Beyond the Ballot: Sector snapshot Energy, Environment and Resources
This is part of a series of regional updates by our cross-country team, who are in-jurisdiction experts regarding the on-the-ground dynamic of the Federal Election.
Voters are increasingly aware of the connections between climate change, the economy, public health, and local infrastructure. With 2019 being a record year for extreme weather events across the country, many Canadians are starting to see the effects of climate change in real-time.
In a recent Nanos poll, six out of ten respondents answered that climate change would influence their voting intentions. This emerging, strong base of engaged and motivated supporters has caught the attention of politicians, forcing them to provide detailed approaches on how they and their parties would address climate change. However, no two climate plans are alike, mainly because they are all predicated on very different interpretations of the nature and urgency of the situation.
Heading into the 2019 election, the Liberal strategy is to position Justin Trudeau as the only true climate change leader and supporter of the middle class, while the Greens and NDP will attack them for the purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline and failure to meet emissions reduction targets. For Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, a division among the centre-left about which party has the most credible climate plan provides a good opportunity for his own plan to resonate and to potentially steal seats he may otherwise not win.
The challenge for all parties is that the perceived importance of climate change is not perfectly distributed across Canada. Certain jurisdictions are more likely than others to cite it as a top concern and there is little common ground regarding the most effective way(s) to reduce carbon emissions. Specifically, there are four key regions where environment and climate change considerations are already having an impact on voting intentions.
British Columbia, which has been ground zero given the Trans Mountain Expansion project there, is currently polling with a slight Conservative lead over the Liberals in the province. This is likely the result of a tight four-way race across B.C. and the increased popularity of the Greens on Vancouver Island. Because of this, the historically high 17 seats that the Liberals won in 2015 is looking to be a much harder feat to recreate this time around.
Alberta, despite PM Trudeau’s gesture to name an Alberta Minister of Natural Resources and invest significant political capital in the province, will remain heavily – if not completely – Conservative. Premier Jason Kenney’s hardline stance against the Liberals’ approach to pipelines is certainly reverberating across the province and supporting Andrew Scheer’s own pitch.
Meanwhile, Quebec voters identify climate change as a top priority (approximately 500,000 attended the September 27 Climate March in Montreal). With Liberal star candidate Steven Guilbeault (formerly of Greenpeace and Equiterre), the party is positioning itself as a viable option to progressive urban ridings that may be disaffected by the NDP’s dismal performance in the province. The Liberals are polling with a comfortable lead, picking up points from the NDP’s 15 percentage point drop in the region. The wild card on voting day will be the emerging resurgence of the Bloc Quebecois.
In seat-rich Ontario, the 905 region around Toronto has been one of the more volatile areas in recent federal and provincial elections. Many ridings that previously voted in support of Stephen Harper’s Conservatives gave their support to Justin Trudeau in 2015. The same holds provincially where long-time Liberal ridings switched to Progressive Conservative in the last election, in part because of Premier Doug Ford’s promise to reduce the price of gas. With this in the background, it remains to be seen if Ford’s fight against the carbon tax in the courts and via gas pump stickers will have an impact on voting patterns.
Regional differences have always been a reality of Canadian politics and this certainly remains the case. Parties will continue to play to those differences as they always have. The difference now is that climate change is forcing Canadians to consider the effect of their vote beyond their local riding and province.
Most federal parties have now unveiled their plans to address climate change. To help make sense of it all, we’ve broken down where the four major national parties stand on some of the most important policy files impacting the energy and resources sectors.
- Liberals – Canada’s current emissions target of a 30% reduction of 2005 levels by 2030 was a target set by the previous Conservative government and continued under the Liberals. The Parliamentary Budget Officer estimates that under the Liberals’ current emissions reductions plan, there would still be a 79-megatonne gap of additional emissions reductions required to meet the Paris target. The Liberals have committed to setting a suite of legally-binding measures to reach the goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050 and exceeding Canada’s 2030 emissions goal.
- Conservatives – Andrew Scheer has stated that a Conservative government would continue Canada’s emission reduction commitments. Emissions reductions would largely come about as a result of industry-wide investments in clean technology. A Conservative government would also work to achieve emissions reductions internationally through, among other things, exporting Canadian clean energy resources and technologies worldwide.
- NDP – The NDP committed to setting targets in line with the reductions that would be required to keep the global temperature increase to below 1.5 degrees Celsius. The party has not articulated a hard number, instead stating that it would include these numbers, once finalized, in legislation. Ultimately, the NDP’s emissions reductions would be evaluated by a newly proposed Climate Accountability Office.
