100 Debates on the Environment event in Victoria draws large crowd

Environmental National News

Victoria hosts one of over 115 local debates across Canada ahead of federal election

Photo by Kate Korte

With an election looming, it’s no surprise that Victoria’s 100 Debates on the Environment was standing room only. On October 3, debate attendees filled the pews of the First Metropolitan United Church as four local candidates took to the stage to answer questions about the climate. 

This event was part of over 115 localized debates held across the nation that night, all of which focused on environmental issues. Earlier this fall, a petition called on the CBC to host an environmental debate at the federal level. Although the petitioners’ request was declined, the local debates still sought to ensure candidates could voice their opinions to voters. 

At the Victoria event, candidates in attendance, in alphabetical order, included Laurel Collins from the New Democratic Party (NDP), Alyson Culbert from the People’s Party of Canada (PPC), Racelle Kooy from the Green Party, and Nikki Macdonald from the Liberal Party. The Conservative candidate, Richard Caron, declined the invitation to attend. The Animal Protection Party and Communist Party were also in attendance, but did not speak on stage during the debate. Instead, party members handed out materials to the audience. 

At the time of writing, 338 Canada polling estimates the riding of Victoria will be a tight race. Polls indicate 34 per cent support for the Greens (+/- 7.3 per cent), 29.1 per cent for the NDP (+/- 6.8 per cent), 18.6 per cent for the Liberals (+/- 4.9 per cent), and 16.4 per cent for the Conservatives (+/- 4.6 per cent).

For many voters in Victoria, climate is a top issue. At the 100 Debates on the Environment event, everyone in the crowd was given a sheet with a list of some of the questions candidates would be asked, and invited to submit their own questions at a table near the back. The event was also live-streamed. 

The night began with introductions and a round of quick questions where candidates could only raise a coloured piece of paper indicating their response. A red paper indicated a “no” response, yellow indicated a “neither,” and green indicated a “yes.” The moderator, Gregor Craigie of CBC’s On the Island, asked eight questions before candidates were each given two minutes to elaborate on their answers. Only one question got a “green” response from all of the candidates: “Do you accept the evidence of human-induced climate change both from the scientific community and from the frequency and severity of natural disasters?” The remainder of the questions received differing responses from each of the candidates. 

Following the first round of questions, candidates were given two minutes to elaborate. Kooy highlighted the Green Party’s history of climate activism and commitment to a just transition away from fossil fuels and liquified natural gas (LNG) for consumers and workers in fossil fuel industries. Macdonald, the Liberal candidate, voiced her concern for oceans, as that is her primary area of research, and highlighted her party’s actions and commitments on climate change like the carbon tax, ocean protection policies, and a 2050 net-zero emissions target. Collins, of the NDP, said the climate was her top priority and spoke to the NDP’s commitment to end fossil fuel subsidies and ban fracking. Culbert, of the PPC, stressed the potential technology could have for clean energy and admitted that she felt climate change was not a priority above all else, and that other issues, like housing, were also important. 

After the first round of questions, candidates were asked to give an opening statement in the form of an environmental story in less than 90 seconds. Macdonald was up first by random draw, and highlighted her work in ocean research in the Salish Sea. 

“The Liberals put a price on pollution, and I thought this is a part that I can work with,” Macdonald said. “This is my time to step out of academia, and use my voice to help the environment.” 

Collins said the climate crisis was the reason she got into politics, also noting her research on climate migration. 

“I will go to Ottawa to fight with every ounce of my being to ensure we have bold climate leadership,” Collins said. “Income inequality, the climate crisis, poverty — these things are interconnected and if we forget that we fail.”

Next, Culbert spoke to her own practices. “I live the change that I want to be,” Culbert said, after noting that she drives an electric car. “I raised my kids in that sustainable way … I also see that homelessness, drug addiction, and affordability are also huge issues in Victoria.” 

Kooy followed Culbert and highlighted the longstanding territorial knowledge of Indigenous people. “Even though there’s so much systemic oppression on my mother’s people, I stand here today with intact knowledge from my mother’s people,” Kooy said. “Let’s take that 10 000 generations of knowledge and apply it forward, because it’s time.” 

After the second round of quick questions, candidates were asked four questions. The same four questions were asked at all of the debates across Canada, and focused on issues from the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) to immigration. After this segment of the debate, candidates were asked selected questions from the audience.

The first question drew a rise from the crowd, as it asked the Liberal candidate about her party’s stance on fossil fuel subsidies and the Trans Mountain pipeline. 

“I assume that enthusiasm is for my response,” Macdonald said. “[Trudeau] recognizes, as I do, that we can’t flip a switch and go from a fossil fuel economy to a clean energy economy.”

Although there was no clear winner of the debate, all of the candidates acted with utmost decorum. There was no open debate or opportunity for candidates to debate one another directly, and candidates only went over their allotted time a couple of times. 

 As election day nears, these candidates will continue to vie for votes and argue that they’re the best person to represent Victoria in Ottawa. 

Election day is October 21st. For more information on voting, go to elections.ca.