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  • Writer's pictureStuart Benson

Low Down Q&A: Environment, vax mandate,

L-R: NDP's Denise Giroux; Liberal Sophie Chatel; Conservative Michel Gauthier; Green Party Shaughn McArthur; People's Party's Bruce Gottfred, and Fourth Front's James McNair
L-R: NDP's Denise Giroux; Liberal Sophie Chatel; Conservative Michel Gauthier; Green Party Shaughn McArthur; People's Party's Bruce Gottfred, and Fourth Front's James McNair

The Low Down recently sent five questions to the election candidates concerning the most pressing issues affecting Pontiac and its residents, here are the answers to our questions concerning the environment and a vaccine mandate

How can large-scale ecosystem conservation contribute to climate change mitigation in the Pontiac?

Sophie Chatel: Ecosystem conservation is an important component of the fight against climate change, and with Pontiac boasting an abundance of green space and waterways, our community has a key role to play in this. Reforestation projects, the protection of our lakes and rivers, and innovative and sustainable agricultural practices are all essential to mitigating the impacts of climate change. The Liberal party has committed to planting more than 2 million trees, a sizable goal, but we must ensure that the unique needs of our own ecosystem are met for this project to be viable in the long term. We have also committed to implementing a strengthened Freshwater Action Plan, which includes a historic investment of $1 billion over 10 years to restore and protect large lakes and river systems. Both of these projects will contribute to the flourishing of our natural biodiversity across Pontiac.

Denise Giroux: While the Liberals drag their feet, Canadians have to endure the deadly and catastrophic impacts of the climate emergency. In the past months alone, Canadians have struggled with record heat waves, droughts, flooding, and other extreme weather conditions. The NDP promises to create a “Climate Accountability Office” to ensure that targets are set and met, a “Climate Change Bank” to get monies to important projects in Pontiac, and an “Office of Environmental Justice” to ensure the impacts of the crisis are not disproportionately felt by low-income, racialized, and Indigenous communities. In the Outaouais, the issue of forest preservation is critical. The importance of forests in reducing greenhouse gas emissions is well-established, and mature forests capture more carbon than young ones. The NDP will provide $500 million in funding to support an Indigenous-led environment stewardship program, including land, water, and forests.

Shaughn McArthur: Pontiac possesses vast ecological wealth. The steps we take to manage and protect our natural resources in the coming years will be critical both in mitigating climate change and adapting to its impacts. This requires an all-hands-on-deck approach that marshals the ingenuity of the longstanding stewards of our lands and waterways: First Nations, food producers, foresters, and hunters.

This includes restoring our managed forests as carbon sinks, as opposed to being net carbon emitters; supporting agricultural practices that restore soil health while promoting carbon sequestration and biodiversity; co-developing Indigenous protected and conserved areas that respect Indigenous land governance practices and promote biodiversity; and helping municipalities to protect green spaces, limit urban sprawl, and pursue smart-growth.

It also requires stronger frameworks for overseeing projects like the Chalk River nuclear waste disposal site, which imperils the ecological integrity of the Ottawa River watershed and the people and wildlife that depend on it.

Michel Gauthier: Terrestrial and marine ecosystems currently absorb roughly half of man-made carbon emissions. So management of forest, crop and grazing lands, and restoration of grasslands, wetlands, and forests can have multiple benefits: not only will they help sequester carbon, but they can also provide protection for communities and additional benefits

for wildlife. Transparent and reliable standards for carbon credits associated with land management practices will be created to support this approach.

This will be based on the world-leading, sustainable practices of Canada’s agricultural and forestry sectors. Conservation and restoration is a cost-efficient ally in our fight against climate change.

Bruce Gottfred: I’m going to assume this means, “How can large-scale ecosystem conservation in the Pontiac contribute to climate change mitigation?” because otherwise, the question makes no sense. The answer to this revised question is, “It doesn’t.” This is because the world is vast, and the effects on the world climate from our small part of the world are negligible. That is not to say ecosystem conservation is unimportant; it is important because clean and beautiful land contributes to our quality of life. But we don’t have to [be] puritanical about it. We can mine and harvest lumber without losing our heritage. We can move deeper into the frontier of the North and create jobs and prosperity for the residents of the Pontiac. We can do that because we are rich enough and we care enough to develop in a sustainable manner.

