Ottawa has appointed an advisory group to develop a plan for getting more zero-emission vehicles on the road, but it won't follow Quebec in requiring automakers to sell a minimum number of electric cars, Transport Minister Marc Garneau said Friday.

"We just decided that instead of giving ourselves a specific number what we would do is try to make the conditions more favourable for people to buy zero-emissions vehicles," he said in an interview at an electric vehicle show.

The job of the new 22-member panel, which includes industry and other stakeholders, is to come up with options by next year for addressing the barriers to zero-emission vehicles (ZEV), including vehicle supply, cost, infrastructure readiness and public awareness.

Quebec has the country's only legislation requiring automakers to sell a minimum number of electric, plug-in hybrid and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles. Starting with the 2018 model year, 3.5 per cent of all auto sales in the province will have to be from those types of vehicles. The threshold rises to 15.5 per cent for 2025.

Companies that don't meet the targets will have to buy credits from other automakers that do.

Automakers say it will be very challenging to meet the threshold because electric vehicles make up only a sliver of the market. In Canada, just 0.56 per cent of vehicles sold last year were electric. Quebec's rate is about one per cent.

David Adams, president of the Global Automakers of Canada and a member of the new federal advisory group, said the government's unwillingness to set a national threshold on electric vehicles makes sense.

"Whether it's Quebec or the federal government we don't disagree with the objective of moving towards the decarbonization of transportation, we just maybe are at odds sometimes in terms of how quickly we can get there and what means," he said, adding there are less costly ways to reduce transportation emissions than favouring one technology.

Pollution Probe CEO Ingrid Thompson said the appointment of the panel on which her group is a member is an important step.

"This is a very good day for clean air in Canada and climate," she said from Toronto.

Garneau also wouldn't say if Ottawa is prepared to offer a federal purchase rebate on top of the thousands of dollars that are available in some provinces.

"These are questions that we are going to look at in the course of the next year as this advisory council comes back to us and tells us what are the winning conditions to increase sale of zero-emissions vehicles," he said.

Quebec Natural Resources Minister Pierre Arcand applauded Ottawa's commitment to work with provinces to develop a realistic approach to increase ZEV sales, but said a national rebate should be introduced.

"Of course it would certainly help," he said, adding that the challenge is also to entice purchases of more electric trucks, which pollute 11 times less than those powered by diesel.

Thompson said any discussion of federal rebates is premature before letting the advisory group do its work.

The federal government estimates that cars and light trucks accounted for 12 per cent of the country's total emissions in 2015.

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North American automakers are producing electric vehicles so that they can meet their corporate wide emissions targets. By reducing the total average mileage for their total fleet of vehicles, the zero emissions vehicles allow them to sell the more profitable SUV's and pickup trucks.
More and more people who had hybrids and electric vehicles are switching back to gasoline engine vehicles due to the low price of fuel. As the Trump administration is planning to reduce emissions reduction targets for vehicles produced in the U.S., the incentives (environmental and monetary) to buy electric cars are disappearing rapidly. Many states have already cancel or are about to cancel (or reduce) subsidies for people who want to buy electric cars.
In Canada, the growing trend of consumer preference for SUV's and pickup trucks (more than 60% of new vehicles sold last year) has more than offset reductions gained in passenger car emissions over the years. Emissions from the transportation sector, the largest one after the oil and gas sector, have increased at an average annual rate of 1.1% since the 1990, compared to 0.7% for Canada total GHG emissions.
(source: National Energy Board, Market Snapshot, 2016-07-14: "Increased GHG Emissions from the Transportation Sector Reflect Major Consumer and Business Trends")
One easy way for the federal government to reverse that trend is to hike up in a significant way the price of fuel at the pump. That would give a major incentive to people to switch back to more efficient vehicles, pay for subsidies that would reduce the average price for low emission vehicles and provide funds to invest in public transportation (because in the end, the goal is to have less vehicles on the road).
Less vehicles on the road not only mean less pollution, but also reduce the demand for fossil fuel products which as a result will reduce the production of those same fossil fuels. Reducing driving and flying is one way to keep more fossil fuel in the ground.

A little more information on tailpipe CO2 emissions from Natural Resources Canada:
Based on an average of 20,000 kilometres, a compact car using gasoline emits around 3.5 tonnes of CO2 (around 4.6 tonnes for a compact car using diesel) annually. A pickup truck releases on average 5.4 tonnes of CO2 (around 6.7 tonnes for a pickup truck using diesel) into the atmosphere for the same number of kilometres.
According to the federal government, per capita emissions in Canada were 20.1 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2 eq) in 2015. Ontario's per capita emissions are at around 12.5 tonnes CO2 eq. If you live in Ontario and drive a diesel pickup trucks, the emissions from that truck represents more than 50% of all your emissions in a year.
In 2015, net sales of gasoline and diesel in Canada (net sales represent the amount of "taxable" fuel actually consumed on public roads in Canada) were 42,563,098,000 litres and 17,988,762,000 litres respectively.