Ten Questions the CBC Should Ask in a Federal Leaders Climate Debate

Cam Fenton
6 min readJul 24, 2019


July 17, CBC: Change the Debate Rally, Edmonton.

Voters in Canada want a climate debate ahead of this fall’s federal election. Thousands of people have signed petitions, attended rallies, and joined in on the call on both the Leaders Debates’ Commission and the CBC to make one happen. And, it makes sense. For the first time in my lifetime, climate change is a top ballot box issue for voters this fall.

But, whether or not a debate is going to happen remains to be seen. The Debates Commission responded to pressure explaining that, while “the Commission appreciates your concern with the environmental issue and agrees on its importance”, it would be up to the debates’ producer — a broadcaster or group of broadcasters — to make the final call on debate content. The CBC, one of those broadcasters, responded to rallies on their front doorsteps last week by throwing the ball back to the Debates’ Commission.

Even with their evasions, it’s clear that, the CBC and the Commission could easily make this debate happen. Both have a public responsibility to do so, the Debates’ Commission in its mandate to organize debates in the public interest, and the CBC’s (as detailed in it’s journalistic standards and practices) as our public broadcaster responding the the national climate emergency declared by our government in June. There’s also plenty of precedent for this kind of debate. In 2015 there were five separate leaders debates, including two on specific topics, and in 1984 the CBC was part of a group that broadcast a two hour leaders’ debate on women’s issues.

But, there are still those who wonder if this debate can, and should happen. One of their questions is whether climate change could really fill up a full debate. The answer is simple — it can, and it needs to. Leaders’ debates typical run for 1.5–2 hours, so with just 10 solid questions and a few minutes per leader answering them, we could easily fill that time with information that voters need.

So, inspired by a similar piece written by David Roberts in Vox, here’s 10 ideas for questions the CBC could put to our party leaders in a federal debate:

  1. Are you committed to doing Canada’s part to limit global temperature rise to 1.5ºC? This seems simple, but it’s actually one of the hardest questions to get a straight answer from our politicians on. In late 2018, scientists with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change made it clear, 1.5ºC is our best chance to avoid catastrophe, and it’s doable, so asking federal leaders to endorse it is a good place for any climate debate to start.
  2. How are you going to get there? Specifically, what are you going to do by 2030 and 2050? The second key take-away from the IPCC report was that we have until 2030 to cut global emissions in half, and until 2050 to get them to zero, to meet that 1.5ºC imperative. Asking for a clear plan, based on those timelines will give us a sense of who is actually listening to climate science, and who isn’t.
  3. It’s well known that oil and gas are the largest and fastest growing source of emissions in Canada, what’s you plan for dealing with that? How will approach Canada’s oil sands? Let’s not dance around it, you can’t talk about climate action in Canada without dealing with the oil and gas industry. We need a clear eyed conversation with our politicians that confronts this challenge head on and deals with questions like western alienation, workers, Indigenous rights and how we rise to the challenge of dealing with the climate crisis at the scale that science and justice demand.
  4. What is your vision of a Canada that has dealt with climate change? What does our economy look like from coast to coast to coast? A Canada that meets our global climate targets is going to look a lot different than what it looks like today. People in Canada deserve to know what political parties are seeing when they peer over the horizon of the kind of massive and comprehensive economic transition we’re talking about and who is actually imagining a world beyond fossil fuels. From the 170+ Green New Deal town halls that took place a few weeks ago, we already know that communities across the country can already imagine robust solutions that dramatically shift our economy to respond to the climate crisis. Can our party leaders’ imagine that kind of future to?
  5. What will you do to ensure that vulnerable communities are protected during the transition to clean energy? Some communities are more vulnerable to climate change than others. Some communities depend on fossil fuel industries more than others. Some communities have been left behind in Canada’s biggest political and economic shifts. That’s why we need to know what politicians are going to do to protect these communities.
  6. What’s the role of Indigenous peoples in your climate and transition plan? And, will you enact the United Nations Declaration on the rights of Indigenous peoples into Canadian law? It was a sad day when Bill-262, legislation to ensure that Canadian laws are in harmony with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, died in the senate earlier this year. But, even if it had become law, there would be a lot of questions about how Canada meaningfully works towards reconciliation, and the roles that Indigenous sovereignty plays in tackling climate change in Canada.
  7. There are several ongoing lawsuits against fossil fuel companies, charging that they deliberately concealed the dangers of climate change. There are shareholder resolutions seeking to tie them to carbon reduction goals. Universities and other institutions are divesting from fossil fuel stocks. Do you support these and other efforts to hold fossil fuel companies accountable? This question is cribbed straight from David Roberts’ list of questions for Democrats in the United States, and it’s just as important in Canada. Canadian politicians face more pressure from the fossil fuel lobby than any other industry in the country. Voters should know who will holding these companies accountable, and who is going to let them continue to run amok.
  8. Conventional wisdom is that we might be headed to a minority government situation. If that happens, how are you going to get this all done? It’s all well and good to have big plans, but with the polls where they are, we need honest answers on how every political party will use whatever power they win to follow through on their promises. A good follow-up question for this one, what’s your first priority going to be in office?
  9. What’s your plan for working with, or challenging the growing opposition to climate action from a number of Premiers? Jason Kenney, Doug Ford and their buddies in legislatures across Canada have made it pretty clear that they’re ready to fight like hell against any sort of bold federal climate action. We need to know how our federal leaders plan to deal with that.
  10. Canada is one of the world’s largest per-capita emitters, so what’s your plan for engaging with climate change on a global stage? Some politicians argue that Canada’s role in global climate action is minimal while others seem to think that by massively expanding fracking operations to export LNG, a fossil fuel with a climate impact similar to coal, we’ll help to reduce global emissions. Neither of these assertions are true, so putting them under the national microscope will help voters understand just how serious leaders are about the global challenge of tackling climate change.

With just these ten questions, the CBC could easily fill a full debate. But, there are also more questions out there. So what’s yours?

This week, we’re continuing to turn up pressure on the CBC by asking Cross Country Check-Up and other radio call-in shows to put the question “should the CBC host a climate debate” to the people. You can help us by tweeting at @checkupcbc and by signing up here to tell the CBC’s editor in chief that we need a climate debate.