Walking out of my home in Toronto to the smell of wildfires in the air in recent days has been jarring. I’ve felt a new wave of climate anxiety, listening to public health advice and sending my 12-year-old to school through the haze in a pandemic-era mask.

As I experience the climate crisis in a new way, it makes me think about so many other communities, most often Indigenous and racialized people, who are the most impacted by climate change and the least protected. The past few weeks were no exception, with thousands forced to evacuate remote First Nations communities.

At the same time, I’m feeling the sting of sky-high grocery bills as I support my family, and watching affordable housing become even further out of reach — realities that also hit marginalized and low-income communities hardest.

Right now, a deal is in the works that could make life even harder for Canadian families as we live through a climate crisis driven by fossil fuels and an affordability crisis fuelled by the pursuit of corporate profits.

RBC, Canada’s largest bank and the world’s largest fossil fuel financier, is trying to buy HSBC’s Canadian division. If approved, it would be the biggest bank merger in Canadian history and would mean Canadians face even higher costs to bank and borrow just as it seems the cost of living crisis couldn’t get any worse.

Less competition means less pressure to make products affordable. Last year, RBC made $15.8 billion in profits and recently raised credit card interest rates from an already high 19.99 per cent to 20.99 per cent, further squeezing families trying to cover costs.

Like everyone across the country, families in Toronto are scrambling to secure affordable housing. HSBC Bank Canada is an aggressive competitor to RBC on mortgage rates, currently beating big banks like RBC by 0.75 per cent — that’s over $30,000 less in interest paid over five years by Vancouver and Toronto residents.

RBC is the world’s largest financier of fossil fuels, financing over $55 billion in fossil fuel projects last year alone and $340 billion since 2016. Its climate plan has been largely panned since it allows the bank to keep investing in oil and gas and continue to drive up emissions, and the Competition Bureau is investigating the company for misleading climate claims across its products and advertisements as it looks into the proposed purchase.

Among the fossil fuel projects RBC finances are the Coastal GasLink pipeline and the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project, which violate Indigenous sovereignty and have been used to justify violence against land defenders. Indigenous Peoples, meanwhile, continue to face disproportionate impacts from climate change even as their stewardship and defence of the land is one of the most effective forms of climate action.

HSBC is actually reducing fossil fuel funding year over year and announcing it will no longer invest in new oil and gas fields. HSBC Bank Canada was excluded from that policy in the lead-up to the proposed purchase by RBC.

Taking HSBC Bank Canada out of the picture means Canadians will have one less option for more sustainable banking — at a time when 70 per cent of us are worried about climate change — and will reduce pressure on RBC to move away from oil and gas.

With wildfire smoke keeping kids inside and sweltering temperatures that continue to break records, it’s clear what we’re experiencing is tied to fossil fuels and the climate crisis. As our climate changes, kids face elevated risks of asthma, allergies, food insecurity and a growing mental health crisis.

Until July 6, the public has an opportunity to weigh in on the merger. I’ll be submitting a comment on behalf of my son to say it’s time to put the well-being of our kids and communities ahead of RBC’s bottomline. The last thing we need is Canada’s biggest bank and the world’s largest fossil fuel financier becoming more powerful.

If we believe in reconciliation, an equitable society, making life affordable for all Canadians, and a safe environment for our kids to grow up in, we have to take this opportunity to say no to this merger.

Vanessa Brown is a Toronto-based parent, small business owner, volunteer with the BE Initiative, a Black-led environmental justice not-for-profit, and volunteer with For Our Kids, a national network of people taking climate action on behalf of their kids.


The above was an opinion article originally posted in the National Observer. Read the full article here.