Our continuing coverage of Canada’s federal election September 20 carries the #Elxn44 tag. You can use the search engine on our site to find other stories in the series.
The parties’ climate platforms received continuing scrutiny, GreenPAC released its candidate endorsements, new analysis put the cost of the Trans Mountain Pipeline close to C$20 billion, and regional reporting showed strong voter support for climate action as Canada’s federal election entered its final week.
The hours leading up to last week’s leaders’ debates saw the release of independent costing for the Conservative Party platform, courtesy of the Parliamentary Budget Office. The numbers told a sharply different story from the smiling, reassuring profile party leader Erin O’Toole had been projecting on the campaign trail, the Globe and Mail wrote in an editorial.
Through three weeks of “the most progressive conservative campaign since the demise of the Progressive Conservatives,” the editors said, O’Toole’s “style, tone, and (uncosted) platform were all about reassuring swing voters. A series of proposals, from health care to child care, were put forward to demonstrate that, while a Conservative government would be different from the past six years under the Liberals, it would not be too different.”
The Globe editorial identified child care funding, poverty reduction, and health care as areas with the greatest differences between the language and the numbers. But the Reuters news agency noted that O’Toole is also promising to cut the Liberals’ $2-billion budget for natural climate solutions, including Liberal leader Justin Trudeau’s long-standing pledge to plant two billion trees. Critics quickly pointed out that Doug Ford’s Conservative government attempted the exact same cut after it took power in Ontario, until the federal government stepped in and rescued a tree planting program that was already under way.
The Liberal platform did not come away unscathed, with economist Jennifer Winter concluding that Trudeau’s climate plan is needlessly vague. “The new promises are numerous,” she wrote for CBC. “However, the promises lack detail about implementation.” On emissions testing, fossil fuel subsidies, decarbonizing electricity, and more, “why shy away from what they’ve accomplished and what they intend to achieve?” she asked.
“In the end, the Liberal platform is remarkably similar to that of other parties. It’s more ambitious than the Conservatives, and less ambitious than the NDP or Greens. They happily occupy the middle ground on climate, and match the other parties on vagueness,” ultimately producing a document that is more confusing than informative, Winter wrote.
“Perhaps this reflects that climate policy is less of a wedge issue than in the past,” she concluded. “But if that’s the case, it’s hard to see why the Liberals don’t leverage their record and present a clear plan with detailed actions for climate policy in Canada.”
But on Corporate Knights, Sussex Strategies Senior Counsel Shawn McCarthy warned Trudeau’s aggressive plan to phase out greenhouse gas emissions in the oil and gas sector would set off renewed conflict with provincial premiers.
“After years of seeking to mollify the oil and gas sector, Justin Trudeau is promising to get much tougher with climate change regulations if his Liberal Party forms government again,” McCarthy wrote. Those pledges “would undoubtedly provoke renewed battles with conservative-led provinces, and potentially more court challenges from them.”
The Pembina Institute published an assessment of the four major parties’ climate platforms, with Federal Policy Director Isabelle Turcotte laying out four essential elements for any national climate plan: a shrinking carbon budget, a plan for the global decline in oil and gas demand, urgent action to decarbonize transportation, and climate action compatible with reconciliation with First Peoples.
A 2030 carbon budget should put the country on a path to net-zero emissions by 2050 and “reflect the maximum allowable emissions for a specified period to keep Canada on track to deliver on targets, with the amount of emissions diminishing rapidly over time,” she wrote. And the transition plan to meet the coming decline in fossil demand “should be centred on workers and communities, providing them with a voice in their future, as well as direct support, retraining, and opportunities for historically marginalized communities.”
Global News has a summary of the parties’ position on single-use plastics, with the Liberals’ plan for a partial ban taking effect at the end of this year and the Green Party urging an end to all single-use plastics.
GreenPAC’s endorsements landed Saturday, with a total of 35 candidates—11 Liberals, 11 New Democrats, six Conservatives, four Greens, and three from the Bloc Québécois—receiving the nod. The endorsements were based on “candidates’ knowledge, experience, and leadership in their communities, workplaces, and parties for the environment and environmental justice,” as well as their winnability in their ridings, the organization said.
In British Columbia, meanwhile, West Coast Environmental Law is asking whether the next government in Ottawa will lift the curtain on the real cost of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, the Toronto Star reports. While the last official estimate put the price tag at $12.8 billion, WCEL says its tour through sworn affidavits and documents filed with the Canada Energy Regulator told a different story.
“We estimate that the cost of construction is now approaching $20 billion,” said study co-author Eugene Kung. While Trans Mountain hasn’t provided updated cost or scheduling information, WCEL estimated that project delays ranging from two to 23 months will postpone the pipeline’s completion to 2023.
“I was driving along the construction route this summer along the Coquihalla Highway, and the day before the July Mountain wildfire swept over the Coquihalla, I was right in a major construction zone that previously was active but had to be evacuated,” Kung told the Star. “That really brought it home, and, of course, the irony of trying to force through or rush through building an oil pipeline while the territory is burning was not lost on anyone.”
He said the federal Crown corporation responsible for building the pipeline has only been able to “maintain the illusion” that it’s on time and on budget by “skirting local laws”, requesting and receiving relief from the regulatory conditions on the project no fewer than 70 times.
Climate campaign organizations in B.C. have treating Trans Mountain as a top campaign issue after the Trudeau government bought out the original project developer, Houston-based Kinder Morgan Ltd., in 2018.
Elsewhere, news reports from Atlantic Canada and Saskatchewan show climate change continuing to shape Canadians’ voting preferences. In Halifax, a recent survey for the Future Ocean and Coastal Infrastructure project found that 73% of respondents in the Atlantic had noticed climate impacts in their communities, and 72% expected the climate crisis to harm them in their lifetimes.
“Recognizing the heavy cost of inaction, Atlantic Canadians want to see more environmental leadership from the government,” write Rachel McLay and Karen Foster of Dalhousie University and Howard Ramos of Western University. “Seventy-five per cent agree or strongly agree that Canada should take a leading role in tackling climate change. Crucially, people are looking for this leadership, regardless of any potential economic cost, and most see it as an economic benefit.”
As well, “most Atlantic Canadians believe that, if environmental and economic considerations conflict, the environment must take precedence.”
Farther west, CBC says a “tumultuous summer of droughts and rising mercury” has made climate change a priority for many voters in Saskatchewan, with some of them saying federal parties are failing to grasp the severity of the crisis.
“I would call myself undecided because I don’t think that any of the parties really are doing the best across the board when it comes to climate change,” said Regina voter Chris Harris.
“I see every day, as a medical student, people are coming in with allergy exacerbations because of the wildfire smoke that we know is climate-related. These are things that I’d love someone to address,” said fourth-year med student Sehjal Bhargava from the University of Saskatchewan.
“We’ve had successive governments talk about climate change during elections and then proceed to do next to nothing,” added Jim Clifford, associate professor of environmental history at USask, who told CBC that climate change has been his vote-determining issue for two decades. “We failed in Rio. We failed to meet our Kyoto Protocol and Copenhagen promise.”
With 10 days to go before the September 20 vote, Mainstreet Research Vice-President Joseph Angolano wrote Friday that Trudeau had pulled ahead of NDP leader Jagmeet Singh as the leader Canadians trust most on climate. The company’s polling showed Trudeau with the confidence of 31%, compared to 24.2% for O’Toole, 22.6% for Singh, and 8.4% for Green leader Annamie Paul. Across seven key issue areas in the campaign, Trudeau held small or occasionally large leads in voter confidence in five.