While all three main party candidates in the federal riding of St. John's East agree on the existence of a climate emergency, their opinions on subsidies to the oil and gas industry differ dramatically.
On Monday, federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh announced that his government would entirely eliminate fossil fuel subsidies if elected. The Conservative and Liberal parties, meanwhile, plan to keep subsidies — to varying degrees.
According to a report by the Newfoundland and Labrador Oil and Gas Industry Recovery Task Force, the offshore petroleum industry accounted for nearly 30 per cent of GDP, 13 per cent of provincial labour compensation and 10 per cent of provincial employment from 2010 to 2017.
The industry has experienced significant decline more recently, in large part due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mary Shortall, the NDP candidate in St. John's East, agreed with Singh's stance, saying that the federal government should start planning to transition to a greener economy as soon as possible.
"We know we're in a climate emergency. We know that we're in a crisis. If we don't act, it will be catastrophic," she said. "We can't rely on oil and gas forever."
Shortall said a transition plan needs to include "decent, fair and safe" jobs for oil and gas workers.
She compared the transition from the oil and gas industry to the cod moratorium, and said the federal government could learn from mistakes made during the collapse of the cod fishery.
"The workers now are making very good wages, decent wages, and they're terrified," she said.
She said the money currently used to subsidize the oil and gas industry should instead be used to develop a plan to ensure workers will have jobs when the transition away from oil and gas happens.
'An alternate view'
Conservative candidate Glenn Etchegary said there is "no question" that climate change is an emergency, but has an "alternate view" on oil and gas subsidies.
"We're at a very critical time in the history of our province where we're fighting tremendous debt load right now," he said.
He said contributing to greenhouse gases is "not an issue" from his perspective because Newfoundland and Labrador produces fossil fuels with a lower carbon footprint.
"The issue here for us is giving people hope, giving them a reason to stay in Newfoundland and Labrador," Etchegary said.
He pointed to the $1.5-billion incentive program for oil and gas companies in the Conservative platform as a boon for workers.
"The world needs fuel. It will need it for a while yet. We're not saying that we don't transition," he said, adding the revenue generated from the oil and gas industry could fund the green technologies of the future.
'A balanced approach'
Liberal candidate Joanne Thompson said she's in favour of a "balanced approach" that will meet the target of net zero emissions while also protecting the workers who will be impacted by a transition away from the oil and gas industry.
"We need to preserve the skill set because that's our competitive advantage going forward," Thompson said.
She said that while climate change is "a crisis," she supports what the Liberal government has done so far.
The party has not released its full platform yet, but has previously resisted dropping its support for the fossil fuel industry entirely.
"I don't think we can deny climate change. We know we need to act. But I think the difference is how we move forward," she said.