Former NDP leader Thomas Mulcair addresses students at a Model United Nations forum at Pierrefonds Comprehensive High School last Wednesday.
John Mahoney / Montreal Gazette
Former NDP Leader Tom Mulcair delivered a sobering yet inspiring message on the environment to high school students assembled at a Model United Nations forum at Pierrefonds Comprehensive High School last Wednesday.Addressing students who were tackling global issues of climate change and human trafficking at a two-day forum, Mulcair said Canada has failed to live up to its international obligations to lower greenhouse gas emissions.He said this country has the worst record for greenhouse gases per capita among the world’s G20 economies, and noted that “Canada was the first country in the world to withdraw from Kyoto (Protocol in 1997).”Mulcair said that successive Canadian governments — both Liberal and Conservative — have failed to deliver on GHG reduction targets.But Mulcair, who once served as Quebec’s environment minister in the government of Jean Charest, also admitted his generation came up short in thwarting climate change.“I’ll make an admission to you: My generation has failed. All you have to do is look at the figures for Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions. We have failed. We have failed you and we have failed your kids, and we failed your grandchildren. And we failed the planet.”Mulcair, who lives in the West Island, said his generation is “passing the torch” to the youth of today. “We’ve got to rely on you to do better than we did.”Afterward, Mulcair answered questions about the environment from the Montreal Gazette.Q: You studied ecology at Vanier College in 1971. Your generation was probably one of the most idealistic, but admittedly didn’t get it done. Where did it go wrong? Is corporate pressure just too strong?A: Corporate pressure is extremely strong. All you have to do is look at the recent firing of a researcher in Quebec City who was trying to tell people that the research into pesticide use in Quebec was being manipulated by the companies that manufacture pesticides. So that’s a concrete example of the physical environment. One of the challenges of global warming and greenhouse gases is it’s ethereal, it’s less palpable, it’s less immediate. We can know we’re getting more floods because we’re getting them here in Pierrefonds.Q: You were an environment minister and knew these issues inside out. Why did governments fail?A: I would say the number No. 1 reason is we haven’t set an obligation of result. So I’m very proud to say that when I was the environment minister every year I was able to reduce greenhouse gases in Quebec which is a big place with a large economy. But you have to have a single-minded determination to get to the result. And federally we keep signing agreements like Kyoto, but we were the first country in the world to withdraw. And we’ve consistently missed our targets. We went to Paris in 2015 and (Justin Trudeau) showed a lot of hope for Canada but we still don’t have a plan in place that will allow us to meet our obligations.So the 1.5 C degree (reduction) hope of the Paris agreement, I think, is lost. The 2 C degree dire scenario of Paris, unfortunately, is going to be a reality. So those young people are the hope for the future. They know how real climate change is. They’ve got to get involved.Q: Are you worried Canada will fail to meet its international environmental obligations?A: Well, I’m going on a by case-by-case basis but I’m very worried, for example, about Abitibi-Témiscamingue where there is an Australian mining company that wants to open a lithium mine by the most pristine water in the world, the esker water, which is magnificent spring water. Again, it’s a false argument. They’re going to say its economic activity they’re bringing, but the esker also provides jobs.With regard to greenhouse gases, you have to have a fixed cap. It’s not negotiable and you couldn’t, for example, in the case of Quebec, approve as the Liberal government did, a cement company in the Gaspé that completely blew the lid off our greenhouse gas emissions. We’re missing our targets because of that one bone-headed decision which has turned out to be an economically bone-headed decision as well.Q: Are you worried the CAQ government of François Legault will not live up to its environmental obligations?A: I’m actually more hopeful about the Legault government despite their right-wing bent economically. I’m more hopeful about them environmentally than economically or socially and I’ll tell you why: I know they got a massive number of votes in the 450 area (outside Montreal). These are young families. All you have to do is meet them, as I’ve done over the past few years. They’re very environmentally aware; they’re expecting their government to deliver. This is not negotiable so if Mr. Legault thinks he’s got some sort of mandate to forget about the environment, he’s going to be severely mistaken, and he’ll be surprised at the next email@example.comRelated