Oilsands emissions at forefront of Quebec climate march

This past weekend, I joined 25,000 people from Quebec and across Canada for the Act on Climate March in Quebec City.

The blustery, cold weather was a harsh contrast to the mild winter we’ve seen in Alberta this year, but it didn’t seem to deter anyone. The march was peaceful, well organized, family-friendly — and oddly festive, given the reason we were gathered. 

Similar to the People’s Climate March in New York City last fall, this event was organized to put pressure on leaders to reduce carbon pollution in line with what science shows is required to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

Timed to coincide with a gathering of provincial and territorial leaders for a climate and energy summit starting today, the marchers delivered one clear message: for Canada, credible action on climate requires limiting emissions from the oilsands sector.  

Canada, we have a problem

As an Albertan, it was humbling to see the concern voiced at the march over how the impacts of oilsands production are being mismanaged. About half of the placards referenced the oilsands or associated pipelines, with slogans like “Yes to climate = No to tar sands” and “People power not pipeline power.”

It was clear that the crowd associates Canada’s poor record on climate with our country’s fastest-growing source of emissions, despite industry and governments’ best efforts (and big spending) to convince them that the oilsands are just one small piece of the puzzle.

Frankly, the negative attention is predictable. The federal government promised to introduce emissions regulations for the oil and gas sector back in 2007. Late last year, though, Prime Minister Steven Harper backtracked on that promise, stating, “We're clearly not going to do it.”

Evidently, many Canadians — myself included — find that unacceptable enough to take to the streets in protest.

Climate action making a comeback

The Quebec City march is just one milestone in what is shaping up to be a big year for climate action, both in Canada and abroad. Countries have begun announcing how they plan to meet their climate targets, and many jurisdictions are moving to announce progress on cutting emissions ahead of the global climate talks in Paris at the end of the year.

Just this morning, Ontario announced that it plans to put a price on carbon with a cap-and-trade system. We’re still waiting to see the details, but the idea of recycling some of the revenue to address the province’s largest and fastest-growing source of emissions — the transportation sector — is a good one.

And with the British Columbia government’s announcement this afternoon that it plans to renew its climate action plan, we are starting to see real signs that the provinces are preparing to fill the climate leadership void created by the federal government to date.

It’s counterintuitive, but the latest research from the Ecofiscal Commission suggests the rise in provincial leadership may be just the thing Canada needs to start making progress on emissions reductions. With Ontario’s announcement, 86 per cent of Canadians will now live in provinces that have put a price on carbon. Federal involvement is still needed but in the meantime, the provinces can still make real progress on reducing the emissions within their reach.

There is still much to be done to put Canada on track to meet its climate commitments — and limiting the growth in emissions from the oilsands industry must be a top priority. The 25,000 people out marching this weekend know that, and the world knows it.

If anyone were to suggest Canadians are complacent when it comes to climate change, this march presented a powerful counterpoint. I hope that message is not lost on the premiers as they meet this week — it’s time for our elected officials to follow the people’s lead.