Elizabeth May responds to the 2021 Speech from the Throne

Elizabeth May (Saanich—Gulf Islands)
2022-02-01 12:24

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise in the debate on the Speech from the Throne so many months from when it was delivered.

I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Kitchener Centre. What a pleasure it is to work with him in the House, and I wish I could be there in person. I will be soon, I hope.

I was in the House the day the Speech from the Throne was delivered, back on November 23. It was a wonderful thing that our Governor General delivered, for the first time, a throne speech not only in our two official languages but also in Inuktitut. I had the great honour of knowing Her Excellency from many of her previous incarnations, including when we once served on the board of the International Institute for Sustainable Development together. She will be a fantastic Governor General, and I was very pleased to be here in Ottawa to hear her Speech from the Throne.

As the Governor General noted at the time, on November 23, we were still in the throws of the devastating events that hit British Columbia. The hon. member for Abbotsford was just speaking of the devastation from the flooding and the landslides in the Fraser Valley. This extended into my own riding of Saanich—Gulf Islands, but the most devastating and catastrophic impacts were clearly more in Abbotsford and up through the Fraser Valley. Every land route to reach the Lower Mainland was cut off by these extreme weather events.

When the Speech from the Throne was delivered, we were only 10 days from the end of COP26, the global climate negotiations, which were not a dismal failure but they certainly failed to succeed. COP26 did not do what was required in this desperately pressing moment.

When I read the Speech from the Throne now, as two months have passed, I am struck by how the words are wonderful, but the actions promised are inadequate to meet the spirit behind the words. I will address several elements, and my other colleague from the Green Party, the member for Kitchener Centre, will address other critical issues we are very concerned about.

I want to address the reconciliation theme within the Speech from the Throne, the vaccination questions and of course the climate crisis. In no area have the promised actions lived up to the strong words that speak to the multiple crises that face us.

Let us start with the challenge of reconciliation. Many members in this place have quite appropriately mentioned that we are still in the throes of the discovery of the missing children. These are children taken forcibly from their homes and their families over a period of more than 150 years and forced into situations that were unimaginably horrible for those little children, many of whom did not return home. We have to face this. We have to continue to support first nations communities in a national program, which was required of us by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission years ago, to find out what happened to every single indigenous child taken from their home who did not return, to find out what happened, how they died and where they are. Every family needs to get a report, and that continues to be a priority.

With the missing and murdered indigenous women and girls inquiry, we were told very clearly that many things must be done to protect indigenous women, who are at greater risk of being murdered. We have not done those things. One ties in very closely to the climate crisis and to many other aspects of the things this modern, industrialized country fails to do well, and that is ground transportation. The missing and murdered indigenous women and girls inquiry stated that people are more vulnerable when they are low income and there is no public transit where they live. Their choices are basically to hitchhike, which is not a choice. We need to restore Via Rail and bus service across this country.

We also need to ensure the settlement announced in January between the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society and the wonderful, heroic Cindy Blackstock be real, be made real and to stay on top on that. We applaud the $40 billion set aside, but as Cindy Blackstock has said, it needs to be monitored closely to really deliver.

On international vaccines, I want to again raise, as I have before in the House, that we understand now from this pandemic that we will not end it. We know what comes after omicron. Someone mentioned what comes after omicron. It is pi. That is the next letter in the Greek alphabet. That is the next variant we are going to get. We must vaccinate everyone on the planet, make this place our home as a human family and stop being a living petri dish to see how many new variants we can get. We should be vaccinating around the world, but Canada has avoided and not answered the question: Will we support South Africa and India in asking for an exemption from the patent protection of the World Trade Organization? Under the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, or TRIPS, we can get an exemption so that vaccines are more available around the world.

Turning to climate, one would think that a person in the Green Party could not be unhappy with a Speech from the Throne that says, “Our Earth is in danger” and “This is the moment for bolder climate action.” Again, they are great words, but in the pages devoted to talking about the climate crisis, there is no mention of what our Paris commitment is, nor that we should hold global average temperature as far below 2°C as possible and attempt to hold to 1.5°C.
These numbers in themselves I think cause people’s eyes to glaze over: 1.5°C does not feel like a real number; it sounds small. I want to remind members that in this last year, nearly 600 British Columbians died, according to the science, in the heat dome in four days. My own stepdaughter nearly died and she is in her early thirties. She nearly died because the temperature in Ashcroft hit 50°C. These are killer extreme weather events.

As I said, 600 people died in British Columbia in four days. This was an extreme event, and the same day that the temperature kept going higher and higher, in Lytton the town centre virtually burnt to the ground in minutes. The fire truck did not even get out of the fire station. That town, by the way, has still not been helped and is still not being rebuilt. We know that wildfires have spread over hundreds of thousands of hectares in British Columbia. Then, of course, in November we had atmospheric rivers that knocked out much of our infrastructure, again killing people and hundreds of thousands of livestock and animals. The heat dome in late June and early July was estimated to have killed one billion sea creatures along our shorelines.

These events happened at a 1.1°C global average temperature above what it was before the industrial revolution, so 1.5°C is not some safe place that only dreamers can hope we hold to. It is where we need to be to hope human civilization hangs on. We are on track after COP26 to be much closer to 3°C than 1.5°C. Canada’s target remains the weakest in the industrialized world, and we seem to have substituted what we need to do and what we must do to ensure our children have a livable world, which is 1.5°C to stay alive, with net zero by 2050. That creates the false impression that getting to net zero by 2050 holds to 1.5°C. It does not. It only holds to 1.5°C if the pathway to net zero by 2050 goes through 2030 with emission cuts that go down dramatically. They must go down. Canada’s target range of a 40% to 45% cut is completely inadequate to meet the global demands on us to pull our fair share of the weight to reduce emissions to hold to a livable planet.

Likewise, in the Speech from the Throne, there is no mention of banning the export of thermal coal. There is no mention of the just transition act. There is no mention of the right to a healthy environment, nor of bringing back the Canadian Environmental Protection Act amendments that were in Bill C-28, which died on the Order Paper when the unnecessary election was called.

With the 30 seconds I have remaining, I say to all members in this place that I cannot vote for the Speech from the Throne for all of its wonderful words if the future of my grandchildren is not protected. We have to say it loudly. We have to be honest. We have to be clear. Maybe we have to tell everyone to just look up because we do not have much time. We must ensure the current government takes heroic action to save this planet and all humanity.