and uphold rights conferred by Indigenous and international legal orders, such as those that Wet’suwet’en land and water protectors have been asserting. Canada has not, however, demonstrated the same hesitation when it comes to criminalizing and imprisoning Indigenous peoples for taking measures to protect themselves, their families or the environment.

As we work to address climate change and environmental degradation, it is clear that Canada needs to better recognize and respect Indigenous laws and rights. This must include following through on its commitment to fully implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Criminalizing people for protecting their environment and asserting their rights will only escalate and underscore historic injustices.

Honourable senators, it is incumbent on us as people in positions of power to lead the way forward in climate action. We must not forget that the harms of climate change are not felt evenly, and that the most marginalized populations need our immediate attention. I urge us all to act now and support this motion and the work of Senator Galvez and many others, and help build a more sustainable, equitable and healthy society for generations to come. Meegwetch. Thank you.

Hon. Mary Jane McCallum [ + ]

Honourable senators, I am speaking on behalf of the Wa Ni Ska Tan Alliance of Hydro-Impacted Communities in Manitoba.

We welcome the opportunity to speak to this motion and offer insights into emerging urgencies and new threats, such as climate change, while also warning of the dangers posed by blindly accepting large-scale hydroelectric projects as a route towards the future reliance on renewable energy. Though the climate crisis offers a very real danger to all peoples of the world, promoted solutions must be founded in principles of justice and avoid the sacrifice of communities for the benefit of others.

The people who comprise our research partnership include grassroots individuals from a number of hydro-impacted First Nations in northern Manitoba who have expressed concern about the history and expansion of hydro power in their respective territories. Our alliance also includes researchers and academics from nine universities, as well as members of several local NGOs.

Northern Manitoba is home to many freshwater lakes and tributaries, some of which were critical to the earliest encounters and commercial activities that would eventually influence the settlement of Canada. Scholars have clearly documented the historic importance of several ancient tributaries such as the Churchill, the Nelson and the Saskatchewan rivers. For Ithiniwuk (the Cree), these tributaries sustained their ancestors and their communities for millennia. Beginning in the mid 1960s, however, a new industrial presence would irreversibly alter landscapes and reverse waterways.

During this time Manitoba, together with the federal government, embarked on a joint study which examined, in part, the feasibility of large-scale hydropower in the north. Not long after the completion of the study, Manitoba’s public utility ambitiously set out to “harness” the power of the waters in the region. Mega projects followed and in what would become known as the Churchill River Diversion and Lake Winnipeg Regulation projects, massive diversion channels were excavated en masse so water flows could be rerouted. The purpose for the dams along the Nelson River was originally to save money on electricity production for Winnipeg and other communities in Southern Manitoba, not for any environmental reasons. The public discourse on climate change and its connection with fossil fuels did not enter public discourse until much later.

The Churchill River Diversion affects the flow of the Churchill River which historically and naturally flowed into Hudson Bay. This river was, by the mid 1970s, intentionally and artificially rerouted via the Missi Falls Control Structure at the outlet of South Indian Lake. Its new path now flows through the Rat and Burntwood Rivers and eventually into the Nelson River system. The Province of Manitoba writes that “CRD is used for the generating stations on the Nelson River, which account for about 75% of power generation in Manitoba.”

Large-scale hydro projects like the CRD in Manitoba were made possible by a series of agreements and deal making spanning more than 30 years, affecting four generations, and counting, in numerous Indigenous communities. Dam building for commercial purposes, and export, was ushered in with the signing of the Northern Flood Agreement in 1977. While this agreement involved the Province of Manitoba, the Board of Manitoba Hydro, the federal government, and five First Nation communities collectively represented by the Northern Flood Committee, it was effectively triggered by the resistance of the Cree whose reserve lands would be flooded as a result of Hydro’s CRD and Lake Winnipeg Regulation projects. This agreement, which has been acknowledged as a treaty, was meant to mitigate a broad range of adverse impacts, the scope of which were not entirely known at the time of its signing.

The CRD has directly impacted more than 8,000 kilometres of shoreline. This is a conservative estimate based on available data sets from publications of shorelines around South Indian Lake, but the true numbers are difficult to calculate due to the inaccessible nature of supposedly public information. . . . Both the Manitoba government and public have to rely on the information provided by Manitoba Hydro, because they fund the vast majority of scientific studies on their projects and utilize strategies of divide and conquer when signing agreements with communities.

