BY: Amelia Stephenson
As election season draws near, Canadians are finding themselves at the tail-end of an ‘infernal summer’. This season, millions of acres of land from the West coast to Ontario have been ravaged by wildfires at an unprecedented rate, leaving hundreds of Canadians dead and thousands of properties evacuated. Across the continent, smoke has filled the skies and some areas have experienced record-breaking temperatures due to a wide-spread heatwave.
This near-apocalyptic image will be in very near memory for Canadian voters, who will be heading to the polls September 20th for the federal election.
Wildfires and warm weather during the summer are not uncommon phenomena in Canada, but numbers this year have far surpassed the country’s ten year average. More concerningly, a recent report by the UN warns that this is just the beginning; extreme weather events are projected to become more and more commonplace as a result of climate change, particularly in Canada, a country known for its boreal forests, natural scenery, and winter sports, as it continues to warm at twice the global rate.
Although climate change has been a considerable subject of discussion in past years, its effects became real for many Canadians this summer. This has been reflected in polling data, which is now showing that climate change is the top issue for many voters this election season (even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic). In fact, according to the Angus Reid Institute polls, one in five respondents ranked climate change as the biggest factor driving their vote this election.
It is generally accepted that global warming poses a considerable threat to the health and safety of people living in Canada and across the world. Already marginalized individuals as well as northern and coastal communities will find themselves most affected by climate change, and this is only being exacerbated as carbon emissions in Canada continue to increase; in fact, Canada has one of the highest per capita rates of carbon emissions in the world, as found by the UN in the recent IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change).
It’s unclear how climate change concern will affect the overall election; do parties with more ambitious climate action policies stand to gain support from concerned Canadians? Will voter turnout be bolstered by individuals inspired to have their voices heard, or hampered by climate apathy? What is clear is that whatever the results of the election might be, the onus will be on the Canadian government to enact aggressive environmental policies across all sectors. Our youth, and our future, are depending on it.