James McNair: Large-scale ecosystem conservation can help the Pontiac, however the greater concern is the Earth, and the other parts of the world that are spewing greenhouse gases. I’m running on a direct democracy platform, which means I only execute the needs and wants of the voters of the Pontiac. Our party – Canada’s Fourth Front – will soon be named the Direct Democracy Party of Canada. We have technology that uses the help of local farmers to capture carbon and methane. We have, both, the vision as well as technology to bring the real change needed to stop the climate emergency in the world. We are the new red choice for the environment in the Pontiac! Don’t tax carbon, just capture and store the greenhouse gases.

The Pontiac has a large number of federal civil servants. Do you support a vaccine mandate for these workers? Why or why not?

Sophie Chatel: Canadians know that the way to get through this pandemic is for everyone to be fully vaccinated. Experts agree that vaccination coverage needs to be higher than it is now, as widespread infections among those who are unvaccinated could be enough to overwhelm the healthcare system again. The new variants we are seeing also threaten to penetrate the high level of protection that the fully vaccinated currently enjoy. Mandatory vaccines within the federal civil service will help to keep everyone safe and lead to a faster economic recovery across the country. That being said, the system will respect those who have a legitimate medical reason for not being fully vaccinated.

Denise Giroux: The leader of the NDP, Jagmeet Singh, has stated clearly that a New Democratic government would enforce a federal vaccine mandate. That said, I know the professionalism, commitment, and dedication of federal public servants, and expect that the vast majority have already received two doses of the vaccine; we know that throughout the COVID crisis, they have been there for Canadians delivering the emergency programs the NDP helped put in place. They have done that despite the incredible challenges felt by so many of them under the Phoenix system since 2016, and while working remotely, like many of us, juggling responsibilities at home and caring for our families and neighbours.

Shaughn McArthur: Greens are the party of science and public goods. Science says we need as many people as possible to be vaccinated in order to protect public health and to relieve the strain on the institutions we rely on for care. We need a system centred on mandatory vaccines — especially for public-facing civil servants. We also need to ensure that any mandatory system respects and compensates for the fact that some civil servants have legitimate reasons not to be vaccinated. This should include clear, human rights-based criteria for determining who can be exempt, and a rapid and comprehensive scaling up of the use of mandatory rapid-testing to address such cases.

Michel Gauthier: In fact, this is a tricky question because legally you can't force someone to be vaccinated in Canada. This debate was brought into the campaign by the Liberals, who said they wanted to force vaccination on all public service employees. Prime Minister Trudeau already knew that legally you cannot force someone to be vaccinated. However, knowing that 80 per cent of the population is in favour, he wanted to embarrass the opposition parties. In short, the Liberals chose to play partisan politics with the vaccine and COVID-19. Shameful and deplorable.

On the Conservative side, we encourage all Canadians to get vaccinated – as I am and as Mr. O'Toole is – and we support education efforts in this area.

Bruce Gottfred:The People’s Party of Canada is the only party that opposes vaccine mandates for federal workers and would prevent private employers from imposing them as well. Whatever your views are on the vaccines, the idea that one can be forced to give up their right to medical self-determination in order to retain their livelihood should be abhorrent. I understand that many have serious fears about the spread of the virus, but others have equal fears about the vaccine. Forcing some to do something they desperately do not want to do, to slightly lower the perceived risk of others, is immoral. Similarly, the neverending, always-escalating restrictions of forced masking, curfews, lockdowns, and now vaccine passports are shredding our social fabric, our economy, and our quality of life. The PPC is the only party that will stop moving the goalposts, prioritize protecting the vulnerable, remove the restrictions, and finally end this fiasco.

James McNair: I’m running on the direct democracy platform, which means there will be an interface established that uses an online portal and a phone call centre to input directly the will of the citizens of the Pontiac. When it comes to vaccine mandates, I believe it is a charter breach. If refusing vaccination causes financial discrimination, it is a charter issue. Only when seven provinces consent, can any changes to the charter take place. That has not happened yet. I strongly believe in science, and conventional vaccines have been very effective in the past.

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