A North America-wide ban on new gasoline-powered vehicle sales may be on the agenda as the Canadian government begins building ties with the incoming Biden-Harris administration in the United States.
While Environment and Climate Change Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said he wouldn’t prejudge future conversations with his new U.S. counterparts, “I think we can collectively come up with mechanisms that will help both countries make progress on climate change,” he told Reuters last month. With the transport sector accounting for 26% of Canada’s carbon pollution, he said discussions could touch on “what the European countries and Quebec and British Columbia have done, which is to put a date at which they will no longer allow the sale of internal combustion engines” (ICE).
Quebec, B.C., and California have already set quotas for the proportion of new vehicles that must be emissions-free, he added, and the Trudeau government wants to talk to the U.S. “about whether there is a North American pathway to doing something like that.” Quebec and California have set 2035 deadlines for phasing out new internal combustion sales, Reuters writes, and Ottawa suggested a 2040 target in 2017.
Wilkinson struck a similar tone in a year-end interview with Globe and Mail climate columnist Adam Radwanski.
“With the election of Joe Biden, it provides an opportunity to engage that conversation on a North America-wide basis,” he said. “This is something that we are going to be engaging very early on with President-elect Biden, and [incoming U.S. climate envoy] John Kerry, and others, to ensure that we sort out whether this can be done together in a manner consistent with the integrated nature of the auto market.”
While Canada can go its own way on zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs), “the best way to do it is to engage the Americans,” he added. “It doesn’t mean we won’t move in that direction if the Americans aren’t interested.”
Radwanski noted that Wilkinson’s comments come after months speculation about a federal ZEV mandate, at a moment when electric vehicle sales are inching up—but not fast enough to support more ambitious greenhouse gas reductions. The new climate plan the government released last month “didn’t go that far,” he wrote. “But it laid the groundwork, pledging to work on ‘supply-side policy options’ that include ‘regulations and investments to accelerate and expand’ the availability of ZEVs.”
So far, Ottawa’s slow-motion approach to ZEVs has reflected its reticence about “antagonizing an industry that directly employs more than 100,000 Canadians, but has no great allegiance to this country,” Radwanski explained. “Most of the major automakers—five of which have assembly plants in Ontario, all still making ICE vehicles despite plans by Ford and Fiat-Chrysler to start EV lines around 2025—oppose ZEV mandates, contending the policy is too prescriptive.”
The upcoming change in U.S. administration “likely makes those worries less pronounced,” with Biden “coming to office with an extremely ambitious climate agenda,” he added. “But the president-elect did not explicitly campaign on a ZEV mandate. So Ottawa is waiting to see if it can help nudge him in that direction.”