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LIBERAL MINORITY: 60% Vote for Climate Action as Trudeau Wins Third Term

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau won a third term, more climate hawks took seats in the House of Commons, and nearly a dozen organizations demanded immediate action on the climate emergency as Canada’s $650-million pandemic election produced another minority parliament Monday night.

The total price tag for the campaign was about 75% of Canada’s average annual contribution to international climate finance, which averaged C$866 million per year in 2017 and 2018, according to data [pdf] from the London-based Overseas Development Institute.

As The Mix went to virtual press Tuesday evening, Trudeau’s Liberal Party was elected or leading in 158 seats, with 32.3% of the popular vote, according to CBC’s online tracker. The Conservatives were elected or leading in 119, with 33.9% of the vote, followed by the Bloc Québécois with 34, the New Democrats with 25, and the Green Party with two spots in the 338-seat House of Commons.

More Climate Champions

All told, preliminary results had 60% of voters supporting parties that promised a more aggressive response to the climate emergency, campaign groups pointed out in a flurry of Tuesday morning emails. With GreenPAC, Leadnow, and the Climate Emergency Alliance all endorsing candidates—and GreenPAC’s list spanning all five parties with seats in the last parliament—Canadians sent a record number of actual or potential climate champions to Ottawa, including:

• Liberals Terry Beech, Joyce Murray, Julie Dabrusin, Terry Duguid, Kristy Duncan, Karina Gould, Steven Guilbeault, Joyce Murray, Peter Schiefke, and Jonathan Wilkinson;

• New Democrats Taylor Bachrach, Richard Cannings, Blake Desjarlais, Leah Gazan, Matthew Green, Lori Idlout, Gord Johns, Peter Julian, and Heather McPherson, with CEA endorsee and Métis activist Desjarlais defeating a climate-denying Conservative incumbent in Edmonton Griesbach;

• Bloquistes Monique Pauzé and Julie Vignola;

• Greens Elizabeth May and Mike Morrice;

• Conservatives Dan Albas, Michael Chong, Larry Maguire, and Dan Mazier.

The morning after the vote, GreenPAC counted 25 of its 36 endorsed candidates elected, with two more still in contention.

Nearly 24 hours after the polls closed, 15 ridings across the country were too close to call. Those seats included Vancouver Granville, where NDP candidate and veteran climate hawk Anjali Appadurai trailed her Liberal opponent by 230 votes; Nanaimo-Ladysmith, where Green incumbent Paul Manly stood nearly 3,000 behind the NDP frontrunner; Toronto-Davenport, where Climate Emergency Alliance endorsee Alejandra Bravo of the NDP was behind the Liberal incumbent by 347; and Brome-Missisquoi, where GreenPAC endorsee Marilou Alarie of the Bloc Québécois led her Liberal opponent by 147.

Green Party leader Annamie Paul placed fourth in the Toronto Centre riding where she spent the lion’s share of her time during the campaign, with 3,672 votes, roughly one-sixth of the tally for Liberal incumbent Marci Ien. People’s Party leader Maxime Bernier was shut out in the Quebec riding of Beauce. Election night commentary had both parties influencing the outcome, however, with the anti-vax, conspiracy-driven PPC drawing votes away from Conservative candidates who then lost their seats, and the Greens ceding votes to Liberals or New Democrats in ridings where they failed to field a candidate.

No More Delays

Reaction to the night’s results began pouring in less than 12 hours after the polls closed.

“Last night, Canadians voted for parties to work together—and a clear majority cast their ballots for parties that put forth credible and bold climate policies. It’s time for Prime Minister Trudeau to work with other parties to step up his climate game, and fast,” said Caroline Brouillette, domestic policy manager at Climate Action Network-Canada (CAN-Rac), in a Tuesday morning release.

“The science is clear: if we want to protect lives, livelihoods, and ecosystems by limiting warming to 1.5°, we must accelerate efforts to cut emissions. Our communities and our climate can’t afford any more delays.”

