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The Environment and the Conservative Leadership Race

There are four verified candidates in the Conservative Party of Canada Leadership Election, which will be held on August 21st 2020 (1). This is a rescheduled election due to the COVID-19 crisis from the original election date, June 27th 2020. All candidates have successfully completed the requirements to become ‘verified’ which are: raise $200,000, provide an additional $100,000 as a compliance fee and gather 3,000 signatures from members (2).

Leslyn Lewis, Peter MacKay, Erin O’Toole and Derek Sloan will all compete for the party’s membership votes. This race follows the biggest leadership contest seen by the party which was held in 2017 with over 141,000 votes (1). Whoever is elected during the 2020 party election will become the third permanent leader of the Conservative Party of Canada (1).

A poll from Abacus Data taken in the summer of 2019, before the federal election, determined that the three most important issues for general voters were cost of living, health care and climate change respectively (3). While Andrew Sheer’s Conservative Party provided very little in terms of policy aimed at climate change, both the Liberal Party and the New Democratic Party prioritized action towards climate change and won a combined 54% of electoral districts in the 2019 federal election (4). Most of the discussion surrounding the environment in the Conservative Party leadership race so far has revolved around the need to scrap the federal carbon tax and protect the oil and gas industry (5). All candidates have pledged to repeal Bill C-69 (The modernization of the National Energy Board and Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency) and Bill C-48 (An Act respecting the regulation of vessels that transport crude oil or persistent oil) to promote pipeline construction.

Erin O’Toole, former Minister of Veterans Affairs and current Member of Parliament for the constituency of Durham, ON, has the most detailed platform on climate change and the environment. He acknowledges that climate change is a global problem and states clearly that he does not support the carbon tax (6). His plan to lower Canada’s global greenhouse emissions includes expanding safe nuclear technology, transitioning to natural gas, encouraging research in green technology and building climate resilience into current infrastructure (6). He has a separate section in his platform on the environment where he advocates for a major focus on conservation and “taking action to protect the southern working landscape” (6). Leslyn Lewis is a Toronto lawyer who holds both a JD and PhD in Law from the Osgoode Hall Law School. On her website, she states the need for courageous leadership on the environment and the need to develop Canadian resources according to a clean and green standard (7). She pledges if elected Prime Minister to eliminate the carbon tax, prioritize legislation that balances economic growth with sustainable development, address orphan wells and encourage green investments and renovations (7).

Peter Mackay has served as the Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, Minister of Justice, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of National Defence. He co-founded the Conservative Party of Canada in 2003 and was the Member of Parliament for Central Nova, NS for more than 15 years. He prioritizes ending the carbon tax and his plan to reduce emissions includes expanding Canadian natural gas, making investments in carbon sequestration, achieving advances in technology and assuring meaningful consultation (8). A climate plan is mentioned in his platform's vision statement and it does acknowledge a need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (8). Derek Sloan is the current Member of Parliament for Hastings-Lennox & Addington, ON who worked as a lawyer and small business owner before entering politics. He makes no mention of the environment in his platform aside from pledging to repeal the ‘unconstitutional’ carbon tax (9).

Both O’Toole and Mackay point out that past federal Conservative governments have contributed to Canada’s most important environmental legislation, such as the Canadian Environmental Protection Act and the Canada-United States Air Quality Agreement (8). However, none of the candidates have made climate change a priority in their campaign. Members of the Conservative Party registered before May 15th 2020 will make their choice later this summer (10).

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