Liberal MP Jonathan Wilkinson talks climate change at VIU

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Above: Photo by Jessica Pirson

By News Editor Aislinn Cottell

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MP Wilkinson with Michael Ribicic. Courtesy of Kennedy Baker

Jonathan Wilkinson, Liberal Party MP of North Vancouver and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment, held a Q&A on climate change last week at the VIU Nanaimo campus. The event was organized by the VIU Young Liberals, a branch of the youth wing of the Liberal Party of Canada.

“It was fantastic to have Wilkinson take time out of his busy schedule to stop by VIU,” said Michael Ribicic, President of the VIU Young Liberals. “Jonathan gets to hear people’s thoughts and fears on climate change on a daily basis. He lives in North Vancouver and therefore can see the same effects from it as we do.”

Ribicic says they wanted to get someone from the Federal Government to talk about climate change, because it’s an issue that many people here are passionate about.

“Student participation in Canadian politics is still not as high as it should be. Although in the last federal election we saw a rise in political participation amongst youth, it is still not good enough,” Ribicic said. “Almost everything we do has some sort of political link to it and if we as a younger generation continue ignoring those links, we are in for a dark future.”

At the event, Wilkinson began by giving a short speech on the Liberal government’s views on climate change.

“The world is, I think, at a turning point with respects to the effects of climate change,” Wilkinson said. “Over decades we’ve seen increases in temperature. Climate change is real, and it’s largely man-made. This government is not, at this stage, interested in a debate about whether man-made activity is causing climate change–we accept the science.”

“It’s not something we can wish away, nor is it something we can simply push off into the future.”

Wilkinson spoke to how the green movement could be harnessed to provide economic benefits.

“[Addressing climate change] is a significant environmental imperative, but also for a country like Canada, it is a significant economic imperative,” he said. “We recognize the need for Canada to view this global transition towards a lower carbon economy as an opportunity to build an economy that will capture the value created through this transition.”

He outlined the main steps the Liberal government is taking to combat climate change, specifically the Pan-Canadian Framework, which addresses Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions and promotion of green growth. This framework contains four working groups: clean tech jobs and innovation, mitigation, adaptation, and carbon pricing. The first focuses on creating new ideas and companies that fit with the green movement, the second on how best to reduce emissions in Canada, and the third on strategies to accommodate effects from environmental change, such as prairie flooding as rising temperatures melt permafrost in the region. Finally, the fourth group looks into carbon pricing development as a means to incentivize companies to reduce emissions.

“The near-term focus for us is on developing a pathway to achieve our 2030 commitments that we made under the Paris agreement,” he said. The Liberals are continuing with an agreement made by the Harper government that aims to reduce 2005-level emissions by 30 percent by 2030. “We would love to have adopted a target that was more ambitious, but one of the problems that we’re in right now is that we also want to be realistic.”

Wilkinson then opened the conversation up to the audience. One student expressed concern over companies outsourcing their production and thus carbon emissions to countries overseas with less restrictions.

“Canada can reduce our emissions, but we still outsource all of our products to India and China,” they said. “What’s stopping all our industries from simply outsourcing to countries that don’t have the cap because it’s cheaper?”

“Most of the economic jobs have already gone to China, and are starting to come back for a range of economic reasons,” Wilkinson responded. “And I would say that none of the developing countries have an unlimited blank cheque. They actually have made commitments on how [emission reduction] will go and how it will start to come down.”

Another student inquired on the Liberal’s stance on long-term governmental planning, and how to manage the issue of climate change with the possibility of party turnover every four years.

“It’s partly about engaging the Canadian public… to engage the vast majority of Canadians in a conversation about climate.” Wilkinson answered. “And to the extent that we are successful in having that conversation, we make this a sticky issue–an issue that irrespective of who wins in four years, whoever is in the government will address climate.”

“I think that there is a real and genuine commitment on the part of this government to doing something to address climate change, and we understand that that’s a long-term process.”

Wilkinson says he does not believe that we are “beyond the tipping point” in regards to stopping climate change, but he did emphasize that we “don’t have enormous amounts of time.”

“If we delay for 10 years not doing anything at all, I think the magnitude of the challenge we face at that point is much higher,” he said. “I don’t know exactly when you get to the point where it’s so difficult you just throw up your hands, but we’re not there. But we can’t keep pushing it off.”

Wilkinson had a hopeful note on the role of entrepreneurship in the green movement, saying that along with the gradual and widespread conversion of current technology to be more efficient, there are also many possible “breakthrough technologies” currently being researched.

“These are the kinds of things that take a long time to know whether you have something or don’t, it costs a lot of money to get there, and nine out of 10 of them will fail. But that one will make a fundamental different in how we think about this whole situation.”

“Human beings are most creative when they have to be.”


Aislinn is a third year Bachelor of Arts and Science student majoring in creative writing and minoring in chemistry. New to The Nav team this year, she’s enjoying finding out about all the interesting things happening on campus. Her hobbies include reading, drawing, Netflix, and the copious consumption of coffee.