Fernie students and community members march at Fridays for Future.

Fernie students and community members march at Fridays for Future.

Climate change chosen as Canadian Press News Story of the Year for 2019

‘2019 was like the year of climate awakening for Canada,’ says Catherine Abreu, the head of Climate Action Network Canada

In late September, hundreds of thousands of Canadians took to the streets across the country to demand more from their governments on climate change.

It was one of the largest mass protests in Canadian history, adding maple flavours to an international climate strike movement founded around Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg.

It was also a sign, many in the environment movement believed, of Canada’s climate-change coming of age.

“2019 was like the year of climate awakening for Canada,” says Catherine Abreu, the head of Climate Action Network Canada.

It was a year that saw warnings Canada is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world, the imposition of a national price on pollution, a vote in Parliament to declare a climate emergency and a federal election in which climate was one of the few real issues to make its way through the din of nasty politics.

Climate change was chosen in a survey of reporters and editors across the country as the 2019 Canadian Press News Story of the Year.

“I don’t think it can be anything but climate change,” said Toronto Star senior editor Julie Carl. “It is gripping our attention, our reality and our imagination.”

A decade ago, climate change was more academic than reality, but in recent years few Canadians haven’t been touched directly by the kind of weather climate change may be causing: floods, fires, major storms, cold snaps, heat waves, longer winters, shorter growing seasons. In June, when Parliament voted to declare that we are facing a climate crisis, it came as parts of eastern Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick were bailing out from the second once-a-century flood in three years.

In the survey, climate change had stiff competition, barely beating out the SNC-Lavalin saga, which itself had to fight its way into second ahead of the Toronto Raptors’ NBA title. In western Canada, many votes were cast for the hunt for two men who murdered a couple and another man in British Columbia before fleeing to the muskeg of northern Manitoba, where they would take their own lives.

ALSO READ: Grizzly bears move north in High Arctic as climate change expands range

But for many editors, the decision to rank climate change No. 1 comes both from the impact it had in 2019 and its expected dominance in our lives in the future.

“There’s no bigger story than the human-made altering of our own planet — even if you don’t believe it,” said Paul Harvey, senior editor at the Calgary Herald and Calgary Sun.

Canada’s new environment minister, Jonathan Wilkinson, ran for office in large part because he wanted to do something to address climate change, a problem, he said in a recent interview, that ”is a defining issue of our time.”

It is also a defining issue for the Liberal government. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ran on a promise to ramp up Canada’s environment policies in 2015, including setting a path to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and fix Canada’s environmental review process for major projects.

But the government’s decision first to approve the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, and then spend $4.5 billion to buy the existing pipeline when political opposition threatened to derail the project, left environment advocates disappointed and room for his political critics to pounce.

“You. Bought. A. Pipeline,” NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh countered in a news release, when Trudeau unveiled his climate plans during the election campaign and promised to lead the way to a greener country.

Climate change is also at the heart of the anger driving talk of western alienation — and in the most extreme cases, separation — as oilpatch workers, and others who depend on the oilpatch for their jobs, fear for their futures.

It leaves any government in Canada with a true conundrum: how to reduce emissions drastically without tanking an economy where oil, gas, manufacturing, and transportation are key. Unlike some small European nations, Canadians live far apart, in cities built around the automobile, and in places where heating and electricity needs in the winter months are high.

The political fight between Ottawa and the provinces over how best to manage climate change is a big part of the story and Canadians seem to want them both to win. Two-thirds of Canadians voted for parties advocating for carbon taxes while an equal number voted for parties that promised to complete the Trans Mountain pipeline.

“The vast majority of Canadians said, ‘We want aggressive action on climate’ but the vast majority of Canadians also are pragmatic in terms of saying, ‘But we want to do this in a frame of doing this in a prosperous economy,’ ” Wilkinson said recently in an interview with The Canadian Press.

