Canada heads to COP26 with a new, activist Minister of Environment and Climate Change

Prime Minister Trudeau announced his appointments to Cabinet on October 26, and one of the strongest symbolic appointments was that of Steven Guilbeault as the new Minister of Environment and Climate Change. It appears that Trudeau did not (yet)  follow the demands in Unifor’s October 22 letter to the Prime Minister , which included “Establish a Just Transition Ministry and Just Transition Fund, partially financed through levies on large industrial emitters, with the mandate to support workers affected by climate-related job displacements through enhanced income insurance, pension bridging, severance pay, retraining and relocation support, and local just transition centres.”  However, the new appointments sent an unmistakable signal, as described in the National Observer article “Cabinet shuffle signals support for climate, not oil and gas”.  The previous ECC Minister, Johnathan Wilkinson, was shifted to the ministry of Natural Resources – replacing Seamus O’Regan, who had been accused of a too-cozy relationship with the fossil fuel industry which falls under the Natural Resources portfolio.  The National Observer article highlights the continued importance of Wilkinson on the climate change file.

Mitchell Beer provides the background to Steven Guilbeault in  “Guilbeault to Environment, Wilkinson to Natural Resources as ‘PM in a Hurry’ Names New Cabinet”Energy Mix, Oct. 26). The article includes reaction from environmental activists – many of whom have worked alongside Guilbeault in his earlier life as a Greenpeace campaigner (when he was arrested for scaling the CN Tower in Toronto) , co-founder of  non-profit Équiterre in Quebec, and as a member of the government’s 2018 advisory panel on climate change, before he was elected to Parliament in 2019.  An exemplary quote, from Stand.earth Climate Finance Director Richard Brooks, “Hoping my old friend @s_guilbeault will remain true to his roots—and lead Canada in upping its climate ambition and more importantly its actions…”  Yet as Keith Stewart of Greenpeace points out in their press reaction, a whole of government approach will be needed. Stewart hopes it will lead to “greater cooperation on climate action across departments, as the minister of Natural Resources has in the past acted as the chief advocate for the oil industry at the Cabinet table.”  As indicated in the reaction from Macleans magazine,  “Trudeau sends a signal to Alberta. Cue the squirming” (Oct. 26), Wilkinson and NRCan are expected to smooth over the sharper edges of a potentially rocky relationship with Alberta:  “ A major test, past Glasgow, will be how Wilkinson and Guilbeault handle their government’s buzzy term: “just transition.”… It will fall in large part to Steven Guilbeault to maintain a steady and reassuring tone that this isn’t the case. His past doesn’t suggest he’s perfectly suited for this task…”  

Reaction from the fossil fuel industry and Premier Jason Kenney is predictably negative, as reported in CBC’s story,   “Kenney says longtime activist’s appointment as environment minister sends ‘very problematic’ message”.  The CBC report quotes an Alberta academic who calls  Guilbeault’s appointment  “a finger in the eye to everything that Kenney has done.” A brief article from Reuters sums up the hostile reaction of the fossil fuel industry in the language of its headline “Trudeau roils Canada’s oil patch naming Greenpeace activist as climate chief (Reuters, Oct. 26).

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