After enduring a barrage of online hate and physical attacks on her constituency office during her six years as an MP, Infrastructure Minister Catherine McKenna announced Monday she will not run again in the next election.
McKenna — who led the contentious fight to levy a national price on carbon emissions as environment minister — has long been the target of sexist attacks over her vocal defence of climate action in the face of entrenched opposition.
But she said the hardship she has endured in politics was not the motivation for her departure. Rather, she said, she wants to spend more time with her kids after many nights away during her time in office. She said the COVID-19 pandemic forced her to “step back and reflect on what matters most.”
McKenna also said she wants to focus her energies on fighting climate change from outside of government. She’s offered to help Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Canadian delegation at the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland later this year.
She’s no stranger to this forum. Only days after being named to cabinet in 2015, McKenna led the Canadian delegation at the COP21 conference in Paris where almost every country on earth agreed to emissions reductions to stave off the worst effects of climate change.
McKenna said her experiences shouldn’t dissuade young women from entering politics. While there may be some abuse, she said, elected office is still the best place to be to bring about change.
Her office was vandalized and her Twitter feed the source of many misogynistic messages — but McKenna said entering federal politics was the only way she could enact Canada’s price on carbon and implement the country’s first “meaningful climate plan” to dramatically drive down emissions by 2030.
After the Supreme Court upheld the carbon levy as constitutional, she said, all parties came to accept that pricing pollution is the best way to curb emissions — a sign that politicians can make a difference.
As infrastructure minister, she also signed cheques worth tens of billions of dollars to build public transit and other green-friendly projects.
“For the many people who are understandably cynical about politics, I hope you take that as hard evidence as to what’s possible. Things change, sometimes the biggest things,” she told a press conference along the Rideau Canal in her Ottawa riding.
“I have had my share of attacks, but that’s just noise. People want you to stop what you’re doing, and they want you to back down. We doubled down.”
She vowed to do more to tackle the hate some women face when in Parliament. “I’ll do everything to fight that when I’m gone,” she said. “We need good people in politics. Politics matters.”
McKenna’s decision not to run again in Ottawa Centre creates an opening for another Liberal in a riding the party carried easily in the 2015 and 2019 federal elections after years of NDP representation by former New Democrat leader Ed Broadbent and later Paul Dewar.
There’s been some speculation that the former Bank of Canada governor, Mark Carney, may jump into politics after endorsing Trudeau and the Liberals at the party’s convention in April. Carney, who lives in the area, could make a bid to carry the Liberal banner in this urban seat.
Asked about a possible Carney run, McKenna said she’s friends with the former banker and she has long encouraged him to run. “He’s a good friend of mine. I think he can make a big difference. He has a lot to add.” She insisted she’s not stepping aside now to make room for a star candidate.
McKenna also denied the suggestion that she’s leaving federal politics to run in the 2022 Ottawa municipal election. “I told you why I’m leaving,” she said. “I will be 100 per cent focused on climate change.”
Trudeau thanked McKenna for service, saying she worked “tirelessly to tackle climate change, protect our environment, strengthen communities and inspire women and girls.”
McKenna’s successor in the climate portfolio, Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, praised his cabinet colleague for her “significant contribution that will help provide our kids and grandkids with a healthier planet.”
McKenna said she will stay on as a minister until the next election is called. While Trudeau has said he doesn’t want an election while Canada is still in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s looking increasingly likely that there will be a vote sometime this year.
The Liberal Party has declared a state of “electoral urgency” to quickly appoint candidates ahead of a possible campaign and outgoing MPs gave their farewell speeches in the Commons last week.
Criticized by environmentalists and industry groups alike
McKenna’s tenure was not without controversy. She faced an onslaught of criticism over Bill C-69, legislation she introduced in 2018 to overhaul the country’s environmental assessment process.
The regulatory overhaul — dubbed the “no more pipelines bill” by its critics — was seen by industry groups and many western Canadians as too onerous and a threat to the natural resources sector.
Those opposed to the bill feared a more robust federal approvals process for major new projects would be the “nail in the coffin” for the country’s oil and gas industry. McKenna said a more stringent regime was needed to cut emissions. Since the bill’s passage, no company in Canada has proposed a major new crude oil pipeline.
Environmental groups, meanwhile, criticized the government’s decision to purchase the Trans Mountain pipeline — a major project that will carry tens of thousands of barrels of oil from Alberta to B.C. — saying a government that is serious about climate change wouldn’t invest so much in infrastructure supporting the country’s fossil fuels industry.
McKenna routinely defended the government’s multi-billion dollar purchase, saying it would actually make the B.C. coast safer because it would come with a new oceans protection program to detect possible spills.
She said Canada couldn’t phase out oil overnight and the project would help with the transition to more renewable energy because all profits from the line will be directed to clean energy initiatives.
McKenna was also criticized in 2015 for giving Montreal the green light to dump some eight billion litres of untreated sewage into the St. Lawrence River to allow the city to make repairs to its wastewater system.
“This release is far from ideal, but it is needed for the city of Montreal to perform critical maintenance on their infrastructure before winter,” she said after authorizing the dump.
Former Conservative leader Andrew Scheer accused the government of “hypocrisy” for pricing carbon while simultaneously allowing this sort of pollution.
Last year, he introduced a private member’s bill in Parliament that would have ended the practice of dumping wastewater into rivers, lakes and oceans. The bill was defeated last week after Bloc Québécois, Liberal and NDP MPs voted against it.
“Once again, Justin Trudeau is all talk when it comes to the environment. By defeating this bill, the Liberals are giving the green light to cities across the country to continue polluting vital fish habitat. Unfortunately, this vote shouldn’t surprise Canadians,” Scheer said.