Though the climate crisis has been pushed off the campaign agenda over the last 36 hours, climate and energy organizations have been laying out expectations for Canada’s next federal government, while Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer talked about various ways of streamlining fossil fuel development.
In an analysis for the Toronto Star, reporter Alex Ballingall captures the duality that much of the climate policy community has been living with for the last four years. “Environmentalists look at the Liberal government’s climate action these past four years and see two things at once: the best plan Canada has ever had—and one that is woefully inadequate for a looming catastrophe,” he writes.
On one hand, “there is now a minimum price on carbon emissions across the country, and a plan to phase out coal-fired electricity over the next 11 years—policies that seemed unthinkable at the federal level in the not-too-distant past,” Ballingall notes. “But there’s also the Trans Mountain oil pipeline, which Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau nationalized for C$4.5 billion in 2018 and vows to expand for at least $9 billion more. That leaves open the prospect Canada’s largest and fastest-growing source of planet-warming pollution—the oil and gas sector—will continue to belch out more and more greenhouse gas.”
“The way I’m thinking about it is, we have built the foundation, and now we need to build the next 20 storeys,” said Climate Action Network-Canada Executive Director Catherine Abreu. “They’re going to have to bite the bullet.”
The Star notes the Trudeau government has spent four years searching for a “political sweet spot” where they can be seen as climate champions, while still propping up a fossil sector that accounts for 27% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. The news story calls it “remaining responsible stewards of the national economy” (with no reference to an energy efficiency sector that already employs 436,000 Canadians, twice as many as oil and gas).
So how’s that workin’ for them so far??
“The stance has opened them to charges on both flanks,” the Star writes. “Environmentalists and opponents on the left say they’ve fallen short of what is required to face the existential threat of the climate crisis; Conservatives and industry groups like the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers argue the cost of their climate action is too high. With a federal election campaign now under way, where climate change and affordability rank at the top of citizens’ concerns in numerous surveys, the Liberals’ climate policies have already taken a prominent place in the public debate.”
Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna “believes the challenge of climate change is a matter of human survival and that stronger action to curb emissions will be required,” the Star notes. “She also says the government can’t rush the massive changes needed to move to an economy based on renewable energy.”
“Canadians want ambition, but they also want practical solutions,” McKenna said.
“We were very mindful on the affordability piece,” she added. “That’s what you need to do. You need to map this out in a responsible way.”
But that still leaves the Liberals well short of a Harper-era carbon reduction target that both Trudeau and McKenna had declared a floor, not a ceiling for the country’s climate ambition. “Abreu said this shortfall is an even bigger problem when you consider that some of the Liberals’ signature climate policies have been ‘watered down’,” the Star adds. “The methane regulations, for example, were delayed from 2020 to 2023, after Donald Trump was elected in the United States and bailed on a joint regime for the gas that was in the works under his predecessor. The promised clean fuel standards—which are projected to bring significant annual emissions reductions of 30 million tonnes—are yet to be implemented, and the government lowered the portion of emissions subject to the carbon price to protect heavy polluters from competitors in countries where there is no such levy on greenhouse gases.”
Yesterday, Toronto-based Environmental Defence unveiled a set of policy recommendations it said would add up to a “good climate plan”. It called for a legislated 2030 carbon reduction target, an independent body to annually review Canada’s progress toward its climate goals, legislating the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and specific measures on electricity and power, regulation of industrial projects’ carbon emissions, transportation, buildings and communities, and equity.The tone was decidedly different on the campaign trail. Conservative leader Andrew Scheer dominated the energy conversation in the latter part of the week, vowing to rescind the federal carbon tax and Impact Assessment Act and fast-track legal disagreements over new pipelines to the Supreme Court.