A federal election is underway, Greta Thunberg lambasted political leaders at the UN for inaction on global warming, youth staged massive climate strikes across Canada last Friday, and all of Canada’s national parties duly toted out their plans for fighting climate change.
But after the election, is anything really going to change? I don’t think so.
There is one really simple test to see how serious any of Canada’s national political parties are about tackling climate change. Check to see if they have a well thought out cycling plan for the country.
I’m not talking about the usual platitudes or earnest statements of support. I’m talking about a comprehensive plan, or strategy, to promote cycling that would include substantial funding, detailed programs, effective targets, wide ranging policies, and the necessary legislative changes.
Why is cycling the test for political seriousness about taking action on climate change? Quite simply, because it’s a ‘biggie’ in the arsenal of tools government can use to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
A European study estimates that a person riding a bicycle one kilometre emits 250 grams less carbon dioxide than someone traveling the same distance by car . The same study concluded that if people in all parts of Europe cycled just five kilometres a day instead of using their cars, the EU could meet 50% of its target for reducing carbon emissions in the transportation sector. And it’s worth noting that in most jurisdictions, the transportation sector rates as one of the top sources of greenhouse gases.
The opportunity for cutting emission in the transportation sector might not be quite as dramatic in our country, but cycling can still make a huge contribution in helping Canada meet its overall targets for greenhouse gas reductions. As a tool for combating climate change, cycling ranks right up there with increasing the number of electric cars on the road, building more wind turbine farms, insulating homes better, closing coal-fired plants, planting more trees, and so on.
Unlike many other means of dealing with climate change, cycling is essentially an off-the-self solution that is just waiting to be implemented. Adopting a National Cycling Strategy is a straight forward proposition that doesn’t require complicated programs or the development of costly new technologies. In addition, cycling is a relatively inexpensive option, especially considering its potential for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Despite all that it has to offer, cycling is often viewed as a niche issue, and it is largely ignored by all of the national political parties as an effective means for reducing carbon emissions. In other words, it could be said that none of the parties meet the test for being serious about taking action on climate change.
This is certainly the case with the Liberal Party. Four years ago when the new Liberal Government was trumpeting all it was going to do for the environment, I wrote that cycling was a litmus test on how serious they were about dealing with climate change. It turns out they weren’t serious at all. Four years later and Canada isn’t even on track to meet the inadequate carbon emission targets that were originally put in place by the Harper Government.
There is also some strong evidence that at the beginning of the Liberal mandate, the Cabinet did consider a proposal that would have seen the federal government take on a greater role in promoting cycling. However, the idea was quickly rejected. This is also in keeping with the government’s response to an online petition that was submitted to Parliament calling for a National Cycling Strategy. Statements issued on behalf of four senior ministers basically said cycling is a very nice activity, but it doesn’t warrant federal involvement.
The situation with the Conservatives is even worst. Many pundits are saying that Andrew Scheer’s climate plan is clearly deficient for meeting Canada’s targets for greenhouse gas reductions, and some are saying carbon emissions could actually go up under a Conservative Government. It’s also worth noting that under the Harper Government, money was made available for snowmobile and ATV trails, and tariffs were lowered on all sorts of sporting equipment, but absolutely nothing was done for cycling.
The NDP and Green Party are the ones that appear to be most serious about taking action on climate change, but there are still large gaps in exactly how they plan to realize their ambitious objectives for lowering greenhouse gas emissions. Although Jagmeet Singh seems to be personally committed to cycling, the NDP’s position is mostly limited to earnest statements of support.
The Green Party comes closest to having any kind of substantive position on cycling. It is found in a one line statement about the need for a cycling and walking infrastructure fund. This is good, but it’s a far cry from a comprehensive National Cycling Strategy.
If any of the political candidates end up at your doorstep seeking your vote, ask them about their position on a National Cycling Strategy. They will probably skirt around the question while thinking to themselves they are dealing with someone who is concerned about a niche issue. What will really be happening is that you’ll be evaluating their seriousness about taking action on climate change.