“The Liberals have big climate ambitions but, so far, disappointing results. In 2019, Trudeau promised to work towards phasing out fossil fuels, yet he gave nearly $18 billion in subsidies and other financial support to the fossil fuel industry last year,” added SumOfUs Senior Campaign Manager Angus Wong. “Trudeau called an election, believing he would win a majority. But we know that he got a minority government last night partly because voters were frustrated by his delayed action on climate.”

With their Tuesday morning release, CAN-Rac, SumOfUs, and eight other climate groups launched the No More Delays campaign, calling on MPs of all stripes to “put climate action above party politics, for the sake of people and the planet.” The group—which also includes Greenpeace Canada, STAND.earth, Environmental Defence Canada, Citizens’ Climate Lobby Canada, the Climate Emergency Unit, Climate Reality Project Canada, Équiterre, and the Grandmothers Advocacy Network—pointed to the high cost of climate action, with communities bearing the brunt of a summer of climate disasters and thousands at risk of being left behind.

“Enough talk,” the site declares. “Prime Minister Trudeau, we’re urging you to immediately level up your climate ambition, work with MPs across party lines to adopt the most ambitious climate policies available, and protect our communities and the planet. Give us a shot at a livable climate that leaves no one behind.”

Looking for Leadership

In contrast to pundits who too easily declared the campaign a waste of time and money, a cross section of climate, environment, and energy transition advocates saw momentum and promise in the final outcome.

“The good news is that Canadians voted for climate, and the parties were competing with one another for who had the strongest plan,” Climate Emergency Unit team lead and strategy director Seth Klein told The Energy Mix. “So we have a mandate. Now, what I hope is that instead of lurching from one confidence vote to the next, the government will get the message the electorate has sent twice now: that this is the parliament we want, and make it work.”

Klein said he would prefer to see that happen through a “formalized agreement” between the Liberals and New Democrats, with the NDP bargaining harder than it did two years ago to make its support conditional on climate emergency action.

“The election results made it very clear that Canadians are looking for progressive leadership on climate,” said GreenPAC Executive Director Sarah Van Exan. “We can now say it’s been years since any party has formed government without having a climate plan, and I guess we can take from the results that having a climate plan that involves walking back an international target wasn’t enough for the swing ridings in the 905 [suburban ridings outside Toronto] or the Lower Mainland.”

With five of the last seven federal elections now ending with minority parliaments, “Canadians are very clearly looking for parties that will work across party lines to build better policies,” and will “want to see that parliamentarians and environmental leaders got that message,” Van Exan added. She pointed to the existing cross-party caucus on climate as  “an important mechanism for MPs to work together to build consensus on key issues”, promote stronger climate legislation, and “get stuff done”.

Destination Zero Executive Director Catherine Abreu pointed to the second federal election in a row in which “we had a clear majority of Canadians voting for parties that promised more ambitious action on climate change, and again, we had Canadians voting for parties to do that collaboratively, in the absence of a majority mandate. And that’s good news for the climate.”

Abreu added that #Elxn44 “finally sparked a conversation about the future of Canada’s oil and gas sector,” with the Liberals “making platform promises about capping emissions from that sector, and supporting workers to train and transition to climate-safe jobs. We didn’t get as much conversation as we need, but the election opened the door to that conversation.”

That shifting dynamic didn’t always play well for the federal parties that have championed climate action in the past, she said. “Some of the parties that have been lauded in the past for being more ambitious on climate change were actually criticized for not having enough to say about the future of oil and gas in this country. So it’s not just the party that won the most seats… we also saw the NDP and the Green Party being pushed” for more explicit platform commitments.

Klein agreed that the NDP “got outflanked in this election on climate, and now they have to prove they’re the climate champions they say they are by prioritizing the climate emergency as a condition for their cooperation in the new parliament.”

Efficiency, Renewables on the Rise

Efficiency Canada Policy Director Brendan Haley said elements of his organization’s national retrofit mission showed up in the Liberal, NDP, and Conservative Party platforms.

