Photo Credit: John Cameron via Unsplash

The federal government’s recent announcement to introduce a single-use plastics ban was a welcome surprise. A solitary light in what are otherwise incredibly dark and strange times.


The announced plan, which will be introduced sometime before the end of 2021, will ban plastic grocery store bags, straws, stir sticks, six pack rings, plastic cutlery and take out containers, according to CBC News.


I would usually be the first to say that this plan does not go far enough to even address the issue of plastic pollution, let alone the imminent climate crisis that many have seemingly forgotten about due to the pandemic, but the government beat me to it.


Jonathan Wilkinson, the oil-company-executive-turned-environment-minister, is not a man I admire (to say the very least). I derided the Liberal’s decision to choose him as the new Minister of the Environment and Climate Change following last fall’s election, mainly due to his business background. I had also publicly said that I hoped the Liberal’s star candidate in Quebec and noted environmental activist Steven Guilbeault would be tapped for the job, but to no avail. He would instead be given the title of Minister of Canadian Heritage, a far less important portfolio.


But to my surprise, who else did I see during Minister Wilkinson’s announcement, but none other than Minister Guilbeault, despite the announcement having nothing to do with his cabinet portfolio.


What this tells me is that Guilbeault, to my excitement, may be having a major behind the scenes impact on the environment portfolio, which ultimately shows in the announcement.


As I said before, the government made it clear that this was only a minor part of a much bigger environmental agenda they plan to implement in order to work towards their goal of having zero plastic waste in Canada by 2030. 


That is usually my biggest problem with government action on the environment, as well as with people who claim to be environmentally conscious. The singular emphasis on everyday individual actions, like reducing our personal waste or our “carbon footprint” is a compartmentalized, neoliberal way to ‘address’ climate change that is all but completely ineffective. Climate change and environmental degradation are being escalated on a mass scale, often by only a handful of corporations and it usually is happening in places far from the eyes of us North Americans. You deciding to eat vegan for six months isn’t going to cut it; we need mass demonstrations and organizing efforts to pressure governments to take drastic action to reign in these corporations. Full stop.


That’s why I appreciated the sentiment from Wilkinson and Guilbeault regarding this announcement. They noted that this will only address a fraction of one per cent of plastic pollution, that this is only a first step on the issue of eliminating plastic pollution and, even more importantly, that we are not leaders on this front (even if National Geographic laughably gave the Prime Minister an award for his government’s ‘climate leadership’ not too long ago). This announcement, from his own government no less, really brought things back to reality and I think we have the influence of Guilbeault to thank for that.


Another concept that Guilbeault brought up was the importance of the government establishing and reinforcing a circular economy; a critical, structural element to achieving waste elimination and climate renewal that I have never heard anybody from the government speak about, at least not meaningfully, in the past.


Guilbeault’s notable influence on the climate file, despite being responsible for Heritage, is reassuring to me. Unlike Wilkinson, Guilbeault’s record is in line with a true environmentalist philosophy; one that isn’t so much concerned with how long your showers are, but how we can move towards eliminating the use of fossil fuels. That is promising to me.


With that said, while I can appreciate the rhetorical approach the government took to this announcement, simply saying that this policy is not wholly effective doesn’t do much good on its own either. I hope to see continuing announcements on this front, because despite the pandemic, the climate crisis still remains the single greatest threat to our way of life. Hopefully further commitments on other climate-related fronts are coming down the pike, because otherwise this will have been just a lot of talk.


Also, despite his outsized influence on the climate file in his current role, I would really like to see Guilbeault take up this portfolio sooner rather than later. He is the best that this government’s got when it comes to properly addressing the climate crisis, so why not use him to his fullest capacity? His influence on climate from his post in Heritage will only last as long as the government is willing to listen. But if he were in that role, then he would find himself with a lot more leverage to get what he wanted done. Because if Guilbeault was in environment and they tried to give him the ‘Morneau treatment’ they would likely face a lot of flack from the left part of their base.

Hopefully this is only the beginning of their commitment to tackle the climate crisis. Mainly because, for all of our sakes, it has to be.