Environment leaders hoping climate change will be a deciding factor in this election say three of the national party platforms are either in line with international climate goals or can be scaled up to get there.
The other two either deny climate change entirely or aren’t taking it seriously enough to do anything substantial about it, they say.
Dan Woynillowicz, policy director at Clean Energy Canada, said the People’s Party of Canada has no climate plan at all and leader Maxime Bernier says if climate change is happening it’s not because of human activities. Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer put forward a plan on climate change stressing his party believes in climate change, and is trying to promote clean-tech growth, but that attacking emissions with carbon taxes and cleaner-fuel standards is not the way to go.
“What they’ve put forward takes us in the opposite direction,” said Woynillowicz. “For people who are concerned about climate it’s hard to imagine the Conservatives have offered anything close to what is needed to secure the support of a voter who puts climate as their top issue.”
In a recent survey given to all parties by a number of environment groups, the Conservatives said they wouldn’t legislate emissions targets in line with the Paris agreement on climate-change goals and won’t commit to only approving new fossil-fuel projects that are in line with those same targets.
On the other side, said Woynillowicz, the Liberals, Greens and NDP all have climate platforms that aim to meet international scientific standards for cutting emissions in a bid to keep global warming below the level at which catastrophic and likely irreversible climate change impacts take hold.
The Liberals and Greens are both aiming to get Canada to zero net emissions by 2050 — meaning any emissions still being produced would be absorbed either by natural sinks like forests, or technological ones like carbon capture-and-storage systems. The NDP haven’t specifically mentioned “net zero” as an objective but are promising to set targets “so they’re in line with what scientists say is needed to stop dangerous climate change.”
All three of those parties, Woynillowicz notes, have some sort of plan to continue to extract more oil and gas. The Liberals have their Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. The Greens plan to replace foreign oil with Canadian products and build upgraders to let Alberta oil be processed in East Coast refineries. And the NDP would approve new fossil-fuel projects as long as they “align with our emissions targets, respect Indigenous rights and create good jobs here in Canada.” Leader Jagmeet Singh has also been vague about support for expanding liquid-natural-gas production in British Columbia.
“All of the parties are saying they are comfortable with fossil-fuel infrastructure of some sort,” said Catherine Abreu, executive director at the Climate Action Network Canada.
Woynillowicz fears the debate about the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion — which Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau approved in 2016, then stepped in to buy in 2018 in a bid to ensure the expansion happens — has turned the conversation about climate action into a black-and-white discussion between being able to produce oil or being able to save the planet.
“That is the fundamental question that needs to be grappled with,” he said. “What does it look like to be both an oil producer and a climate leader and what’s the basis for assessing that? Just throwing out, ‘Well, you bought a pipeline therefore you’re not a climate leader,’ from my perspective is not an adequately nuanced view as to what a transition is going to look like for Canada as we decarbonize and orient our economy to be successful.”
Woynillowicz said there are interesting developments in using fossil fuels without burning them — for hydrogen or carbon fibre or lithium — so the argument that no fossil fuels can be extracted is also too simplistic.
Abreu said the main goal for climate-oriented voters on Oct. 21, is to keep the climate action train rolling. She said there is still a lot of anger at the Liberals over the pipeline plan — and she remains staunchly opposed to it — but she said as the campaign has continued there has been a bit of a “reckoning” about what the Liberals accomplished in the last four years.
“I think people are taking this an opportunity to reflect on the record and are realizing that despite the imperfections, they’ve still got the best track record of any government in Canada, probably since (Brian) Mulroney,” she said. “That probably says more about the failures of the governments since, but we’ve set a minimum bar now that we cannot roll back from.”