Canada’s green agenda not hijacked by COVID-19: environment minister

OTTAWA — Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said the pandemic hasn’t hijacked the government’s “big green agenda,” and warned that if left unaddressed climate change will have more of an impact on Canadians than COVID-19.

Wilkinson admitted that the government’s priority is dealing with the pandemic, but said they will be thinking about the investments they must make “in the context of the looming crisis that is climate change.”

“At the end of the day, if we do not address the climate issue, the impacts that we will feel from that will be significantly greater than what we’re feeling from COVID-19,” Wilkinson told Evan Solomon during an online exclusive interview with CTV Question Period.

Speaking to reporters as he announced his intention to prorogue parliament in August, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the throne speech will give the government an opportunity to build a recovery plan that allows Canada to “build back better.”

“This is our chance to build a more resilient Canada, a Canada that is healthier and safer, greener and more competitive, a Canada that is more welcoming and more fair. This is our moment to change the future for the better,” Trudeau said at the time.

However, insiders have told The Canadian Press that the throne speech will have three main priorities: measures to protect Canadians’ health and to prevent another lockdown; economic supports through the pandemic; and eventual rebuilding measures.

With the focus on the pandemic apparent, questions are circulating about the level of green investment that will actually be borne out of the looming throne speech. Green Party Leader Elizabeth May is among these skeptical onlookers.

Speaking to Solomon on Wednesday during an episode of CTV Power Play, May said she’s made it clear to the prime minister that if he plans to leave real climate action out of the throne speech, he won’t be getting her party’s support.

“I made it very clear to the prime minister: without a commitment that we live up to the requirements of the Paris Agreement…we can’t vote confidence,” May said.

“When Joe Biden calls Donald Trump a climate arsonist, I don’t want to be calling Justin Trudeau a climate arsonist. He’s got a little bit of time left.”

Further raising the concern that the pandemic might be putting green initiatives on the back burner, the Liberals have also failed to plant a single one of the two billion trees they pledged to get in the ground over the next 10 years.

When pressed on the delay, Wilkinson admitted the pandemic has been a factor in slowing the tree planting efforts.

“The two billion trees commitment remains, it will be something that we will be looking at doing going forward. As you well know, we didn’t have a budget this year because of the pandemic and we’ve been living with this pandemic for six months,” said Wilkinson.

With files from The Canadian Press and CTV News’ Rachel Aiello

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