This article was originally published by iPolitics on August 31, 2021. 

As Canadians prepare to vote on Sept. 20 in an election most weren’t expecting, federal parties must offer a future worth voting for.

The Canadian public, restless and pandemic-weary, is looking for leaders who can articulate a bold vision for Canada. They want it backed by ambitious and enforceable policies that create a safer, healthier, and more sustainable future.

More than ever, the polls are showing that Canadians expect governments to come to the table with serious solutions to the interlocking problems of climate change, pollution, and loss of biodiversity.

A recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concludes that a climate catastrophe is imminent unless we take swift action to reduce carbon emissions. This should have set off alarm bells for every candidate asking Canadians for their vote. But, so far, parties and their candidates have failed to offer solutions that match the urgency of our circumstances.

During the 2019 federal election, most Canadians voted for parties that promised to act in the interest of the environment. Progress has been made, but much more work is needed. Politicians must be more ambitious, and progress faster toward tangible and lasting results.

To earn Canadians’ votes this time, the federal parties must describe the actionable, enforceable steps they’d take to fight the climate crisis, reduce pollution, and better protect the air, land, and water we depend on for our survival and well-being.

When party leaders take to the stage in the televised debates, they need to communicate to Canadians their comprehensive vision for a safe and sustainable future that’s grounded in progressive laws and policies.

This means ending taxpayer-funded subsidies of the emissions-heavy fossil-fuel industry, and making that public investment more transparent and accountable. The next federal government must also ensure that corporate Canada contributes to the nation’s task of emitting net-zero greenhouse gases (GHGs). That includes shining a light on financial institutions, which continue financing emissions-heavy developments.

If the parties are serious about reducing GHG emissions, they’ll support an immediate ban of thermal-coal exports, and phase out the use of Canadian ports for the export of millions of tonnes of American coal.

Parties must have a plan to stop biodiversity loss and the degradation of ecosystem health. Canada has already committed to protecting 30 per cent of land and water by 2030, but this promise isn’t enforceable, which means there’s no legal consequence if we miss the mark. It’s time to learn from our decades of missing GHG-emissions targets, and mimic the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act by enshrining our targets to protect land and water in law, thereby holding governments to account.

Defending our health, the air we breathe, and the water we drink from environmental pollution must also be a top priority as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic. The Canadian Environmental Protection Act is long overdue for an overhaul. Bill C-28, introduced in the last Parliament, was designed to do this, but it died on the order paper when the election was called. The bill proposed to legally recognize people’s right to a healthy environment. This election is an opportunity to take that right further by enshrining it in a new and long-sought Canadian Environmental Bill of Rights, so that the right to a healthy environment applies to all federal laws and policies.

These crucial environmental issues should pervade every debate and conversation during the federal election campaign. Climate change, pollution, and biodiversity loss are long past being secondary issues for voters; they’re now central to our economy, security, health, and the lives of future generations.

But federal parties have yet to inspire Canadians with ambitious proposals that set a new path forward for Canada.

There’s still time. Early polls show this could be a tight race. On Sept. 20, Canadians will vote for the candidates they believe have the best plan for a safe and sustainable Canada. Now it’s up to the parties to step up and earn those votes.