Freight train carrying oil trundles through midtown Toronto at Dupont Street and Howland Avenue.
This July marks five years since the terrible tragedy at Lac-Mégantic. Forty-seven people lost their lives that day, and so many others were left heartbroken and traumatized by the deadly explosion.
That train travelled straight through our riding before it exploded in the small Quebec town. As a result, our engaged citizens in Toronto-St. Paul’s mobilized to advocate for increased rail safety measures to protect our neighbourhoods. Inspiring local activist groups like Safe Rail and Rail Safety First alerted us all to the approximately 50 trains a day – many of them freight trains with 70-plus cars – that rumble along the railway in midtown Toronto, just metres from our backyards.
Many of these trains are carrying crude oil. With the lack of pipelines being built in Canada between 2012 and 2017, the number of rail cars carrying crude oil across the country has tripled.
As a country, we are working hard to transition away from fossil fuels. This is very important to me, as helping Indigenous communities “get off diesel” is part of my mandate. We are introducing carbon pricing, and making real investments in Canada’s green future — $2.3 billion to boost the growth of green technology, $1.4 billion to help provinces and territories reduce carbon pollution as part of Canada’s climate plan, $2.5 billion to help developing countries fight climate change worldwide. My colleagues, Ministers Carr and McKenna, have also done some incredible work, replacing the National Energy Board with a truly modern regulatory regime for all future energy projects in Canada. While building a better future, we are also putting billions of dollars into protecting and conserving Canada’s oceans, landscapes, and wildlife.
We are on a good path, but we are still in a transition period. We still rely on oil and gas to fuel the majority of our transportation, and heat our homes in the cold Canadian winters. We therefore still have an obligation to ensure that these substances are transported across Canada as safely as possible.
Pipelines are faster and more cost-efficient, but most importantly, they are far safer than transporting these products by rail or trucks. Across Canada, many First Nations are worried about the increasing volume of flammable goods being transported through their pristine forests and at the shores of their lakes, and rivers. The 2015 derailment in Gogama, Northern Ontario was a sobering reminder of that risk.
We recognize that the conversations around the Trans Mountain pipeline have become very polarized. I, too, sincerely believe that with concrete action on climate change, Canada will become a leader in clean energy production.
Until that time, we need to make responsible decisions about the energy we use and how we move it safely across Canada. After much consultation, it was decided that twining an already existing pipeline was preferable to building a new pipeline through previously-untouched forests and waterways. Many First Nations have weighed the alternatives and are now partnering on this decision. Some are even talking about investing in the pipeline itself.
I think it is impossible to talk about pipelines without discussing railway safety. As we look up from Yonge, Spadina, and Bathurst at those trains rolling along the CPR tracks, the reality is that oil tankers are right here in our neighbourhood.
The evidence is clear: Fossil fuels are not a long-term solution. We are all trying to do better. We reduce, reuse and recycle as much as possible. We are walking, biking, and taking the TTC when we can. My family is excited to have taken delivery of a new electric car last month, and we are so proud of the beautiful ‘green’ licence plates!
We are getting there. We are grateful to our inspiring alternative energy leaders in Toronto-St. Paul’s who have made the investments in solar panels, making us one of the most solar-powered ridings in Canada!
The extreme weather events are telling us that the fight against climate change is urgent. It is time to listen to First Peoples whose teachings say we should always be thinking seven generations out. We have to take our responsibilities to Mother Earth seriously, in our personal choices, as communities, as a country, and as a planet. It is almost summer. It is time to ‘spring clean’ our resolve! We can all make real choices to become part of the solutions that will make every day Earth Day.