OTTAWA—The clash over climate change is heating up.
Big differences over how Canada should tackle global warming came into sharp focus Monday as the Liberals pledged tougher rules for the oil and gas sector while Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole defended a plan experts say would weaken the country’s ambition to cut greenhouse gases.
In Granby, Que., Leader Justin Trudeau touted the Liberals’ new climate platform as “setting the scene for the real transformation of our country” for net-zero emissions of greenhouse gases.
In a clear bid to shore up their centre-left flank, the Liberals would wield new regulations to require Canada’s fossil fuel industries to reduce carbon pollution, to boost electrical car sales, to move Canada’s electricity grid to “net-zero” by 2035, and to eliminate thermal coal exports.
Jonathan Wilkinson, the Liberal environment minister now seeking re-election in North Vancouver, told the Star the plan would impose a “binding” cap on emissions from the oil and gas sector. This would come with “consequences” that could include fines or other means to ensure companies respect the new regulations, he said.
And while Wilkinson said the new policies would put Canada on track to meet the Liberals’ newly-declared emissions target for 2030 — reducing emissions to at least 40 per cent below 2005 levels — Trudeau took shots at the Conservatives for promising only to meet the old target that was set by former prime minister Stephen Harper (and maintained by the Liberals until this year).
The Liberal leader also slammed O’Toole for enrolling candidates like Ontario’s Cheryl Gallant, whom Trudeau said was “peddling conspiracy theories” after she warned the government would impose fictional “climate emergency lockdowns.”
A short time later, in King City north of Toronto, O’Toole said he sees a rationale for the defunct Northern Gateway pipeline in B.C. because of the economic benefits agreements reached with Indigenous communities which supported it.
O’Toole accused Trudeau and the Liberals of failing to chart a path to their more stringent climate targets and he did not answer questions about why his party would revert to the Harper target — cutting emissions by 30 per cent of 2005 levels, instead of by at least 40 per cent as Trudeau has said. The drive comes as countries around the world pressure each other to increase efforts to slash emissions in the face of dire warnings about the consequences of further global warming.
“Canadians deserve a real plan, not just more hollow and empty words, or not just the Liberal and NDP approach to just shutting down whole sectors of our economy,” O’Toole said.
Michael Bernstein, executive director of non-profit policy group, Clean Prosperity, said O’Toole had brought his party further than any leader in the past on climate policy. But with O’Toole’s support for a weaker 2030 target, desire to increase Canada’s exports of natural gas to displace coal in Asia, and his comments Monday backing another oil pipeline, Bernstein said the Conservatives’ climate ambition has waned.
“The Conservatives are putting climate as an important issue that’s equal to many others in their platform, with the economy being above it … They want to do something on climate. But it’s not a core pillar of their platform,” said Bernstein. “Whereas I would say the Liberals are increasingly seeing climate as a key element of their platform, and … they talk about it as a core part of their economic strategy.”
The Conservative climate plan, released in April, includes a weaker carbon price than the current federal regime (only ramping up to $50 a tonne versus the Liberals’ $170 a tonne). It would require 30 per cent of new cars sold in 2030 to be zero-emission (versus the Liberals’ push to ensure half of all sales are zero-emission by 2030 rising to 100 per cent by 2035). And O’Toole pledges $5 billion for technology to capture carbon emissions.
The NDP also pledges to set emissions caps for sectors of the economy, while also pledging to cut emissions even further than the Liberals — by 50 per cent below 2005 levels before 2030, but their plan has fewer details than the Liberals have so far rolled out.
Trudeau said his party is committed to capping rising emissions from the oil and gas sector by decreasing “the carbon emissions per barrel, because that is the path forward,” adding that “industry knows that.”
“The big firms all understand that and so do their investors,” Rick Anderson, a former conservative political strategist and principal at Earnscliffe who now advises big and small energy companies. But what companies want from governments is policy certainty and firm timelines that won’t be overturned or rolled back, he added.
“They want a policy environment that says whether everybody is doing this, is this the competitive space we’re operating in — they want clarity on that … they’re ready to make the shift. What they don’t want is a constant fight in the States and in Canada and around the world about whether we’re serious about this.”
In Canada, emissions from oil and gas extraction increased by 67 per cent between 2005 and 2019, when the sector as a whole was the largest source of emissions in Canada, responsible for 26 per cent of the country’s greenhouse gas pollution.
Merran Smith, executive director of Clean Energy Canada, praised the Liberal plan and said the regulations for the oil and gas sector must be a “hard cap” on total emissions to ensure they don’t keep increasing.
“The oil and gas sector has really been undermining our climate efforts,” Smith said. “It’s always been the elephant in the room. It clearly needs to be regulated and accountable.”
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