“Start now so my daughter won’t be standing here in 20 years making the same requests,” one speaker said, to applause regarding the concerns about the federal governments to follow through on its Paris agreement pledges.
On July 16, hundreds of concerned citizens met with Burnaby North-Seymour MP Terry Beech to weigh in on climate change and the proposed Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion.
The town hall meeting was divided into brief presentations by Beech that explained the Liberal platform, followed by questions from the public. About 200 attendees packed the venue.
Speaking to the issue of climate change, Beech explained the goals that the government has outlined in order to meet its emission reduction targets. In December 2015, Canada adopted the Paris Agreement, which sets the goal of limiting global warming to 2 C above pre-industrial levels by 2030.
Despite Beech’s optimism, the Liberal government’s willingness to follow through on its promises was met with a mixed reaction by the audience.
Another speaker expressed skepticism that the meeting would result in any change at all, instead urging the attendees to “make it politically impossible for [the government] to not act.”
As the meeting shifted topics to discussing the proposed Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion, the conversation grew markedly more personal.
The pipeline, conditionally approved by the National Energy Board (NEB) on May 19, is a hotly contested development that would triple the current pipeline’s capacity to transport diluted bitumen from the tar sands to Burnaby, where it would be loaded into tankers in the Burrard Inlet. In 2014, around 100 protesters were arrested for occupying a site being used for geological surveys ahead of the pipeline construction.
Many Burnaby residents present at the meeting lamented the fact that they would be put at greater risk of disaster should there ever be a spill or fire. One such spill in 2007 caused a geyser of oil to erupt from a breached pipeline under the street. About 234,000 litres of oil slicked nearby houses and flowed into the Burrard Inlet.
Several speakers also made reference to the controversial process by which the NEB approved the pipeline. The Board has been accused of not having enough political distance from the companies they regulate, after a former Kinder Morgan consultant was appointed by the Harper government in 2015. The Board has also been criticized for insufficient follow-up with projects that it has approved in the past.
Addressing these comments, Beech spoke to the huge cultural change he has experienced in Parliament, emphatically stating that “It is our job to be the community’s voice in Ottawa, and not the other way around.”
Several attendees expressed appreciation that the meetings were being held at all, with one saying that it was a “huge contrast to our former experiences” with the Harper government.
In a statement he provided after the meeting, Beech explained that SFU students are also important in shaping climate change policy.
“I believe that we need to have SFU students and young Canadians [. . .] involved in developing a strong national climate change policy,” Beech said. He invited young people to attend the other meetings his office is holding over the summer, and asked them to “hold our government’s feet to the fire because, at the end of the day, my voice as an MP is made stronger and louder by you.”