For most of you Canadian's out there (or American's if the blog's become that popular) you know that there was an election recently. If you didn't know about the election you probably don't use the internet, and you probably don't have a computer or even know what blogging is.....Anyway there was an election on October 19th which saw a new government sweep to power. Along the way with the government changing comes not only massive overhauls in the House of Commons but also in cabinet. Prime Minister Trudeau followed through on a campaign promise for gender parity in cabinet when he appointed 15 men and 15 women. The average Canadian knows all that, but what most don't realize is that for the first time in Canada's history, we have a minister of the Environment AND Climate Change. The importance of the latter designation cannot be overstated.
It was 1971 when the first official position regarding the environment was created, under Pierre Trudeau. Jack Davis was named Minister of the Environment and Minister of Fisheries (fisheries were apparently of great importance in the 20th century). While you may be thinking '1971 really?! what took so dang long for them to name a Minister of the Environment?' but in actuality Canada was the first primarily English-speaking nation to name a cabinet position concerning the environment. It is extraordinarily fitting that Trudeau the elder made waves for his progressiveness regarding the Environment in 1971 and 44 years later Trudeau the younger would make nearly equal waves with his appointment. In those 44 years the Minister of the Environment's (and other additional designations) role has increased exponentially, which may be part of the reason for the high turnover rate. Under Stephen Harper the Minister of the Environment changed 6 times (5 people) and among those minister's was former Alberta Premier Jim Prentice (interesting factoid). With our newly minted Minister of the Environment and Climate Change one can bet that the high turnover rate will be regressing (like my hairline when I'm 25....sigh).
Catherine Mary McKenna is Canada's 27th minister of the Environment (or a similar ideation of that title), as well as the 7th female to hold that position and the 1st ever to have 'Climate Change' in their title. She beat out 8 other candidates in Ottawa Centre (though three of those came from the Rhinoceros, Marijuana, and Communist parties) she had a 42.6% voter support rate, beating out NDP stalwart and incumbent Paul Dewar. McKenna is one of the youngest Environment ministers ever at 44 years young and with no previous political experience she brings an incredibly fresh outlook to her daunting role. McKenna's lack of political experience is no slight on her résumé however, the lady has done a lot with her time. With an education background at the University of Toronto, the London School of Economics and McGill university, she is no slouch academically, and in fact is (or "was" soon) a lecturer at the U of T's Munk school of global affairs.
Ms.McKenna is trained in Human Rights (through work with the U.N.) and is a practicing social justice lawyer. She co-founded Canadian Lawyers Abroad, a charity based at the University of Ottawa which assists law students and law firms doing pro-bono work (work for the public good) in developing countries. She was an Executive Director for the Banff Forum, an organization that unites young leaders on public policy issues nationally. McKenna has served as a U.N. advisor in East Timor and Indonesia as well as a whole cadre of other generally great things. One could go on and on about her résumé but frankly that gets dull given how many things Catherine McKenna has done in her 44 years. What Canadians want to know is, what will she do with her coming ones?
Based upon the considerable promises the Liberal party has made regarding her ministry, Catherine McKenna will have her hands full. Here's what she and her ministry have set in place as their objectives (broken down into short, medium, and long term);
Short term (2 years or less): attend the U.N. climate change summit in Paris alongside the Provinces and Territories to develop a united action plan within 90 days, completely review Canada's environmental assessment processes, modernize the National Energy board, prohibit Minister intervention with any environmental assessments, invest a little more than $100 million yearly in clean technology producers, $200 million a year invested into supporting innovation and "green" research in Natural Resources.
Medium term (2-5 years): an endowment to the Low Carbon Economy trust of $2 Billion (a trust for carbon reduction research and action), a phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies, establish national emissions reduction targets, boost investment in green infrastructure by $6 Billion in the next 4 years, reverse mandates on lake and river protections and protect more of them while incorporating modern safeguards, green bonds being granted on a smaller scale (in addition to larger scale bonds currently).
Long term (5+ years): Set environmental goals alongside the Provinces and Territories to create a cohesive and realistic plan, boost investment in green infrastructure by $20 Billion over the next 10 years, create plans for protecting Canada's endangered species, provide long-term investment into National parks.
Catherine McKenna and her ministry (as well as any future Liberal Environment and Climate Change ministers) will have their plates brimming with this ambitious agenda. Naturally, she may fall short on several of these promises as complications or feasibility issues come up. However, with a tremendous track-record on action (not strictly climate-related) behind her, and with Justin Trudeau's promise on governance by Ministry, Canadians can feel confident knowing that the future of our Environment and Canada's presence on Environmental issues is in good hands.