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Changing the conversation: Green MP says there’s a new tone to Ottawa climate talk

Elizabeth May calls on feds to help municipalities finance climate-resilient infrastructure
Saanich-Gulf Islands MP Elizabeth May says the recent run of climatic crises in B.C. has shifted the discussion around climate change across Canada. (Black Press Media file photo)

Saanich-Gulf Islands MP Elizabeth May said devastating climate events such as the forest fires in the summer and fall flooding across British Columbia have changed the conversation about climate change in Canada.

It has not only been evident in the attitudes of young people concerned about the effects of climate change, she said, but also among Canadian politicians on the political right and some of the biggest contributors of greenhouse gas emissions like China and India.

“You don’t hear Conservatives anymore talking about climate alarm-ism,” May said. “We (federal Greens and Conservatives) may not agree on everything, but the tone of the conversation has really changed.”

Asked whether the federal government is serious in responding to the concerns of British Columbians, she said it is a question of how long their attention span holds.

“I have had very good conversations with key ministers, who I am convinced are seriously engaged. They are more aware than ever that the climate emergency is real and is going to get worse. They are not under any illusions that this was a one-off.”

RELATED: VIDEO: Flooding, mudslide hampering travel through southern Vancouver Island

This shift in substance was also evident at the Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow last November. While critics accused China and India – two of the world’s largest emitters of GHGs – of softening the final agreement, May said those countries have to do more.

“India pledged that by 2030, fully half of their electricity will come from renewable sources,” she said. “That means half of it won’t be from coal. There is a shift. Whether it is happening fast enough, you just have to keep banking on it happening fast enough.”

The pace of the transition toward renewable energy sources is also impressing the Green MP. “The price of it has dropped so fast that it is cheaper than coal. We always thought coal would be the cheapest energy source out there,” May said.

Despite low expectations, she believes COP26 may turn out to be a turning point. “But that depends on whether we turn.”

May did praise the style and substance of last month’s emergency debate (Nov. 24) dealing with the recent flooding specifically, and climate change generally.

“It was one of the best debates I have witnessed or participated in Parliament, because there wasn’t anything foolish or partisan about it. So I would say that the personal working relationship among B.C. MPs across party lines is quite strong and you know the political fault lines in British Columbia. You are not likely to get a Liberal or a New Democrat or a Green elected in the areas that were hardest hit.”

She specifically singled out Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon MP Brad Vis, Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola MP Dan Albas – the Conservative environment critic – and his predecessor, Abbotsford MP Ed Fast.

May said there’s a lot of mutual respect among B.C. MPs and regardless of partisanship, they will stick together on this issue. “I don’t think there is a British Columbia MP who is not deeply aware of the climate crisis and its impact on our lives.”

RELATED: North Saanich won’t reopen Chalet Road until spring 2022

The federal government plays a significant role in helping municipalities rebuild infrastructure damaged by flooding and May is calling on Ottawa to help them by making rebuilding more affordable. This rebuilding, she said, must make infrastructure more resilient in the face of future climatic events.

Addressing local requests for aid, May suggested that some time may pass before any climate related rebuilding happens on the Saanich Peninsula.

Damage assessment in harder-hit areas is still being done and joint federal-provincial coordination efforts have just started.