Lynne Lund's response to the Speech from the Throne (2021)

This transcript of Lynne Lund's response to the Speech from the Throne is copied from the official Hansard record of the Legislature. 

I have really mixed feelings about the Speech From the Throne. There are some major issues in my district and I’m just not hearing the solutions we need addressed in them.

Housing is still a huge problem in Summerside. The speech says the vacancy rate is up to 3%, but it isn’t in Summerside. It’s still at 1.5% in Summerside. This lack of access to affordable and appropriate housing comes up all the time for me and in fact, even in the Charlottetown area, where the vacancy rate has somewhat improved, that’s largely credited to the short-term rentals being returned to the housing market due to a depressed tourist season on PEI. That’s acknowledged in this speech. And then, in essentially the next breath, the speech talks about the desire to reestablish the Atlantic bubble, which, of course, we need, but without any plan to protect the small gains that we’ve made in the long-term housing market.

Is it finally time for a discussion on regulating short-term rentals on Prince Edward Island? How else does this government intend to keep the minute gains that were made in Charlottetown? What is the plan to significantly increase the vacancy rate in Summerside? This speech, which is supposed to chart a new course forward, is surprisingly thin on these sorts of things, given that we’re in a housing crisis.

There are quite a number of issues in my district that I see no mention of in this speech. We have an outdated tenancy piece of legislation and that’s profoundly impacting people. We’ve been hearing that this was going to be moving forward for ages now, and yet, we still don’t have any changes. My district is in desperate need of a women’s shelter. Every organization I speak to in my district talks about the vulnerability that women are facing, and still, I don’t see any mention of this in the speech.

Government did not express their support for a moderate livelihood fishery, which I find incredibly disappointing, given everything that’s been said on reconciliation and our commitment to having appropriate and respectful relations with Indigenous people in this province. Falling short on that – I’m so glad the minister thinks that’s funny – but it’s incredibly important that we do better for the Indigenous people in this province. They have a right – and this province – this government should be very happy to stand up and express their solidarity with the Indigenous people.

There are a number of issues. There are a number of things that are addressed in this speech that I’m actually excited about. Electric car rebates, the energy academy, investments in clean tech – these are all things that I’m really glad to see included. Obviously, I’m interested in the details.

Fostering a vibrant clean tech sector should definitely be a goal of this province. It’s an opportunity to create good-paying jobs that support a transition to a low carbon economy. And I hope – I hope that government is thinking of linking this to the circular economy. There’s a huge economic opportunity here. The circular economy is gaining traction in Nova Scotia, in other parts of Canada, and it’s not an entirely new concept on PEI either. StandardAero in Summerside is a really great example of a business that makes its living by keeping materials in circulation rather than sending them to a landfill, by using designs that allow them to repair and replace only parts that are worn out. If this government isn’t looking at the circular economy yet, they should be because it’s a real opportunity.

So, those are good things. I’ll be interested to see how you intend to move forward with them.

The throne speech mentions sustainability a lot. It’s flowery language and I wish the reality up until this point had been nearly as flowery. So far, we’ve had another government who treats the environment file as if it were some sort of parallel finance department that only exists to provide resources to other departments, but without the oversight of a finance minister to say, no, you can’t take anymore. You’re asking for too much and we won’t have it when we need it.

I wish we had ever had an environment minister who was prepared to do that. When the Dunk River was below its safe levels, I would love to see an environment minister who was prepared to say no. Instead, we end up with environment ministers who defend the needs of other departments as a halfhearted apology for never actually acting as the minister responsible for the environment. Everything has a balance, but using resources needs balance, and if no one is ever arguing the side of the environment, how do you ever find that balance? The answer is you don’t, we haven't and that parallel finance department is showing the signs of being overdrawn in depleted soils, waters polluted with nitrites, and all kinds of other ways.

And of course it is. What would happen to our finances if the finance minister rarely felt the need to say no? No other department would suffer this same neglect, plain and simple. Can you imagine the absurdity if the Minister Responsible for the Status of Women answered questions about women’s needs by saying: well, we have to consider the needs of men first? Of course we need to consider the needs of men, but a minister is the champion of their own file and it must be their priority.

Your environment department, whatever you want to call it, needs a minister who believes their job is improving and protecting the environment and that they will champion these causes at the caucus table. Like a finance minister, you can do the math on this to see how well you’re doing at balancing the budget, so to speak. So far, it hasn’t been great. From that lens, have we ever had an environment minister?

There are nods to the environment that I’m happy to hear in this speech, but for me, the problem is I’ve heard a lot of positive things for this file before. Expanding buffer zones through buying back land and reforesting it is a really good idea. Depending on the size of this investment, it could move us a lot closer to our protected land targets. As those trees mature, they can offer shade for the rivers, which is valuable as our summers continue to get warmer. If this is pursued aggressively, it could be significant and I’m interested in hearing the details on it.

The commitment to reaching 7% protected land is here. There’s a promise to work toward 10% protected land. The Special Committee on Climate Change called for a more ambitious target on land protection and this does sound good. I honestly hope it ends up being good. I’d like to know the new target date for 7%, because, Mr. Speaker, government also said they would reach that same goal by 2020, and despite how the last minister tried to frame it, that was a fail.

You’ll have to forgive me for being skeptical because that 7% goal was originally trotted out by the environment department in the 90’s. This goal was originally intended to be reached in the year 2000. We are 21 years late. That’s not awesome, minister, because one minister after another has been prepared to stand up in this House and read out talking points and say it was a priority but was never prepared to fight to put any amount of money behind it.

The Province has climate targets that are aggressive and if we achieve those targets, government could say they are climate leaders. If government even was making decent progress towards that, then fine, but calling ourselves climate leaders does not make us climate leaders.

