Action on the climate crisis: interview with NB MLA Megan Mitton

Written by Susan O'Donnell on July 15, 2019

Green Party MLA Megan Mitton. Photo by Susan O’Donnell

The NB Media Co-op has covered political action and inaction on the climate crisis since the September 2018 provincial election. That election brought three Green Party members committed to climate action into the Legislature. Since then, Green MLA Megan Mitton, elected in Memramcook-Tantramar, has been the most consistent political voice for climate action in the province. As we reported in May, Mitton introduced a motion for the province to declare a climate emergency. Susan O’Donnell from the NB Media Co-op Editorial Board interviewed Mitton on July 11 about action on the climate crisis.

NBMC: In the legislature in May, you asked the premier if he agreed that all fossil fuel infrastructure development needs to halt following recommendations by climate scientists. In his response, the premier said he wasn’t sure to what extent climate change is caused by humans. What is your reflection now on his statement?

Megan Mitton: Looking back, his response did make him sound a bit like a climate denier. Whether or not that is true, the premier’s actions certainly make him look like a climate delayer, which in my opinion at this point in time is just as bad. This is a really critical time in terms of the climate emergency. We really have a limited number of years to make significant changes, and the Higgs government is pushing bad ideas when it comes to energy and ignoring the good ones.

NBMC: Given the minority government situation, people are wondering if there are opportunities for the opposition and third parties to work together on climate action. What do you think?

Megan Mitton: I do think there are opportunities. I think that everyone in the legislature is learning how to adjust to this unprecedented situation of having four parties, of having a minority government. When it comes to working together on climate action, one of the obstacles is that I’m not convinced that the other parties understand the urgency or the scope of the problem at this point. I also think that unfortunately partisan politics does get in the way. So I think there are opportunities but it’s going to require the parties and the individual MLAs to find a different way to work together, and frankly to better understand the challenges we’re facing.

NBMC: You have said in the past that the climate crisis will disproportionally affect women and marginalized peoples. Why do you believe this?

Megan Mitton: One of the reasons that I shifted my energy towards working on climate-related activism and jobs in the environment movement was because I read an article – I was working on social justice and issues around racism, and gender issues – and I read an article that said that climate change was going to exacerbate all of these inequalities, was going to exacerbate the inequalities related to racism and sexism, it was going to make poverty and inequality worse. A light bulb went on in my head and I said “OK.” This was many years ago.

Climate breakdown touches every part of the world, and every system. The current system we have does not treat people fairly, and I’m worried that the rich will continue to get richer, the poor will continue to get poorer, and that these environmental pressures will exacerbate inequalities that already exist.

When you look at heat waves, warmer temperatures tend to have a negative impact on cognitive function and on productivity. It also can affect people’s mental health negatively, suicide rates go up, domestic violence rates go up. So we need to understand that all of these issues, all of these impacts of climate breakdown have many implications.

NBMC: Do you get any negative feedback from bringing up the climate crisis in the Legislature?

Megan Mitton: I’m not sure if I’ve ever received negative… I’m trying to think… I guess there are some people online, and I use the word “trolls” because there’s certain behaviour that comes with trolls. It’s not just someone adding to a constructive conversation, it’s someone… there’s certain specific criteria. So I have had some trolls specifically upset about carbon tax policy or denying that climate change is real, but not that many. Definitely most people… I receive positive feedback regularly, especially from youth saying that they are glad that I’m bringing this issue up. So I would say I think I was elected with a mandate to speak about this, and I am getting positive feedback in regards to that.

NBMC: You spoke to the students and their supporters at the climate strike outside the legislature on May 10. What is your message to youth in New Brunswick about this?

Megan Mitton: I spoke to the youth on May 10, and I’ve spoken to youth many times now about this topic. There have been climate strikes in Sackville, regularly, and my message always is that I’m listening and I’m very glad they are speaking up. I want them to keep going and hold government accountable, because they have the right to be heard, and they have the most at stake with the climate emergency. And I encourage them to be engaged citizens and that that’s what we need: citizens to force the government to make systemic changes.

I try to remind people to not to get too caught up in the tiny things, like if they had to use a plastic straw, that’s not the end of the world, and they should have other options when it comes to making choices in their lives, they shouldn’t have to make stressful choices all the time because they don’t have good choices in the stores or in their lives. The whole system needs to change so that people aren’t constantly going through their lives having to navigate that. So we need to make systemic changes, and that’s what they are part of. So keep going. I think we’re at a tipping point. I think now is the time when things can change, and I’m so heartened to see so many youth and other citizens and other people getting involved and really pushing government, because that’s what needs to happen.

NBMC: Given the minority government situation in NB, we don’t know when the next provincial election will be but the federal election is on October 21. Many news media are predicting a breakthrough for the federal Greens. What are your thoughts on this?

Megan Mitton: I think it’s exciting. It looks like there is a Green surge, not just happening in New Brunswick but across the country. I think it’s very possible and very likely that there will be Greens elected across the country, from BC to Ontario to New Brunswick. I think there are some really exciting ridings and interesting races to watch. We often in the past have thought about BC as the stronghold for the Greens because Elizabeth May was elected there — but now we have three Greens in New Brunswick, eight Greens elected at the provincial level in PEI — I think the Maritimes is another Green stronghold.

There are some really great strong candidates in New Brunswick. I know Laura Reinsborough is running in my riding of Beauséjour, Jenica Atwin is running in Fredericton, and Claire Kelly is running in the Moncton area. It’s really exciting to see such strong Green candidates stepping forward, and I think it’s sort of a positive feedback: potential candidates see that it’s a really great shot, and so we have great candidates stepping forward right now.

Susan O’Donnell is a member of the NB Media Co-op Editorial Board and a researcher on the RAVEN project.

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