Climate Justice Working Group hosts All-Party Election Forum in UW

Climate justice is the acknowledgement that the effects of climate change will impact different groups to different extents and frames the issue as a political and ethical issue rather than one that is purely environmental and physical. The City of Kitchener named it one of the top priorities for the provincial election. 

On May 18, 2022, the University of Waterloo (UW) hosted the Election Forum on Climate Justice, which invited representatives of all parties to speak on the issue of climate justice. 

Shefaza Esmail of the Green Party, Surekha Shenoy of the Liberal Party, Christian Shingiro of the Communist Party, Peter House of the Electoral Reform Party and Laura Mae Lindo of the New Democratic Party (NDP) accepted the invitation. 

The all-party debate was run by the Climate Justice Working Group of the Faculty Association at UW. Dr. James Nugent oversaw the event as the moderator. Before the first questions happened, Nugent read aloud a land acknowledgement, as well as the contributions of First Nations and Indigenous peoples to the Waterloo Region.  

The Communist Party wants to promote decolonization in order to deal with the environmental crisis. Shingiro’s short but percise statements outlined that solving the climate crisis is directly related to decolonizing the land. 

“The environmental crisis has only one solution and that is decolonization,” Shingiro said.

The Electoral Reform Party Leader, Peter House, followed Shingiro in the debate. As a relatively new party House explained to the crowd how their platform is concerned with electoral reform. Their overall goal is to put forth legislation that involves a ranked ballot and propotional representation.

“The platform for this party is aimed at the underlying problems for addressing climate action. It’s that we don’t have the political will in office to get these things done and it has a lot to do with who we elect to office and how we elect them to office,” House said.

Following House, Shefaza Esmali from the Green Party began speaking on her background as well as her party’s stance. She is a professor at UW in the Faculty of Environment. Esmali teaches courses related to climate change and is running for MPP for the first time. 

“Climate justice is recognizing the integrated connections between the actions that we’re taking against climate change, with human rights at the forefront…as well as our stewardship of our natural environment and to protect what is already here and to restore what we have lost,” Esmail said. 

After Esmail’s statement, Surekha Shenoy of the Liberal Party went next.  Shenoy explained that her party would like to get Ontario to achieve its climate goals.

“Our plan gets Ontario back on track by cleaning our air, changing how we move, and creating jobs through climate action,” Shenoy said.

She also shared Liberal Party climate goals such as cutting carbon and methane pollution by more than 50 per cent by 2030.

Laura Mae Lindo of the NDP rounded off the debate. She started off her statement by saying what climate justice means to her and her party. For Lindo, it means being bold, innovative, and humble. The NDP has brought forth the New Green Democratic deal as their plan of action for climate justice.  Lindo quoted from the New Green Democratic deal.

“We will use an environmental justice lens for all programs and policies we deliver, ensuring that no community, industry or group is left behind. We will ensure those who have been excluded, including low-income Ontarians, working class people, women, and youth, Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour, are reflected in our policies and priorities.”

 After these opening remarks, representatives from local organizations posed their own questions. 

50x30WR is a grassroots, community-led campaign advocating for Waterloo Region to commit to a 50 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 which posed the question “What support would your party offer from a provincial level to help our municipalities meet these important climate goals?”

Another organization, Fossil Free UW, aims to have the University of Waterloo leading Canada in the technological, economic, and social transformation toward a carbon-neutral future. Fossil Free UW posed the question  “How do you and your party plan, over the next 4 years, to transition effectively away from fossil fuels while ensuring a just transition for workers and consumers?” 

Waterloo Region Climate Initiatives is an organization that aims to combat climate change by reducing colonial food systems & expanding Canada’s consumption of plant-based foods. Waterloo Region Climate Initiatives asked candidates how their party plans to change Canada’s livestock-dependent food system.  

The Council of Canadians is an organization that aims to challenge corporate power and advocate for people, the planet and democracy. The Council of Canadians asked “If elected, what would you and your party do to support Waterloo Region home owners and business owners to reduce emissions from their houses/buildings and vehicles, and to convert to sustainable, clean energy options?”

The panel closed with questions collected from the public. 

The provincial election will take place on June 2, 2022, but advance polls are open until May 28, 2022. 

A recording of the entire forum can be found on Youtube.