- Greens – By far, the most ambitious reductions plan is found in the Green Party platform which proposes a 60% emissions reduction target below 2005 levels by 2030. The long-term goal would be to have Canada reach net-zero emissions by 2050.
- Liberals – The current carbon price set by the Liberal government is at $20 per tonne with $10 yearly increases scheduled until the price hits $50 per tonne in 2022. Should the Liberals win a second mandate, they would continue with the complementary Clean Fuel Standard. The regulations on liquid fuels are currently slated to come into effect in 2022.
- Conservatives – After cancelling Canada’s existing carbon price framework and the Clean Fuel Standard, the Conservatives would focus on advancements in clean technology – at home and abroad. Heavy emitters will be subject to a yet-to-be-determined emissions cap. Industries that go over the cap will be required to invest in clean technology solutions.
- NDP – Building on the fuel charge and industrial emissions system devised by the Liberals, the NDP would lower the threshold for emissions standards, subsequently increasing the number of companies that would be required to participate in the carbon pricing system.
- Greens – The $10/year carbon price increase would continue as scheduled but, instead of stopping when the price reaches $50 a tonne, the Greens would continue with a yearly $10 increase until carbon emissions are eliminated. The Greens would remove the distinction between small and large industrial emitters, requiring all emitters to pay a carbon price.
Pipelines and major projects
- Liberals – The Liberals have committed to investing federal corporate income tax revenues from the Trans Mountain pipeline project into supporting Canada’s clean energy transition through a newly-announced $3-billion plan to conserve and restore forests, land, and coastal areas. Any revenues from the sale of the pipeline would also go into the natural climate solutions fund. After purchasing the pipeline, the Liberals intend to see it move to completion. The party has also been supportive of the LNG sector as part of its trade diversification strategy.
- Conservatives – Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer stated that if elected, his government would “fast-track” any legal objections to a pipeline straight to the Supreme Court of Canada. A Conservative government would also repeal pieces of legislation such as Bill C-69, the Impact Assessment Act, and Bill C-48, the Oil Tanker Moratorium, implemented by the Liberals.
- NDP – The NDP has committed to cancelling the Trans Mountain Expansion project if elected. Jagmeet Singh has not clarified whether he would support the LNG Canada project along the B.C. coast (which uses fracking). He has also stated that he is “not against pipelines on principle,” so long as any new projects fit within climate change targets and receive social acceptance from all parties involved.
- Greens – The Greens have committed to ending the Trans Mountain Expansion project, the B.C. LNG project, and any other proposed or early-stage fossil fuel projects in Canada. To reach their ambitious emissions reductions targets, the Greens would immediately begin transitioning Canada’s energy system to use only renewable energy sources with the goal of being “fossil-fuel-free by 2050.”
- Liberals – the Liberals have committed to halving taxes for companies that develop or manufacture zero-emissions technology. They have also announced a $5 billion Clean Power Fund to facilitate the electrification of Canadian industries.
- Conservatives – Spurring the production of clean technology is one of the central tenets of the Conservative plan to address climate change. Scheer has committed to supporting Canadian clean technology through a variety of federal funding programs. If elected, he would also focus on promoting clean technology solutions to international markets.
- NDP – An NDP government would set a federal standard to ensure federal buildings use renewable energy and to meet their goal to have a fully electric fleet of government vehicles by 2025. The party has also proposed a Clean Energy Grid, an east to west grid, connecting provinces with surplus electricity to provinces requiring additional power.
- Greens – The Greens would invest in the creation of new green economy jobs and would focus on developing a Pan-Canadian Energy Strategy with all levels of government and Indigenous governments.
- Liberals – The Liberals have not made any new announcements related to the environmental assessments since Bill C-69 has come into force. However, they committed to a new national benefits-sharing framework to clarify how Indigenous communities should benefit from major resource projects.
- Conservatives – A Conservative government would repeal Bill C-69 legislation and reorient federal approval processes around securing faster timelines and “increasing investor confidence.”
- NDP – The NDP would update the major project review process by adding time and resources for consultations with the general public and Indigenous communities. Energy project reviews will be required to meet a standard of free, prior and informed consent with Indigenous proponents, consistent with the constitutional obligations outlined in the Tsilhqot’in decision.
- Greens – The Greens would restore the pre-2012 Environmental Assessment Act and go one step further by implementing all the recommendations outlined by the 2016 independent Expert Panel on Environmental Assessment. They have committed to increasing the decision-making power of affected Indigenous communities.