Sarnia-Lambton candidates join nationwide environment debate

2019 Sarnia-Lambton federal election candidates. October 3, 2019. ( photo by Colin Gowdy)

Hundreds of Sarnia-Lambton residents packed St. Benedict’s Catholic Church Thursday night to hear federal election candidates discuss the environment.

The debate, co-hosted by Climate Action Sarnia, was part of the 100 Debates on the Environment project, an initiative in which federal candidates across 100 cities in Canada collectively debate similar questions.

The topics ranged from transitioning workers to a green economy and the role of youth environmental activists, to the carbon tax and putting environmental pressure on Sarnia-Lambton’s petrochemical industry.

“You cannot avoid a climate catastrophe without ending the burning of fossil fuels, it’s that simple,” said Green Party candidate Peter Smith. “Locally, that’s going to mean that refineries, over time, are going to be shut down, but that doesn’t mean to say that we are going to be closing down the plastic productions. There are still a number of things we’ll continue making from oil.”

People’s Party candidate Brian Everaert said he completely disagrees with putting pressure on the petrochemical industry.

2019 Sarnia-Lambton federal election candidates. October 3, 2019. ( photo by Colin Gowdy)

2019 Sarnia-Lambton federal election candidates.

“It’s irresponsible to me to put pressure on the companies in this town because all it’s going to do is drive them to a country with less regulations. Canada has regulations for gas and oil, and the companies in Sarnia-Lambton do a good job of it, and I’ll stand up for them,” said Everaert. “We need to improve our environmental policies, and I’m all for that and so is the PPC, but I can’t stress this enough, if we knock the legs out from underneath our economy and we’re not ready with something that’s already built, we’re in big trouble in Sarnia-Lambton.”

Incumbent Conservative candidate Marilyn Gladu said she’s worked hard in her four years on Parliament Hill to diversify Sarnia-Lambton’s workforce.

“We’ve seen a move away from the petrochemical industry and a diversification into the bio industry. In fact, the largest employer in Sarnia-Lambton is health care, so we are making a change and we have to continue to do that.”

Gladu said Lambton College has been very agile in coming up with programs to train people for the new economy.

New Democratic Party candidate Adam Kilner said his party’s Green New Deal is proposing a just transition for oil and gas workers.

“No workers will be left behind. We’re going to be so busy retrofitting homes, developing and building efficient infrastructure, getting zero-emission vehicles built in Canada, and preparing workers for the transition to a green economy. If we choose others in this election, we’re risking the future of Sarnia-Lambton. It will leave us behind because the world will pass us by.”

Candidate Carmen Lemieux said the Liberal government has already begun transitioning Canada into a green economy.

“When I think of how the Liberal government has already invested in projects here in Sarnia-Lambton, the Liberal platform promises to go even further. So with our net-zero reduction by 2050, we’re proposing a just transition act, which would give workers access to training and support as they make an adjustment to succeed in a green economy.”

Lemieux then said a change to a Conservative government would end the much needed tax on carbon.

“We already know, in fact we had world bank leaders saying that this makes economic sense, that this price motivator works — it works on things like when you go to a store and you see something that’s on sale, that’s a price motivator and so is a price on pollution.”

Smith reiterated Lemieux’s sentiment that the country needs a carbon tax.

“You tax things you don’t want people to do, you reward people for things you do want them to do. Bans on things are a last resort, not a first resort,” said Smith. “If only this were just a choice between two options, but it isn’t. There is no getting away from the science — what’s happening to the world, what the scientists have told us is going to happen to the world — if we do not listen to this, this is going to be an uninhabitable planet, and we will be leaving a terrible legacy for our children and our grandchildren.”

The debate concluded with a question on the role of youth environmental activists, specifically Greta Thunberg.

People's Party candidate Brian Everaert. October 3, 2019. ( photo by Colin Gowdy)

People’s Party candidate Brian Everaert. October 3, 2019.

Everaert, who said some adult activists use children as a shield, was the only candidate who was critical of the 16-year-old Swede.

“You have to do a little research behind where she’s getting her sail boat, who’s paying for things for her to be where she is.” A chorus of boos interrupted Everaert before he was able to continue.

The roughly two-hour long debate featured four national questions, which were asked at each debate across the country, along with three questions on local issues and three audience member questions.

Christian Heritage Party candidate Thomas Laird didn’t attend Thursday’s meeting.