In 2019, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Alberta took Ottawa to court over the federal carbon tax. The first two already lost in their provincial courts of appeal and are appealing to the Supreme Court of Canada. Alberta’s case is on this week.

Ottawa’s new environmental-assessment process for major projects makes climate change one of the considerations. It is one of the most hated bills in Alberta and Saskatchewan, where governments believe it will mean no new pipelines ever get built in Canada. For environment leaders, that is not a bad thing. For the energy sector, it’s a death knell.

Several watchers also think not having a full climate plan helped sink Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s election efforts.

Valerie Casselton, managing editor at the Vancouver Sun and Vancouver Province, said it “arguably” cost Scheer the election “in a year when the Liberals faced scandal after scandal but managed to rally by climbing onto their green platform planks.”

WATCH: ‘Climate emergency’ is Oxford’s 2019 Word of the Year

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Interior Health nurses administer Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines to seniors and care aids in Kelowna on Tuesday, March 16. (Phil McLachlan/Kelowna Capital News)
69 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

The total number of cases in the region is now at 9,840 since the pandemic began

Kelowna General Hospital (File photo)
Interior Health hospitals not strained by rising COVID case counts

While provincial hospitalizations rise, health care systems in the B.C. Interior remain robust, say officials

BC CDC data showing the geographic distribution of COVID cases in the province. (BC CDC photo)
One new case of COVID-19 in Golden

Cases continue to surge in surrounding areas

The Golden Golf Club will open for a new season on the links beginning April 24. (Claire Palmer photo)
Golden Golf club eyes April 24 start

The golf course is supporting local businesses with the driving range and mini-golf

An Interior Health nurse administers Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines to seniors and care aids in Kelowna on Tuesday, March 16, 2021. (Phil McLachlan/Kelowna Capital News)
105 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health

Just over 8,000 new vaccine doses administered in the region for a total of 158,000 to date

A woman wears a protective face covering to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as she walks past the emergency entrance of Vancouver General Hospital in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Top doctor warns B.C.’s daily cases could reach 3,000 as COVID hospitalizations surge

There are more than 400 people in hospital, with 125 of them in ICU

The plane blasted through an airport fence and down a hill, before stopping before a cement barrier on Highway 5A, right in front of a school bus. Photo submitted.
Student pilot crashes plane onto Highway 5A in Princeton

Aircraft hit pavement right in front of school bus

Vernon Fire Rescue Services responded to a truck fire on Dallas Road in Vernon April 15, 2021. (Brendan Shykora - Vernon Morning Star)
WATCH: Vernon firefighters quick to douse fully involved truck fire

The fire was near multiple structures and spreading along the ground upon crews’ arrival

The father of Aaliyah Rosa planted a tree and laid a plaque in her memory in 2018. (Langley Advance Times files)
Final witness will extend Langley child murder trial into May or June

Lengthy trial began last autumn with COVID and other factors forcing it to take longer than expected

The corner of 96th Avenue and Glover Road in Fort Langley now has traffic signals, and new “touchless” signal activation buttons. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance Times)
Busy Fort Langley intersection gets ‘touchless’ crosswalk signals

The new traffic light started operation in April

Fire crews tend to a collision that is causing severe traffic delays on the William R. Bennett bridge headed east into Kelowna. (Aaron Hemens - Kelowna Capital News)
7 vehicle collision on WR Bennett Bridge under investigation

The collision backed up traffic on the William R. Bennett bridge for much of the morning

Kelowna company celebrates milestone of producing 46 million masks in under a year.
46 million masks and counting: Kelowna company reaches 1 year milstone

In under a year, Breathe Manufacturing Ltd. in Kelowna has hit production of 46 million masks for front-line workers

The organizer of a Kelowna protest against COVID-19 restrictions was fined by the RCMP for the third time Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021. (File photo)
Kelowna RCMP investigating hit and run involving 11-year-old

Police said the boy suffered minor injuries

Most Read