From left: Mel Arnold, Conservative; Kyle Delfing, People’s Party of Canada; Shelley Desautels, Liberal; Andrea Gunner, Green; and Ron Johnston, NDP, are the five candidates vying for the North Okanagan-Shuswap seat in the Sept. 20, 2021, federal election. (Contributed)

From left: Mel Arnold, Conservative; Kyle Delfing, People’s Party of Canada; Shelley Desautels, Liberal; Andrea Gunner, Green; and Ron Johnston, NDP, are the five candidates vying for the North Okanagan-Shuswap seat in the Sept. 20, 2021, federal election. (Contributed)

Candidates in North Okanagan-Shuswap tackle wildfire prevention

Forum asks would-be MPs more than a dozen tough questions on climate

Four of five candidates in the North Okanagan-Shuswap riding tackled more than a dozen big questions on climate Sept. 10, ranging from how to end dependence on fracking and liquid natural gas, to reducing forest fires, to consulting with Indigenous people about pipelines across their lands.

Absent for the online forum put on by Shuswap Climate Action and Vernon’s Climate Action Now (CAN!) was Kyle Delfing, the People’s Party of Canada candidate.

The whole forum can be seen on Shuswap Climate Action’s Facebook page.

Asked what candidates’ parties will do to reduce the effects of forest fires, Liberal Shelley Desautels said her government has been putting money aside to train 1,000 new firefighters, as well as $450 billion in equipment investments and a $1.4 billion top-up in the disaster mitigation fund.

As part of the BC Community Forests Association, she said she can attest to seeing how mitigation work on a Westbank First Nation community forest protected it from burning while land beside it burned.

Andrea Gunner with the Green Party said the first priority is to implement recommendations from the 2003, 2011 and 2018 wildfire postmortem reports. She urged natural seeding from local deciduous and coniferous trees on clearcut sites, as well as replanting of logged sites promptly, reducing post-logging fuel accumulation and integrating Indigenous burning practices when feasible. She also pointed to the need for a minimum of 20-year long-range planning.

Conservative Mel Arnold said “unlike the current Liberal government who promised to plant two million trees and have planted zero out of that plan,” his party would work with forest companies and with the provinces to make sure plans include forest rehabilitation.

Ron Johnston of the NDP said he agreed with much of what the Green candidate said. He said the NDP is committed to focusing investments in forest management to help reduce risk, including Indigenous burning programs and better ways to replant forests, including diverse species instead of monoculture.

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On the topic of ending reliance on fracking and liquified natural gas (LNG) in order to transition to clean energy by 2030, Johnston said the NDP is committed to ending billions of dollars of fossil fuel subsidies, both direct and via tax credits. They would be redirected towards renewable green energy projects and skills training for workers.

Desautels said home and office energy retrofits are key in order to transition away from LNG.

She said the Liberals are offering $5,000 grants for upgrades like solar panels, wind turbines and changes to heating and cooling systems. As part of the party’s ‘national adaptation strategy,’ major improvements to electricity grids are planned, which will bring down costs. Then LNG would no longer be needed to heat homes, she said.

Arnold said natural gas has been used in Canada and B.C. “because it’s abundantly available.”

While Canada and other countries are transitioning from oil and coal, he suggested Canada produce LNG to help Asia and other parts of the world.

“We can produce it cleaner and cheaper than anywhere else in the world because of our cooler climate,” he said.

Gunner said four times the amount of energy from the electrical system is needed to replace natural gas and fossil fuels.

To make that transition within the next eight or nine years, she said Canada has vast reserves of untapped geothermal, something Northern European countries are already using. She said it requires the same kind of workers the fossil fuel industry needs.

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Regarding consent to fossil fuel pipelines across First Nations lands, candidates were asked first, if they would commit to meaningful consultation and, secondly, if they are committed to ending either of the Coastal Gas Link or the Trans-Mountain expansion projects.

Desautels said the Liberals have been in consultation with First Nations but because there are so many bands to work with, it’s been hard to find solutions for all their needs. She added that many Indigenous people support pipelines because they support jobs and revenue for communities.

“We absolutely will be phasing out the pipeline,” she declared, but added the transition will be done in consideration of the pipeline being safer than rail and barge, as well as the need to transition vehicles to electric, which will be done by 2035. She said tax revenue from the pipeline will be used to fund the transition to green energy.

Gunner with the Green Party said she supports meaningful consultation, but it must be done in a way meaningful to Indigenous communities.

She said anything that emits carbon should be ruled out and instead be renewable like deep thermal or solar or wind. She said working together to have a continent-wide electrical energy grid would require a lot of meaningful consultation.

Arnold said true meaningful consultation is paramount, making reference to the conflict with the Wet’suwet’en. However, he said the consultation needs to take place between elected and hereditary chiefs, as well as with other Canadians.

He said he believes stopping either pipeline at this stage would have huge litigation effects, and the projects have gone through “quite rigorous assessments already.”

Johnston pointed to the Northern Gateway project being shut down due to inadequate First Nations consultation.

He said governments have seemed “hell-bent on getting these projects rammed through, to the point of using public funds to purchase an unwanted energy pipeline.”

He said the NDP has maintained its opposition to these projects for years, and is committed to meaningful consultation, with First Nations central, on all ongoing and new energy projects and to look at alternatives to best determine how to proceed.

The NDP is committed to look at a full review of the projects and to look at alternatives, he said.

Some communities are in favour, so long and short term funding to replace lost income from the projects needs to be looked at, he said.

Salmon Arm physician Warren Bell moderated the 90-minute event, allowing candidates to present their party platforms, then take one minute each to answer prearranged questions, followed by one minute each on audience questions and a final minute to summarize why people should vote for them.
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