On October 26, the new federal Cabinet was unveiled. As cabinet shuffles go, it was larger than most, with several new faces and most of the old faces getting new portfolios. While many people have offered their thoughts in general, I’d like to draw attention to one minister in particular: Stephen Guilbeault.
Having served as the Minister of Heritage in the previous cabinet, it has long been expected that, given his past life, Guilbeault would be Minister of Environment and Climate Change eventually. The reactions have been both swift and predictable. That’s because Guilbeault’s reputation precedes him. He is a sort of Canadian George Washington in that there’s a story making the rounds of when he was a boy. Apparently, Guilbeault once refused to get down from a tree that he had climbed to block a land developer from clearing a wooded area behind his home. While the tree was felled a few days later, the event is cited by Guilbeault as the beginning of his environmental activism. As far as I know, unlike Washington’s cherry tree narrative, the story is not apocryphal.
One thing that was discussed during the recent election campaign was ‘climate sincerity’. Although all parties had platforms that dealt with climate change in one fashion or another, pundits and environmental groups took to rating them not only on their merits, but also on how robust and actionable they were. While the Liberals generally scored well on specifics and even had a former British Columbia Green Party leader endorse that portion of their platform, it was the ‘sincerity’ of their commitment that often impressed environmentalists most.
In 1993, Guilbeault founded Action for Solidarity, Equity, Environment and Development (ASEED). In 1998, ASEED was rebranded as Équiterre. The organization’s ongoing goal is to propose concrete solutions to make Canada a society where sustainable development and social economy would be central to the actions and concerns of its citizens, organizations, and government. Guilbeault has been a member of Équiterre’s board of directors for many years.
While former minister Jonathan Wilkinson was seen as credible, this move raises the stakes. Now, the government has put a lifelong activist in charge of the one file that may very well – for better or worse – be the defining public policy challenge of the current government’s mandate. Sincerity is not an issue. The impact on the economy in the transition to net zero is another matter altogether.