The window is closing on the federal government to deliver on its promise to introduce a strong carbon emissions cap for the oil and gas sector, Canada’s most polluting sector.
In the wake of an audit by the Commissioner for the Environment and Sustainable Development, which found that the feds are falling far short of their climate targets, the pressure is on the government to set strong emission cap regulations, and soon. Adding to the pressure is concern among many supporters of climate action over the federal decision to postpone the carbon tax on home heating oil for Atlantic Canada.
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This move does include hefty rebates on the purchase of heat pumps for Canadians facing energy poverty, but it has not fared well in the media, and seems to play into Opposition narratives that carbon pricing fuels inflation. So, now more than ever, the government needs to come up with some big wins to restore faith in its leadership on climate.
The government has promised to introduce a strong emissions cap and will need to deliver on that before the next election, which must be held no later than the fall of 2025—which leaves little time to release a framework and draft, consult on, and finalize what will be groundbreaking regulations.
In the last 18 months, EcoAnalytics has focused on understanding how Canadians perceive and support this policy, and two others (the Clean Electricity Regulations and measures to help Canada meet its 2030 biodiversity targets), with an eye to improving communication strategies around these policies. The following draws from EcoA’s and others’ research and experience.
As poll after poll have shown, there is widespread, yet disparate, support nationwide for a strong emissions cap and the majority of Canadians support this policy. However, this support has been largely silent. So it’s often overlooked amid the loud, regionally specific opposition to the policy, coming mainly from the governments of Alberta and Saskatchewan and, of course, the oil and gas industry. With millions fueling this noisy opposition, it’s no wonder that actual support isn’t heard. Especially in regions where support for a strong cap is high—southwestern British Columbia, Greater Toronto, and Quebec.
Environmental advocates need to amplify the support in these regions, among other places. Support for an emissions cap extends as far as Alberta, contrary to some of the premier’s statements. Despite the latest election results in the province, most Albertans would not consider themselves part of the political base of the governing party. And they do support climate policies, especially when they’re communicated in a way that acknowledges Albertan perspectives—including a certain loyalty to the oil and gas industry, which has brought significant prosperity to their communities. For more information on how Albertans support climate policy and some tips on how to best connect with them, check out [EcoA Research Nutshell: Regional deep dive: Alberta].
As well as amplifying support for the emissions cap, supporters need to hold the federal government and key decision-makers accountable for regulations that will enable Canada to meet its emissions targets. Decision-makers need to hear that Canadians overwhelmingly want and expect this from a government that ran on climate leadership.
And Canadians need to hear more about how good climate policies, such as the emissions cap, will reduce the cost of living. This, after all, is by far the most important issue on most Canadians’ minds, across all regions and demographic groups, and often eclipses climate concern. So aligning climate messaging with affordability is crucial.
That means countering rhetoric that climate policy is costing Canadians, by demonstrating that climate change is inflationary and many policies will actually save Canadians money. Countering misinformation narratives that fossil fuels are more stable, secure, and affordable by talking about the real costs of fossil fuels (huge subsidies to industry, devastating storms and wildfires, healthcare costs).
Keep in mind, as well, that misinformation is rampant around fossil fuels and renewable energy. Our last Climate of Change survey in November, 2022 revealed, for example, high levels of uncertainty among Canadians about the cost, stability, reliability, and efficacy of renewable energy, among other things.
Finally, it’s essential build support for national policies that are adaptable and flexible—not for the oil and gas industry, but for Canadians suffering most from the high cost of living. That begins with Atlantic Canadians stuck with using oil to heat their homes, who will now have strong incentives to switch to a heat pump. If climate policies are to be supported across a vast and diverse country, they must respond to the different needs of Canadians, and not just in one region.