ELECTION 2015: Okanagan conservationists say not enough focus on environment

While much is debated in the federal election so far, the environment is going largely under the radar

As the leaders from the three major political parties vying for votes in this year’s federal election debated the economy in the latest major debate on Thursday, some Kelowna residents were still waiting to hear more about the environment, climate change and how a Canadian economy based on fossil fuels can flourish globally in the long term.

And with federal Green party leader Elizabeth May shut out of the debate and her party fighting an uphill battle despite being the only one to officially launch a platform, they will likely be waiting even longer.

“I don’t see the environment being talked about very much by anybody to be honest,” said Wayne Wilson, the executive director of the Central Okanagan Land Trust. “The campaign seems to be about the economy and security. Absolutely anything and everything about the environment should be on the table because it affects us all. From water to air, to soil to biodiversity. I would hope to see the environment higher (as an election topic).”

Wilson, who spent 35 years on the board of the Kelowna Museum and is now with the Central Okanagan Land Trust, says the environment is connected to the economy and should be front and centre in this election.

His thoughts are echoed by Jorma Jyrkkanen, a retired biologist and the vice president of the Central Okanagan Naturalists Club, which has 270 members.

Jyrkkanen says there are many troubling issues when it comes to the environment, but none of the political parties are talking about the planet, save for the Green Party, who now doesn’t have a candidate running in Kelowna-Lake Country.

“I would love to see the parties all take a stand on the environment but I’m not hearing it,” said Jyrkkanen. “It isn’t happening from Stephen Harper. And I haven’t heard much clarity from all of the parties. There are so many issues. There is loss of habitat, climate change, the pine beetle was the first phase and now we’re seeing the fires come through. It’s a pretty grim picture out there from an environmental perspective. A lot of countries are really getting on board and taking a leadership role in alternative energy and what we really need Canada to do is to get on board and start showing us how we might live in harmony with nature.”

In terms of which party leader might be the most visionary and will have the planet’s best interests at heart, Jyrkkanen says May is a strong leader who isn’t being treated fairly this election campaign.

“She has a head on her shoulders like none of the other party leaders and she is one of the brightest minds in terms of government policies but we are not hearing enough from her because she is cut out of the debates,” he said.

With Green Party candidate Gary Adams pulling out of the race for a seat in Kelowna-Lake Country, voters who may have been leaning to the Green Party in that riding must now cast ballots for either the Conservative, Liberal or NDP candidates. It’s something that has been happening in other ridings as well, including in Vancouver, as Green candidates try to pool votes together to defeat the Conservatives, the governing party that critics say has put fossil fuels first over the last decade.

“Many in the environmental community are trying to co-ordinate the non-Conservative voters given that the Liberals or NDP or Greens would do substantially more than the Conservatives (for the environment),” said UBC political science professor Kathryn Harrison. “They are asking people who care deeply about the environment to vote as a block for the candidate that is most likely to defeat the Conservatives.”

Locally, Jyrkkannen says while not having a Green candidate to vote for in Kelowna-Lake Country isn’t ideal, he urges all politicians to start taking climate change seriously.

“Climate change is the biggest crisis we face because it is affecting everything,” he said. “We need someone out there that is connected to nature and understands how this is all connected. The goodness of the planet is not derived from corporations it’s derived from nature and we have to respect that.”

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