McKenna leaves environment role

by | Nov 22, 2019

Ottawa youth march downtown on Friday to protest climate change. Photo by Émilie Warren.

For Ottawa’s climate activists, new cabinet raises new questions

Environmental advocates in Ottawa will now have to work with a new environment minister, one that lives thousands of kilometres away.

Ottawa Centre MP Catherine McKenna was appointed the minister of infrastructure and communities on Wednesday. Previously, and since she was first elected in 2015, she was Canada’s minister of environment and climate change. 

This week, North Vancouver MP Jonathan Wilkinson was given the environment portfolio.

Sharon Coward is the executive director for EnviroCentre, an organization that encourages Ottawa residents to adopt sustainable lifestyles. 

She said Friday that having a local MP as the environment minister was helpful because McKenna had, “a very local focus and understanding.”

Yanira Lobatón attends a climate protest on Parliament Hill on Friday. Photo by Émilie Warren.

University of Ottawa student Yanira Lobatón said she felt empowered with a local environment minister, because it gave the impression that the voices of Ottawa youth would be heard at the highest level of government. 

“I think the fact that we had a local minister encouraged youth from the Ottawa-Gatineau region to get more involved in local groups,” she said in French. 

Lobatón attended the protest for climate action on Parliament Hill Friday, organized by Fridays for Future Ottawa.

Others, like Mia Beijer, see the shift as an opportunity to pressure a new public figure to take action against climate change. Beijer is a founding member of Fridays for Future Ottawa.

“We’ve had four years of trying to pressure this local MP and it’s honestly quite tiring, because in Ottawa it’s a lot of the same people,” she said. 

Beijer added that the change of ministers will give local advocacy groups in the new minister’s riding the chance to pressure the new environment minister. 

Mia Beijer, a founding member of Fridays for Future Ottawa, said the change in environment ministers gave the group an opportunity to regroup and re-examine its priorities. Photo by Émilie Warren.

In McKenna’s new role, she will work closely with municipalities on investments in public transit, bridges, roads and other types of infrastructure.

Coward said she was excited to see McKenna take on the role, adding that infrastructure is “spectacularly important in reducing carbon footprint,” as buildings and transportation are the two biggest sources of Ottawa’s emissions.

Wilkinson, Canada’s new environment minister, is the former minister of fisheries, oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard. Wilkinson has extensive experience working in the energy and green technology sector. 

He now faces the difficult task of implementing the Liberals’ climate action plan while Alberta and Saskatchewan continue to resist these policies.