This is one area where good branding or messaging is just woefully inadequate. You can’t message yourself out of this. Based on what government is communicating, it’s clear they don’t even understand this file. The list of initiatives credited with lowering our emissions are largely not even things that count towards PEI’s greenhouse gas inventory. The speech says how emissions have declined by 27.5% since 2005 because of our great actions; that sounds amazing, since the year before, it was down by only 10%. A 17.5% drop in a year would be astounding and would certainly be a sign of leadership, but you can hold off on bragging on that, because you didn’t actually do anything.

Here’s the thing: the difference here is that the federal government reevaluated how they assign emissions. This chunk didn’t belong to us in the first place, but it never did. So, we didn’t actually do anything to cause it. This isn’t a result of our actions, and unless we luck out again and have emissions assigned away from us in the future, the minister will need an actual plan on how to have another drop like this.

Not so funny now.

In fact, we’ve since learned that the Climate Change Secretariat actually has no idea how much any action reduces emissions by. They have never calculated this. They never felt the need to. How do you ever make a plan to meet a target if you have no idea what the effect of any of your actions are?

The department waits for the federal government to collect information from Statistics Canada every year, crosses their fingers and hopes things look good when the numbers come back. They’re not running scenarios themselves. This is not a plan.

I know the number 18 months has been thrown around a lot lately, but the Special Committee on Climate Change waited an actual 18 months, despite the fact that the minister was on that committee, while the secretariat put off providing us with data, and in all of that time, no one ever bothered to tell us they don’t even collect that data. Climate leaders.

The department is banking on no one giving it too much scrutiny. In 2019, their progress report told us that their new target was expected to leave a gap of 360 kilotonnes. Now, how they knew that, since we’ve since learned they do not track the impacts of specific actions, I won’t try to guess. But what I can tell you is my bill only changed the target by 200 kilotonnes, not 360, so they weren’t planning to meet their old target in the first place.

Climate action is not subjective. This isn’t a moment where some experts think you’re doing good and some experts think you’re not doing good. There are measurables and we can look to them to know how effective we are being. No one is measuring them. It is no wonder two climate change ministers ago, we were told the department said meeting new targets would be too expensive. They had no idea what the impacts of any action was.

No one in this House wants government to succeed on climate action more than I do. If you are serious about meeting these goals, you’ve got a huge problem. We have listened to presentations of fluffy numbers instead of facts, we’ve had the secretariat make a presentation to suggest that for every tonne of carbon the province manages to avoid, we earn $2,600. If you think I’m exaggerating, check Hansard. The phrase ‘it’s like picking money up off the floor’ was actually used.

Climate action isn’t free and I don’t expect it to be. It is worth investing in but because we have a lot of work to do, we need to know we’re getting the best bang for our buck. It’s pretty clear the department did not expect much scrutiny on this. Imagine a health department reporting back to a standing committee that nothing they ever did costs money and, in fact, earned thousands of dollars. No other department would suffer the same sort of neglect and no other department’s minister would stand for it, plain and simple.

More than a year after it became clear that we were not going to let up on needing data, we had the Climate Change Secretariat hire someone to start this process. So they’ve hired a consultant to start calculating it. I expect they have some real numbers now but they didn’t. I don’t see much in this speech that I expect is going to lower emissions.

One exception is the electric vehicle incentive. An average vehicle on PEI would burn, I’m going to say, three and a half tonnes of carbon in a year. If you have a take-up on 100 rebates, you’ll avoid 3,500 tonnes in 10 years. If it’s 200 rebates, it’s 7,000 tonnes in 10 years, whatever. It depends on what you announce. We can do the math on that. That’s great, it’s measurable, you can reasonably plan on what sort of impact you’re going to have from that. Cool. So, you need to get rid of 1,600,000 tonnes to reach your 2040 goal. Do you feel like you’re on track?

You can’t do that without a plan and you can’t do that without knowing how many emissions you can cut out by a given action. Instead of telling Islanders you’re a leader, show them. Say we’re going to get rid of 100,000 tonnes this year. If your department knew how much carbon different things gave off, they could present your minister with options and the new minister could make a plan. Your last two ministers didn’t even ask them to calculate this. Climate leaders.

Talking points are not going to cut it. You absolutely have to do better. And here’s the thing: you can. We know how many emissions we need to cut. We know how much time we have to do it in. Are we achieving our goals? Have our emissions in transportation, our biggest emissions source, gone down? No. Have the emissions in agriculture, our second biggest source, gone down? No. Are we working to draw down the huge amounts of carbon that our soils are capable of holding? No, not that I’m seeing. We have to.

I should tell you, the secretariat doesn’t currently know how much an acre of PEI soil can draw down with these practices, but in some parts of the US, that’s measured at two tonnes an acre. In other parts of the US, it’s measured at four tonnes per acre. We have nearly 6,000 acres of farmland in PEI. If I was the minister responsible for climate change, I’d be looking at that.

Here’s your quick whim: you can pay farmers for this work. They are willing to do it. You can give them a second source of income, you can treat them like our partners in this work because they absolutely should be, and you can improve their soil and their bottom line while you do it. There are options but we do not have a minister, we have not had a minister, up until this point, who was passionate about trying to solve this problem.

It is genuinely my hope that the new minister is going to take on this task because it’s doable. We have a problem. I see absolutely no indication in this speech that this government is prepared to solve it.

Here’s your wildcard. If your new minister approaches this challenge with the same tenacity with which he’s approached paving, you’ll be able to see a big drop in your emissions that you can actually take credit for. Right now, you haven’t done that.

Your speech talks about how this is an evolution, not a revolution. I’m not sure this government realizes how slow evolution is, but that’s a pretty uninspiring analogy. What we need is a lot closer to a revolution than it is an evolution.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.