Saving the planet one ballot at a time: what northern Ontario voters want to see on climate change | CBC News

Over his 55 years, Sam Hunter has watched the seasons shift in Peawanuck.

The permafrost people used to walk on has melted into swamps. Some muskeg ponds have dried up. He doesn’t see the same birds in the sky. 

“There’s a lot of big changes up here,” says Hunter. 

But he has faith that Cree people will adapt like they always have. He worries more about migrants crowding into traditional hunting and fishing grounds. 

“We may get displaced by movement of people from the south. That’s what worries me,” says Hunter. 

Hunter would like to see the government commit more funding to help remote communities monitor and prepare for climate change.

Sam Hunter of Peawanuck worries that climate change will mean migrants from the south crowding into Ontario’s far north. (Isabel Souliere/Missinaibe Cree )

He is happy to see all the parties in this federal election agreeing that we need to price carbon.

And so is lifelong Conservative supporter Ryan Belair of Blind River, who says he would have considered changing his vote if the party hadn’t gotten more serious on climate change. 

“They’re more well-rounded as a party. I know it’s late, but better late than never,” says the 39-year-old firefighter.

Michel Tessier, 61, says climate change is important to him as a voter, but has slipped down the priority list in this election because of COVID-19 and questions about personal rights.

The retired police officer supports a price on carbon, but doesn’t think it should apply to the propane furnace at his home outside Blind River, the bill for which has jumped up in recent years. 

“Whatever carbon tax you impose on me, I have to heat my home,” says Tessier.

Saving the planet one ballot at a time: what northern Ontario voters want to see on climate change | CBC News
Michel Tessier, 61, supports a carbon tax, but doesn’t believe it should be applied to the propane furnace he uses to heat his home near Blind River. (Erik White/CBC )

The political debate about how to control climate change often pits a need to reduce greenhouse gases against the oil and gas sector that drives the Canadian economy.

The biggest group of those workers in northeastern Ontario is the 400 people at Tenaris Tubes mill in Sault Ste. Marie, where they make pipes for fossil fuel exploration. 

Cody Alexander, the president of United Steelworkers Local 9548, wants to see action on climate change and doesn’t expect it will hurt his members. 

“I don’t ever seen oil and gas being totally banned from our civilization. Industrialization is dependant on it, but we definitely have to get our usage under control,” he says. 

Saving the planet one ballot at a time: what northern Ontario voters want to see on climate change | CBC News
Tobin Kern gets around Sault Ste. Marie on a bicycle and wants to see more action on climate change from the federal parties instead of just talk. (Erik White/CBC )

Climate is the top issue for 43-year-old Tobin Kern of Sault Ste. Marie, who works in social services, but is an active member of the Sault Climate Hub.

He says this might be the most focus on the environment he’s ever seen in a federal election campaign. 

“I think it’s good that we’re talking about it, but unfortunately the physical world doesn’t respond to promises and election speeches,” says Kern.

He says climate voters may be thinking strategically in the Sault, where there’s traditionally a three-way race and no Green Party candidate to mark an X next to. 

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