IQALUIT, Nunavut — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is in Canada’s Far North to witness some of the more dramatic effects of climate change, part of an effort to highlight his Liberal government’s record on climate action ahead of the federal election.
Trudeau plans to announce the creation of a new marine protected area near Arctic Bay — an Inuit hamlet on the northwest corner of Baffin Island.
Melting sea ice and increased shipping traffic have posed increased threats to many important local species, including sea birds, narwhals and bowhead whales.
Trudeau will use the backdrop of shifting Arctic terrain and endangered sea life to cast himself and his Liberal party as best-placed to serve as stewards of the environment.
He is expected to drive home his campaign messaging on climate policy — already shaping up to be a key ballot box issue — and contrast himself with his political opponents by highlighting his government’s commitments to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, in part through carbon pricing.
Canadians got a pre-election preview of how the divisive political debate over climate policy is likely to play out on the campaign trail last month when a spat erupted over the Liberal plan to introduce a clean-fuel standard.
The fuel standard would require cleaner-burning fuels as a way to reduce overall carbon emissions by 30 million tonnes a year.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer accused the Liberals of plotting to levy a “secret fuel tax” on Canadians by enforcing a standard that would increase the cost of gasoline. The Liberals wasted no time firing back, accusing Conservatives of hurling smears, while also calling the Conservative environment policy “anti-climate action.”
Natan Obed, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, says climate change has already had devastating impacts on local infrastructure in the territories — a trend that is projected to continue if emissions and global temperatures continue to rise.
A recent report by Canadian scientists warned that most Canadian Arctic marine regions will be free of sea ice for part of the summer by 2050 and that most small ice caps and ice shelves in the Canadian arctic will disappear by 2100, even if emission reduction measures are enacted.
That’s why Obed says he hopes political parties will not simply bicker about the merits of a carbon tax as they debate climate policy during the campaign, but rather that they will look more broadly at the real-life, “drastic” effects of climate change on northern communities.
“Fixating on one or two pieces of a climate action policy sometimes overshadows the larger picture,” he said.
“People should be very concerned about the reality of the Canadian arctic and the fact that it is a part of Canada. Just because somebody might not see massive changes in their backyard today doesn’t necessarily mean that there shouldn’t be urgent concern from all Canadians about the arctic and the Inuit portion of the climate discussion.”
Later this evening, Trudeau will also attend a nomination meeting for the sole candidate vying to run for the Liberals in Nunavut.
Megan Pizzo Lyall, a former Iqaluit council member who is now based in Rankin Inlet, will be acclaimed as the Liberal candidate for Nunavut after being the only qualified contestant to successfully complete the application process, according to the Liberal party website.
The seat has been held by former Liberal cabinet minister turned Independent MP Hunter Tootoo, who announced earlier this week he will not seek re-election.
Pizzo Lyall will be going up against Conservative candidate Leona Aglukkaq, who served as Nunavut’s MP under former prime minister Stephen Harper’s administration from 2008 to 2015.
Braeden Caley, the senior communications director for the Liberal party, says Pizzo Lyall and local Liberals will run a “positive campaign focused on continuing to grow the economy, protecting a clean environment and offering real help for Nunavut families.”