The South Indian Lake community and its people were self-sufficient, thriving and even prosperous, before the CRD project came to fruition, not having to rely on government intervention or support. The South Indian Lake Commercial Fishery was the third largest lake whitefish fishery in North America. South Indian Lake had an average annual income approximately seven times that of other Northern communities, because they were mainly reliant on fishing and trapping activities. Scientific reports on potential adverse impacts of the project were ignored by authorities and licences were granted for the Crown corporation to legally proceed.

The hydroelectric energy produced by these megadams has long enjoyed an undeserved reputation as “clean” and “renewable” energy. In the move towards addressing climate change through electrification, “greenwashing” of hydro power poses an emerging threat of ideological proportions. Ongoing dysfunctional and deep-rooted colonial structures, including jurisdictional gaps, also strain existing power imbalances in the region. This ecological footprint has resulted in impacts that have yet to receive due environmental consideration. Entire islands have been swallowed up. Historic and commercial fisheries have been decimated. Thousands of people and entire communities have been flooded, displaced and dispossessed.

Emissions from hydro dams are produced through the flooding of shorelines and forests, which introduces organic matter into the water that then decomposes, producing carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and methane. Flooding in northern Manitoba was not restricted to a single project or event. In the areas impacted by hydro operations, the water levels and flows are raised or lowered based on the demand for power. This results in ongoing inundation and/or de-watering of tributaries and produces greenhouse gas emissions on an ongoing basis. Hydroelectric reservoirs are a source of greenhouse gases and in individual cases can reach the same emission rates as thermal power plants. Independent scientific studies have shown emissions related to hydroelectricity to be severely undercounted. Rigorous monitoring of individual reservoirs is desperately needed, in order to ensure that they are not contributing significantly to climate change.

The shorelines of several historic tributaries throughout this region contain two histories and two competing narratives: one before hydro and the other after hydro. The former, life before hydro, represented an era where the people moved with the ebbs and flows of the land and waters, were independent, and sustained themselves on the very land and waters that have become critical to hydropower and its operations. Before hydro, the land and waters were pristine. Today these same lands, and the communities who relied on them, carry the cultural, social, environmental, and economic scars of a fairly recent and ongoing colonial encounter. The danger of marketing this energy as responsible, green, and clean, must be avoided; this energy is not without consequence and we have yet to measure the full scale and scope of its environmental footprint in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, its cumulative environmental impacts, or the ways it can exacerbate the climate crisis.

Renewable energy projects are desperately needed in the face of the climate crisis, but they must not be undertaken in a way that repeats the mistakes of the past. The hydro dams in Manitoba were developed in a colonial manner that did not prioritize collaboration with Indigenous Peoples or minimize environmental harm. Future energy projects should focus on renewable energies such as wind and solar that can be built closer to urban centres such as Winnipeg — reducing the amount of necessary infrastructure and fuel. These energies will also be less susceptible to future changes in our climate, unlike the susceptibility of hydroelectricity to a drought, such as we are currently experiencing in Manitoba. Northern Canada is also predicted to experience greater warming than the global average, signalling another reason to focus efforts on resilient solutions. We call upon governments and industry to seize the opportunity to develop innovative solutions to our energy needs and in a manner that does not contribute to additional environmental, socio-economic, and cultural degradation.

Today we are witnessing, across Canada, a shift in how the public views megadam projects. From Site C in British Columbia, to Keeyask in Manitoba and Muskrat Falls in Labrador, the cost overruns and unnecessary environmental harms are being weighed against the supposedly cheap electricity that they will produce. Indigenous communities have always been voicing their opposition to these projects, but the non-Indigenous public is finally starting to listen. We recommend that all public utilities and Provincial Governments in Canada collaborate meaningfully, in good faith, with hydro-impacted communities in order to receive consent on all existing and planned energy projects. We also recommend that an immediate moratorium be placed on all megadam construction. This moratorium should be maintained until proper research has been done into all aspects of hydro’s impact on climate change, including greenhouse gas production, release of sequestered carbon, and all other effects of hydro that worsen climate change.

Today, the very waters and lands that gave the region and the original peoples of that land life and meaning have been disrupted and destroyed, displacing many Indigenous communities. In this era of reconciliation, we offer you a brief glimpse of one more history, and one more story, that requires a reckoning and redress of sorts: it is the story of hydropower in Manitoba. Four generations have already been affected by large-scale hydro development. As we find ourselves amid a rapidly evolving climate crisis, the cautionary tales to be gleaned are many, so too are possibilities and opportunities. We need to keep the next generations in mind as we move forward towards a more just and sustainable future.

We thank Senator Galvez for raising this very important issue, and we also thank the Senate. Thank you.

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