Justin Trudeau seeks to highlight climate policy in visit to Canada’s Far North

The country now has protection measures in place for almost 14 per cent of Canada’s marine and coastal areas

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau injected a dose of electoral politics into an announcement Thursday in Canada’s Far North, taking aim at his Conservative rival while unveiling a new marine protected area.

Trudeau is using the trip to showcase some of the more dramatic effects of climate change in order to promote his Liberal government’s record on climate action ahead of this fall’s federal election.

He announced the creation of a new marine protected area near Arctic Bay — an Inuit hamlet on the northwest corner of Baffin Island that will be known as the Tuvaijuittuq Marine Protected Area. Tuvaijuittuq means “the place where the ice never melts.”

But melting sea ice and increased shipping traffic have posed increased threats to many important local species, including sea birds, narwhals and bowhead whales.

The country now has protection measures in place for almost 14 per cent of Canada’s marine and coastal areas, an area spanning more than 427,000 square kilometres — an area larger than Newfoundland and Labrador. The Liberals had targeted protected 10 per cent of Canada’s marine and coastal areas by 2020.

Trudeau used the backdrop of shifting Arctic terrain and endangered sea life to cast himself and his Liberal party as best-placed to serve as stewards of the environment — already shaping up to be a key ballot box issue — and as partners with Inuit in protecting the North.

“How we choose to use this territory, I think, is telling of the kind of future that we hope to build,” he said.

READ MORE: Election leaders’ debates will be more accessible than ever, commission says

“In July, Andrew Scheer travelled to Whitehorse to outline his vision for the Arctic. Not once did he mention the word ‘Inuit.’ It tells you a lot about the future he would build if he were prime minister. But he did talk about unlocking untapped potential in the region — and on that, he agrees with us.”

Last month, a political spat erupted over the Liberal plan to introduce a clean-fuel standard, another example of how the divisive political debate over climate policy is likely to play out on the campaign trail

The fuel standard would require cleaner-burning fuels as a way to reduce overall carbon emissions by 30 million tonnes a year.

Scheer accused the Liberals of plotting to levy a “secret fuel tax” on Canadians by enforcing a standard that would increase the cost of gasoline. The Liberals wasted no time firing back, accusing Conservatives of hurling smears, while also calling the Conservative environment policy “anti-climate action.”

Natan Obed, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, said climate change has already had devastating impacts on local infrastructure in the territories — a trend that is projected to continue if emissions and global temperatures continue to rise.

A recent report by Canadian scientists warned that most Canadian Arctic marine regions would be free of sea ice for part of the summer by 2050 and that most small ice caps and ice shelves in the Canadian arctic will disappear by 2100, even if emission reduction measures are enacted.

That’s why Obed said he hopes political parties will not simply bicker about the merits of a carbon tax as they debate climate policy during the campaign, but rather look more broadly at the real-life, “drastic” effects of climate change on northern communities.

“Fixating on one or two pieces of a climate-action policy sometimes overshadows the larger picture,” he said.

“People should be very concerned about the reality of the Canadian Arctic and the fact that it is a part of Canada. Just because somebody might not see massive changes in their backyard today doesn’t necessarily mean that there shouldn’t be urgent concern from all Canadians about the Arctic and the Inuit portion of the climate discussion.”

Later Thursday, Trudeau was to attend a nomination meeting for the sole candidate vying to represent the Liberals in Nunavut.

Megan Pizzo Lyall, a former Iqaluit council member who is now based in Rankin Inlet, will be acclaimed as the Liberal candidate for Nunavut after being the only qualified contestant to successfully complete the application process, according to the Liberal party website.

The seat has been held by former Liberal cabinet minister turned Independent MP Hunter Tootoo, who announced earlier this week he will not seek re-election.

Pizzo Lyall will be going up against Conservative candidate Leona Aglukkaq, who served as Nunavut’s MP from 2008 to 2015, including as one of Stephen Harper’s cabinet ministers.

Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press

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