ANTIGONISH – Approximately 150 people attended an all-candidates’ debate at StFX on Thursday, Oct. 3 for the riding of Central Nova. The debate, organized by the StFX Student Union, was one of the 100 Debates on the Environment series that took place across the country last week.
The candidates who participated in the event were: Sean Fraser, Liberal (incumbent); Betsy MacDonald, NDP; Barry Randle, Green Party; Al Muir, People’s Party of Canada; and Chris Frazer, Communist Party. Notably absent was Conservative candidate George Canyon. While no explanation was given for his absence the evening of the debate, campaign team representative Karen Hughes later informed The Journal by email that Canyon was unable to attend that evening due to a medical emergency incurred by one of the campaign’s lead volunteers.
Speaking order was determined by a draw resulting in Chris Frazer as first speaker of the evening. Frazer stated that although his party was most commonly thought of in terms of social and economic policies, climate was top of the agenda because if we collectively fail to address this issue “nothing else will matter.”
Frazer emphasized the roll of Indigenous people and reconciliation in moving Canada towards a healthy environment and advocated for quick action on reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. “We have no more time left. These plans have to be put in place now.”
NDP candidate Betsy MacDonald stated that “moderate policies won’t get us to where we need to go…Business as usual isn’t working.” She advocated for a shift in energy sources, elimination of fossil fuel subsidies, and a strengthening of the Canadian Environmental Act.
MacDonald also spoke of various projects, past, present and future, that the NDP would oppose: Alton Gas, the Northern Pulp proposal to pump effluent into the Northumberland Strait and the Cochrane Hill gold mine near Sherbrooke. She said an environmental bill of rights was needed to “protect the quality and quantity of our wildlife.”
PPC candidate Al Muir stated at the beginning of the evening that he would rather be talking about health care than the environment but that was not to say that the PPC didn’t care about the environment. With a background in wind turbines, Muir had some hands-on experience to relate pertaining to the trade-offs and limitations to this form of green energy, including the often-overlooked fact that wind turbine sites can fragment the landscape and destroy habitat corridors.
In addressing climate concerns, Muir said that buffer zones were needed around agriculture; zoning laws should eliminate building in flood plains and people should think about the trend of “building bigger houses for smaller families.”
Sean Fraser, the incumbent, stood on the Liberal government’s record pertaining to environmental protection, GHG emission targets, and the transformation to a green economy. Unlike other candidates, Fraser could list off spending commitments, policies and actions that solidified his party’s position and credentials in the environmental sphere.
Fraser also had a record to defend. The purchase of the Trans Mountain Pipeline has been a stain on the Liberal’s green bonifides. Fraser said that he had difficulty with the decision. But he came to regard it in a global context, “Is this going to increase the total amount of oil and gas consumed; no.”
Fraser was further swayed by a fellow MP whose riding included the town of Lac-Megantic where a train derailment of cars carrying crude oil caused an explosion that decimated the town and killed 42 people in 2013. He said the transition to green energy couldn’t be achieved by suddenly stopping all oil production.
Green Party candidate Barry Randle was clear that while some still spoke of an imminent climate crisis and were worried about the future; the emergency is now. He argued for a movement from a consumer to a conserver culture and said that the current climate crisis was not just an environmental issue but also the greatest security crisis facing the world. “We have to fix this together…it’s not about parties, not about politics…It’s a science issue.”
Randle said the current and proposed amelioration strategies to repair the damage humans have inflicted on the planet were useless if the harm continued. “The first thing we have to do is turn off the tap; stop making the problem worse for ourselves…We can build no more pipelines or LNG plants.”
After the formal debate was complete, questions were taken from the audience. Sean Fraser was asked to speak on his thoughts about the proposed Cochrane Hill goldmine. He said that there we many serious risks that could impact the St. Mary’s River. And much had been invested both by his government and private entities in recent years to restore the St. Mary’s River.
“All along the proposed mining location, there are existing protected areas…the current proposal that I have seen, literally involves the paving of a protected area – they wrote a song about that once. If we can’t draw the line at saying no to industrial development when it would involve the expropriation of a protected area, I don’t know when we can…When you’re talking about paving a protected area, that’s a deal breaker for me,” said Fraser.
Upcoming scheduled debates in the riding of Central Nova include:
- Wednesday, Oct. 9 at 7 p.m.: Central Nova Candidates Q&A Panel at the Schoolhouse (Community Centre), Merigomish
- Thursday, Oct. 10 at 7 p.m.: Central Nova Debate at the Nova Scotia Community College, 39 Acadia Ave., Stellarton