More than a year after he promised it, and after weeks of mounting hype, Conservative leader Andrew Scheer released his party’s climate plan Wednesday, a glossy, 60-page document with no fixed carbon reduction target that he cast as Canada’s best shot at meeting its 2030 goal under the Paris Agreement.
“We have done a lot of analysis,” Scheer told media, during a staged event in picturesque Chelsea, Quebec. “We have talked to a lot of stakeholders and experts, and we are very confident that this approach will give Canada the best chance of achieving those Paris targets.”
“It’s like trying to build a house without a hammer,” responded Canadians for Clean Prosperity Executive Director Michael Bernstein. “Any credible plan to tackle climate change would include a carbon tax. Instead, Andrew Scheer’s plan is going to cost Canadians more and take away the rebates that help families cope.”
“Andrew Scheer’s climate plan will strip households in five provinces of thousands of dollars in rebates, ignores the best tool we have to address climate change,” said the organization previously led by Stephen Harper’s former research director, in a release Wednesday that laid out a detailed critique of the plan. “By removing the carbon tax, Scheer’s plan eliminates thousands in rebates that could have helped families reduce their carbon footprint.” [Really. Take a minute. Click through and read the whole thing.—Ed.]
The plan, apparently aligned with early June recommendations from the Canadian fossil lobby, “would compel facilities that produce 40 kilotonnes of emissions or more per year to invest in green tech,” CBC reports, enabling Scheer to argue that his party would apply its plan to a wider swath of businesses than the governing Liberals. “The Trudeau government’s current rules impose emission caps on firms that emit more than 50 kilotonnes per year.”
But “Scheer’s proposed penalties for emitters would be framed very differently from the current government’s carbon tax. The idea is to keep the funds in the private sector instead of collecting them in government coffers,” the national broadcaster said, citing a Conservative party insider. “The policy document says those required investments from offending companies would go into the research, development, and adoption of emissions-reducing technology in that particular industry. Contributions could be used to fund research at Canadian universities, or to support Canadian clean tech companies.”
“The approach is similar to recommended actions from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), Canada’s largest oil lobby group, which published a list of recommendations for the 2019 election on June 3,” Observer writes.
[Spin alert: With just 11 years and a few months remaining to hit the IPCC’s rapid decarbonization deadline by 2030, climate plans that emphasize research rather than deployment can usually be decoded to mean carbon capture and storage technologies designed to prop up the fossil industries. The energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies that are needed to hit ambitious climate targets are ready for prime time, and any regular reader of The Mix knows they’re already less expensive than fossil fuels in more and more places.—Ed.]
“Under Scheer’s plan,” CBC adds, “every tonne over the 40-kilotonne standard would cost the polluter a set amount. The more a company emits over that threshold, the more it would be required to invest.” Under Environment Canada’s GHG Reporting Program, 1,622 large emitters—more than one-third of them from the fossil industry—accounted for 292 million tonnes of carbon pollution in 2017, about 41% of the country’s total.
“Mining and oil and gas have been the only sectors to increase emissions since 2005,” CBC notes.
Crucially, “Scheer’s plan does not project the amount by which each proposed initiative would lower Canada’s carbon pollution,” National Observer reports. “Party officials speaking on background could not offer any supplementary material or academic studies that examine the proposals’ effectiveness in terms of impact on pollution,” and Scheer “didn’t answer directly” when Observer asked him whether the Conservatives had internal projections attaching specific reductions to each measure.
“Conservatives say their environmental plan will focus on using technology, not taxes, to reduce emissions,” CBC writes. “They say Scheer plans to include measures that will keep businesses competitive while reducing their environmental footprint,” after consulting “provinces, businesses, and industry experts to ensure the standards are both fair and enforceable.”
That approach “gives Canada the best possible chance” of meeting the Paris targets, the Conservative leader told reporters in Chelsea.
“The plan gives several examples of what this could look like, such as Canadian green bonds, university or college programs that focus on clean tech, or start-ups working on carbon capture or waste heat recovery technology,” Observer writes. “To ensure these investments ‘reduce harmful emissions’, the plan includes creating a ‘certification process for all investments’ called the Green Investment Standards Certification, that would require a ‘technical assessment’.”
Reporter Carl Meyer compares that frame to CAPP’s federal election demand for a “large-emitter framework that prioritizes investment in technology and emissions reduction and achieves results in a cost-effective manner that protects competitiveness.” The colossal fossil lobby also stresses “investment in emissions reduction technology in the oil and natural gas sector.”
