Catherine McKenna Resigns from Federal Politics, Says Years of Online Attacks ‘Was Just Noise’
After suffering a barrage of online and physical hate attacks on her constituency office in her six years as an MP, Infrastructure Minister Catherine McKenna announced on Monday that she would not stand for re-election in the next election .
McKenna – who led the controversial fight to collect a national price on carbon emissions as environment minister – has long been the target of sexist attacks for his vocal defense of climate action in the face of a ingrained opposition.
But she said the hardships she endured in politics were not the motivation for leaving. On the contrary, she said, she wants to spend more time with her children after many nights away during her tenure. She said the COVID-19 pandemic had forced her to “take a step back and think about what matters most.”
McKenna also said she wanted to focus her energies on tackling climate change outside of government. She offered to help Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Canadian delegation to the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland later this year.
She is no stranger to this forum. Just days after being appointed to cabinet in 2015, McKenna led the Canadian delegation to the COP21 conference in Paris, where nearly every country on the planet agreed to cut emissions to avoid the worst effects of climate change.
McKenna said her experiences should not deter young women from entering politics. While there can be abuse, she said, the elected office is still the best place to be to make 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 for her to enact Canada’s carbon price and implement the first “meaningful climate plan.” Campaign to significantly reduce emissions by 2030.
After the Supreme Court upheld the carbon tax as constitutional, she said, all parties came to accept that pricing pollution is the best way to cut emissions – a sign that politicians can make the difference.
As Minister of Infrastructure, she also signed checks worth tens of billions of dollars to build public transit and other environmentally friendly projects.
WATCH: McKenna announces she will not be running in next federal election
“For the many people who are naturally cynical about politics, I hope you will take this as compelling proof of what is possible. Things change, sometimes the most important things,” she said. at a press conference along the Rideau Canal in his riding of Ottawa.
“I’ve had my fair share of attacks, but it’s just noise. People want you to stop what you’re doing, and they want you to step back. We’ve doubled.”
She pledged to do more to tackle the hatred some women face when they sit in parliament. “I’ll do anything to fight that when I’m gone,” she said. “We need good people in politics. Politics matters.”
McKenna’s decision not to run for Ottawa Center creates an opening for another Liberal in a riding the party won easily in the 2015 and 2019 federal elections after years of NDP representation by the former neo leader. Democrat Ed Broadbent and later Paul Dewar.
There has been speculation that former Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney could get into politics after endorsing Trudeau and the Liberals at the party’s convention in April. Carney, who lives in the area, could bid to carry the Liberal banner in this urban seat.
WATCH: Catherine McKenna opens up about abuse she suffered in politics
When asked about Carney’s possible run, McKenna said she was friends with the former banker and had long encouraged him to show up. “He’s a good friend of mine. I think he can make a big difference. He has a lot to add.” She insisted she is not stepping back now to make room for a star candidate.
McKenna also denied the suggestion that she would quit federal politics to run in the 2022 Ottawa municipal election. “I told you why I’m leaving,” she said. “I will focus 100% on climate change.”
Trudeau thanked McKenna for her service, saying she worked “tirelessly to fight 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 his “important contribution which will help provide our children and grandchildren with a healthier planet.”
McKenna has said she will remain minister until the next election is called. Trudeau has said he does not want an election while Canada is still in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it seems increasingly likely that there will be a vote this year.
The Liberal Party declared a state of “electoral emergency” to nominate candidates quickly before a possible campaign, and incumbent MPs gave their farewell speeches in the Commons last week.
Criticized by environmentalists and industry groups
McKenna’s tenure was not without controversy. She has faced a wave of criticism of Bill C-69, a law she introduced in 2018 to overhaul the country’s environmental assessment process.
Regulatory overhaul – dubbed the “more pipelines bill” by critics – was viewed by industry groups and many western Canadians as too costly and a threat to the natural resource sector.
Those opposed to the bill feared that a more robust federal approval process for new projects could be the “nail in the coffin” for the country’s oil and gas industry. McKenna said a stricter regime was needed to reduce emissions. Since the bill was passed, no company in Canada has proposed a major new pipeline.
Environmental groups, meanwhile, criticized the government’s decision to purchase the Trans Mountain pipeline – a major project that will transport tens of thousands of barrels of oil from Alberta to British Columbia – claiming that a government who takes climate change seriously would not invest as much in infrastructure supporting the country’s fossil fuel industry.
McKenna has consistently defended the government’s multibillion-dollar purchase, saying it would make British Columbia’s coast safer, as it would come with a new ocean protection program to detect possible spills.
She said Canada cannot phase out oil overnight and that the project will help transition to more renewables, as all profits from the line will be spent on clean energy initiatives.
McKenna was also criticized in 2015 for giving Montreal the green light to dump some eight billion liters of untreated sewage into the St. Lawrence River to allow the city to repair its sewer system.
“This discharge is far from ideal, but it is necessary for the city of Montreal to carry out critical maintenance of its infrastructures before winter,” she declared after having authorized the dump.
Former Conservative leader Andrew Scheer accused the government of “hypocrisy” over carbon pricing while simultaneously allowing carbon pollution.
Last year he introduced a private member’s bill to Parliament that would have ended the practice of dumping sewage into rivers, lakes and oceans. The bill was defeated last week after Bloc Québécois, Liberal and New Democrat members voted against it.
“Once again, Justin Trudeau is talking about them 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 should come as no surprise to Canadians, “said Scheer.