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Environment Minister Catherine McKenna gave supporters in P.E.I. a taste of some key themes from the coming federal Liberal election campaign Wednesday, drawing a contrast with the Conservatives on climate change and attacking Ontario Premier Doug Ford.
McKenna, who was in Prince Edward Island Wednesday, spoke at a Liberal fundraiser at the Delta Prince Edward. The event, attended by about 100 party members, was held to raise funds for the re-election campaign of Charlottetown Liberal MP Sean Casey.
The gathering occurred shortly after a federal ethics commissioner released a report which found that Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had broken the Conflict of Interest Act in relation to the SNC-Lavalin scandal. But McKenna's remarks did not make mention of the report.
Instead, McKenna focused on her message that the Liberals need to win in P.E.I. and across Atlantic Canada in the October election.
"Let me tell you what the alternative is. The alternative is worse than under Stephen Harper," McKenna said.
"Actually, I don't think they even really believe in climate change.”
McKenna chastised Conservative-led provinces for pursuing a court challenge of federal carbon pricing policies, although she said this would likely fail. She then criticized recent cuts by the Ontario government to post-secondary grants and loan programs.
"Imagine not wanting your young people to get a good education," McKenna said.
McKenna said Trudeau policies had created one million jobs and that the Canada Child Benefit program had lifted 300,000 children out of poverty.
In an interview before the event, McKenna said she was happy to see that the P.E.I. government had recently adopted more stringent climate change targets. In July, the legislature passed a bill adopting a target of reducing emissions by 43 per cent by 2030, higher than the 30 per cent reduction mandated by the Paris Climate Agreement.
Green MLAs argued the more stringent targets were necessary due to recent reports by climate scientists indicating global warming needed to be kept to 1.5 degrees Celsius instead of two degrees.
McKenna was quick to contrast this with the actions of other Conservative-led provinces.
"You're seeing polarization on this issue that's being led by Conservative politicians in other provinces. Not here. This is where you have Progressive Conservatives who understand the importance of the environment, taking action on climate change," she said.
McKenna said the Liberal election platform would contain more ambitious climate change plans but stopped short of saying whether this would include plans for more robust carbon reduction beyond the Paris targets.
She said her department has overseen measures to reduce carbon emissions including phasing out coal, carbon pricing, and investing in clean technology and public transportation.
But environmentalists have criticized the Trudeau government for spending $4.5 billion to purchase the Trans Mountain pipeline, which would transport diluted bitumen from the Alberta oil sands to an export terminal in Burnaby, B.C.
A recent survey by Abacus research found that almost 6 in 10 Canadians believe the federal government is not doing enough to address climate change. The survey also found majority support for policies such as phasing out extraction of all fossil fuels by 2030, requiring all buildings to heat using electricity instead of gas or propane by 2022 and banning the sale of all new gas-powered vehicles by 2030.
Earlier in the day, McKenna was part of an announcement of funding for conservation initiatives at the Dingwell’s Mills Wildlife Management Area and Hog Island.