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

Abbotsford residents gather at the intersection of Clearbrook Road and South Fraser Way on Tuesday to raise awareness of what they say is the mistreatment of farmers by the Indian government. Organizers say demonstrations will be ongoing daily in Abbotsford. (Maan Sidhu photo)
Abbotsford residents continue demonstrations against treatment of Indian farmers

Locals gathered at intersection of Clearbrook Road and South Fraser Way, larger event set for Sunday

The westbound lanes of Highway 1 between Clearbrook and McCallum roads were closed to traffic Wednesday morning after a fatal collision involving a pedestrian.
Pedestrian dies after being struck by vehicle on Highway 1 in Abbotsford

Collision takes place early Wednesday morning between Clearbrook and McCallum roads

DriveBC photo.
Westbound Highway 1 lanes in Abbotsford closed as crews investigate serious crash

Crash occurred between McCallum and Clearbrook roads at around 4 a.m., next update at 8 a.m.

A heavy police presence was on scene on Dec. 28, 2017 following the shooting death on Bates Road in Abbotsford of Alexander Blanarou, 24, of Surrey. (Abbotsford News file photo)
Three men charged with Abbotsford shooting death of Surrey man

Alexander Blanarou, 24, was killed in a rural area on Dec. 28, 2017

A tongue-in-cheek message about wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 on a sign outside a church near Royal Columbia Hospital, in New Westminster, B.C., on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection count climbs back up to 656

20 more people in hospital, active cases still rising

A teacher places the finishing touches on the welcome sign at Hunter’s Glen Junior Public School which is part of the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) during the COVID-19 pandemic in Scarborough, Ont., on Sept. 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Hindsight 2020: How do you preserve a year many Canadians would rather forget?

Figuring out how to preserve the story of the pandemic poses a series of challenges

Haley Callison. (Facebook photo)
Former B.C. pro hockey player frustrated with COVID-deniers after horrific bout with virus

Haleigh Callison hopes people will follow precautions and tone down the rhetoric

FILE – A near empty waterfront train platform is pictured in downtown Vancouver, Monday, April 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
TransLink disables some services for second day due to ‘suspicious network activity’

Customers cannot use credit card or debit card at fare gates or Compass card vending machines

A man stands in the window of an upper floor condo in Vancouver on March 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Change made to insurance for B.C. condo owners amid rising premiums

Council CEO Janet Sinclair says the change will mean less price volatility

The Walking Curriculum gets students outside and connecting with nature. (Amanda Peterson/Special to S.F. Examiner)
‘Walking Curriculum’ crafted by SFU professor surges in popularity

The outdoor curriculum encourages students to connect with the natural world

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Mirandy Tracy, left, and Tara Kurtz are two Langley mothers who are organizing a "sick out" for Tuesday, Dec. 1 to protest COVID conditions in schools. They're calling for masks and smaller class sizes, among other things. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance Times)
Politician, labour leader throw support behind student Sick Out day

Langley parents started the movement to keep kids home on Dec. 1 as a protest

Most Read