Meet the climate justice activist hoping to run for the NDP in Nova Scotia

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Headshot of Emma Norton. Image: Emma Norton/Facebook

Over the past month, debate over what constitutes responsible climate policy has taken centre stage, thanks in no small part to the release of the Green New Deal resolution in the U.S. and the National Energy Board's recent re-approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project.

For progressive grassroots movements, support for the Green New Deal has morphed into something of a litmus test for elected officials and politicians, with youth leading the charge.

The U.S-based youth Sunrise Movement has staged sit-ins and actions at congressional offices to rally popular support for the Green New Deal resolution.

In Canada, the youth climate movement coalesced this February at a four-day conference in Ottawa to renew demands for a "just transition" and build momentum heading into this year's federal election.

Part of their strategy? Run for office.

Cue Emma Norton, a 28-year-old climate activist who announced last week that she is seeking the NDP nomination for Nova Scotia's Dartmouth-Cole Harbour riding.

"If you asked me a year ago if I'd get into politics, it'd have been a 'heck no,'" she said in an interview with rabble.

Norton, who grew up in Prince Edward Island and has lived in Dartmouth since graduating from University of King's College in Halifax, spent the past six years working for the Ecology Action Centre, an environmental organization, focusing on energy efficiency retrofitting.

"I've been working on climate solutions now for several years and I have a very clear vision for what we need to do in our communities to be able to cut back on our carbon emissions," she said.

Like many young voters, Norton has been disappointed with the federal government's policies on climate change, citing the Liberal government's purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline from Kinder Morgan last year.

"That's a betrayal. It's a serious betrayal," she said. "I can't believe we spent billions on this fossil fuel infrastructure when we have First Nations without clean drinking water and when we have people who can't afford to find places to live."

Running for office was never part of Norton's long-term plan. But frustration with the Liberal government's market-based, incrementalist approach to climate change -- "the Liberals are very good at maintaining the status quo" -- spurred her to reconsider.

Inspired by other young, progressive activists who have sought election in ridings across the country -- Paige Gorsak in Edmonton-Strathcona, Graciela Hernandez-Cruz in Ottawa Centre, and Amara Possian in Don Valley West -- Norton announced last week that she is seeking the NDP nomination in Dartmouth-Cole Harbour, where she will run against local activist Rana Zaman.

"I wanted to see more politicians that have a stake in our future and really care about making changes necessary for the survival of society," Norton said. "The time has passed for slow change, and now we need to take very dramatic measures."

Norton's plan for climate action mirrors much of the Green New Deal policy framework: a quick transition away from  fossil fuels that guarantees good jobs for frontline communities and incumbent workers while safeguarding Indigenous rights.

"We can't leave anyone behind," she said, while emphasizing that climate change offers Canada an opportunity to address other issues of inequality.

Of particular interest to the people in the Dartmouth-Cole Harbour riding, Norton says, are issues of affordable housing, access to health care and family doctors, and concern about the rising cost of living.

What can constituents expect of her if she wins?

"I very, very much want to be approachable, I want to be determined, and I want to be comfortable asking questions and challenging the way things are just accepted to be," Norton said. "We need to find common ground more than ever. In order to face the climate crisis, we need to be working together."

Sophia Reuss is rabble's Assistant Editor.

Image: Emma Norton

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