“The Liberals, in particular, specifically mentioned taking an Energiesprong approach to retrofits. However, I could not find a costing in their platform that supported that agenda,” he said. “The NDP, on the other hand, talked about taking a mission-based approach to retrofits,” and included $4 billion in new retrofit funding in their platform.

“So you have some good thinking on a strategy to follow in the Liberal platform, you have the NDP demonstrating their support for larger public investments, and the Conservatives had also supported the idea of making the retrofit processes lower-cost and faster. So this is an area with strong commitment among some of the major parties.”

Klein agreed that the mix of party commitments could bode well.

“What you want in any cooperative government is for everyone to put their best ideas forward,” he said. “The Liberals do have some good ideas, but so do the NDP. They were prepared to spend more. They talked about embedding these climate goals in the mandates of all Crown corporations, as well as the Bank of Canada. They had an idea for a civilian conservation corps. And they talked about carbon budgets. So the Liberals should take those ideas.”

Haley cited Liberal policy planks on a national net-zero strategy for buildings and a 2025 deadline for net-zero emission building codes, and all the parties’ failure to fully address energy poverty, as items that will help define the way forward. The lack of national support for low- and moderate-income households with increasing energy burdens is a big, urgent gap “because of the injustice of not allowing people with lower incomes to experience the benefits of energy efficiency, and with those populations most vulnerable to higher carbon prices,” he said.

Efficiency Canada’s national retrofit mission suggests a pathway to eliminate energy poverty by 2035, while freeing up 50 terawatt-hours of electricity per year for uses outside the building sector.

Canadian Renewable Energy Association (CanREA) Executive Director Robert Hornung cited the Liberals’ commitments to a net-zero electricity grid by 2035, a continuing review of the carbon pricing mechanism, a possible tax credit for energy storage, and formation of a pan-Canadian grid council as immediate action items for the new parliament.

“From our perspective, the Liberal Party platform contains a lot of really important elements that do represent the next step to move forward with decarbonizing and ultimately expanding the electricity grid,” he said. “Now it’s a matter of doing the hard work of making it happen.”

A key factor is that “getting to net-zero doesn’t just require that we decarbonize the electricity grid,” Hornung told The Mix. “It requires us to significantly expand the grid and use that decarbonized electricity to reduce the use of fossil fuels in areas like transportation, heavy industry, and buildings.”

While “the Liberals and the NDP both recognize the importance of electrification, we don’t yet see comprehensive strategies to move forward to electrify,” he added. “And that’s got to be a high priority.”

Hornung said the role of a pan-Canadian grid council is still taking shape. But “we do know that if we’re going to have any hope at all of meeting net-zero, it’s going to require increased regional collaboration in the electricity sector. Electricity is largely an area of provincial jurisdiction, and we tend to seek to optimize the grid at the provincial level, not from a national of regional perspective. That has to change.”

He also pointed to a “critical weakness” in a federal carbon pricing system in which existing natural gas power plants “are essentially shielded” from the rising price of carbon. It will be essential to correct that error, he said, “so that we’re sending the right signal to investors that we need to shift and accelerate our shift to decarbonized electricity sources.”

Showing Up at COP 26

With this year’s United Nations climate change conference, COP 26, due to begin in Glasgow November 1, Canadians dodged a “diplomatic disaster” by not electing a new government bent on rolling back the country’s emissions reduction target under the 2015 Paris agreement. But Ottawa has less than 1,000 hours to decide how the country will show up at the COP.

“A lot of the conversation is around delivering more climate ambition,” and “now we have a little more direction from the Liberal Party platform about how they’ll tackle emissions in Canada’s oil and gas sector,” said Destination Zero’s Abreu.

But “we should also be looking for an expression of solidarity in Glasgow to those countries that are not only feeling the worst impacts of climate change, but have also been experiencing the worst of the COVID-19 crisis,” and “a part of how that solidarity needs to be expressed is through financial contributions.”

So the COP will be a moment, not only for Canada to show how it plans to bend the curve on emissions, “but also how we’re going to ensure we do our fair share when it comes to climate finance internationally, and building that equitable coalition of actors that we need to address the climate crisis,” Abreu said.