For all that Conservatives at all levels complain about government regulation strangling business, “talk about red tape?” tweeted University of Alberta economist Andrew Leach. “Rather than allow trading of emissions credits to provide an incentive for innovation, this plan allows one company to invest in another’s facility to receive some credit which is worth some amount that we don’t yet know, assuming it gets certified?”
“We could very well be in higher cost, less reduction territory with this plan,” said Carleton University environmental economist Dave Sawyer.
Environment and Climate Minister Catherine McKenna called the release a “fake plan”, telling reporters in Ottawa that “every country needs to take serious action at home. You can’t export your way out of this problem. You can’t invent your way out of this. You need to commit to serious action. There is no serious action committed to in this plan. Canadians expect more. Canadians want to be part of the solution on climate change.”
“The thing that concerns me is the lack of conversation around a just transition,” added New Democrat MP Tracey Ramsey. “So for energy workers who are already concerned about what’s going to happen to them, we need a clear plan about what’s going to happen to them, coming off of fossil fuels.”
On CBC, Parliamentary Correspondent Aaron Wherry notes that Scheer’s release “leaves a lot to the imagination”, containing the requisite amount of tax-bashing but not much in the way of specifics.
“It is, without question, a handsome document—in full colour and featuring many large photos. There are many words in it. Some of them are in large fonts. Others are in italics,” he writes. “But unfortunately, none of them explain at any point how much the federal Conservatives hope to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through this plan.”
Yet it was the “length and weight” of the document that Scheer seemed enthusiastic about during his media event, Wherry notes. “Sixty pages,” the Conservative leader enthused. “Eleven thousand words.”
A Conservative government “would commit $1.8 billion to a two-year program of tax credits for homeowners to retrofit their homes, effectively reinstating a measure that Stephen Harper’s government cancelled in 2012. The subsidies are understandably popular with homeowners, but similar programs have been panned for getting ‘very little bang for the buck’,” he adds.
“Ten pages in the document are devoted to conservation efforts. The final 10 pages are committed to explaining a Conservative commitment to reduce emissions in other countries.”
At present, “the Liberals’ policy for heavy emitters applies to facilities that emit more than 50 kilotonnes and, in that respect, the Conservatives argue that their policy would have wider coverage. But under the Liberal plan, facilities that emit less than 50 kt are subject to the carbon levy on fuel. Under the Conservative plan, no policy would be applied to facilities that emit less than 40 kt.”
But those gaps may be a function of the group of voters the Conservatives had in mind for their plan, says CBC pollster Éric Grenier, “an audience quite different from the one Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addresses when he talks about his government’s plan to fight climate change.”
A recent survey conducted for CBC by Public Square Research and Maru/Blue found that “Conservative voters see the issue in a manner quite distinct from the way it’s viewed by Canadians who say they will vote for the Liberals, New Democrats, or Greens,” he explains. “Compared to the bulk of those parties’ supporters—who together represent a majority of Canadians—Conservative voters say they are less concerned about climate change and are less willing to make personal sacrifices to fight it.”
Within the Liberal/NDP/Green voting bloc, the survey found, 78 to 89% “say that humanity’s survival depends on fighting climate change, or that it should be a top policy priority. Between 94 and 95% of them believe climate change is real and between 83 and 89% of them say they are prepared to make changes in their daily lives to fight it,” Grenier writes.
But “just one-third of Conservative voters say climate change is a top priority or that our survival depends on fighting it,” he adds. “Another 24% said it was not a priority, while 13% said they don’t believe in [the reality of] climate change in the first place. While 74 to 86% of Liberal, NDP and Green voters think Canada is not doing enough to fight climate change, just 36% of Conservatives think the same thing.”
While majorities of New Democrat and Green voters and an even larger majority of Liberals support the federal carbon tax, 85% of Conservatives oppose it, and 69% strongly oppose it.
Those realities have Scheer “fishing in a smaller climate pond,” Grenier says.
“When asked how much they would be willing to pay in extra taxes to fight climate change, the majority of Conservative voters, or 55%, said they would pay nothing at all,” he states. “Between 14 and 19% of Liberal, NDP and Green voters, meanwhile, said they were unwilling to pay anything.” Given those numbers, “Scheer’s plan appears designed to appeal to this base of voters,” the CBC pollster concludes. “Still, the fact that the party has offered a plan—one that Scheer praised as the ‘most comprehensive environmental platform ever put forward by a political party in Canada’—suggests the Conservatives understand that lacking a credible climate proposal was not an option on the campaign trail.”