Talks between the federal and provincial governments appear to have sputtered on launching a national electric vehicle strategy.

A joint agreement addressing vehicle electrification is expected to be unveiled Monday when transport and highway safety ministers meet in Montreal for their annual meeting.

But this agreement is unlikely to be the national Zero-Emission Vehicle Strategy that the federal government had indicated would be released by now, according to four sources close to government as well as an industry association.

Sources expect the agreement on Monday to look more like a “watered-down version,” a “basic minimum” or a “high level framework” with few specific commitments.

David C. Adams is president and CEO of Global Automakers of Canada, a group representing large international automakers such as Toyota, Volkswagen and Nissan. He said in an interview that while he understood the strategy is largely finished, coming to agreement on its rollout has proven tricky.

“I think there was an expectation that there was going to be something more formal with respect to the national Zero-Emission Vehicle Strategy come out on Monday,” said Adams.

“Information that I’ve received over the last few days is that that’s been a little bit more of a struggle to come to some consensus amongst the federal government and the provinces and territories on that strategy.”

Ford threw a wrench in the works

Transportation accounts for roughly a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada, and the federal climate plan calls for expanding the number of zero-emission vehicles on the roads. Yet, while plug-in electric sales in 2018 more than doubled from 2017, they still only represent 2.2 per cent of all new cars sold.

Sources say Ottawa wants to put something aggressive on the table. That could take the form of an electric vehicle (EV) sales mandate requiring a percentage of sales to be vehicles that don’t emit carbon pollution linked to climate change, or rebates that help lessen the burden of new EV costs for Canadians.

Both those policies are in effect in Quebec and British Columbia. Quebec has had a sales mandate in place for a year, while B.C. plans to introduce one in legislation this spring. Both also have subsidy programs in place.

Environment and clean power advocacy groups have long said that a sales mandate across the country is the most cost-effective way the federal government could reach its target of 30 per cent new EV sales by 2030. This past September, Canada renewed its commitment to that international campaign, called EV30@30.

A nationwide mandate appears to be a long shot at this point, sources said. The group of government officials, stakeholders and industry representatives that was set up to advise on the strategy has considered the option, but agreement with the provinces has proven increasingly difficult.

Last year, Ontario Premier Doug Ford's Progressive Conservative government killed the provincial subsidy program for EVs that had been funded by the province’s price on carbon pollution, and went to war against Ottawa’s carbon pricing plan, teaming up with Saskatchewan in the courts.

Adams said the conversation among provinces and territories had obviously changed considerably since the initial discussions surrounding the federal zero-emission vehicle strategy’s announcement in May 2017. He said the dramatic shift in Ontario “threw everybody for a loop” as industry had to shift gears on expectations and goals.

Sabrina Kim, press secretary for Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna, declined comment at this time. Transport Minister Marc Garneau's media relations manager Delphine Denis said she wasn't in a position to speak on the outcome of the upcoming meeting.

Automakers have also opposed a nationwide mandate, preferring auto policies aligned with the United States. The Trump administration has been busy trying to roll back Obama-era emissions rules, and has received some help in the form of a lobbying campaign backed by the oil industry.

“If we don’t align with the U.S. then there’s going to need to be a lot more flexibility for the industry in Canada to try and meet different, and potentially more stringent targets,” said Adams.

National EV rebates seen as 'powerful signal'

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has the option of making some additional moves in the upcoming federal budget, which the Liberals will campaign on for the election next fall. The government has yet to spell out how it will spend the 10 per cent of the fuel charge it is setting aside for non-profits, municipalities and others, for example.

One option could be to provide funding to EV promotion groups to spread the word about the benefits of EVs, which are much more efficient at using the energy stored in their power source than gas-powered cars, cost less to charge than filling up at the pumps and don’t emit noxious or toxic tailpipe emissions.

Another option is a national commitment on EV rebates. Clean Energy Canada has recommended this in a pre-budget submission, saying it would "send a powerful signal.”

"During the transition period before EVs attain price parity with internal combustion engines, well-designed rebates are an important tool that should be offered coast to coast to consumers purchasing zero-emission vehicles," reads the submission by senior analyst Jeremy Moorhouse.

"This is particularly important now that Ontario has cancelled its rebates."

As Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau put the finishing touches on the federal budget, they also continue to feel the heat on EVs.

The David Suzuki Foundation, for example, launched a petition titled “Has Canada stalled on electric vehicles?” that says any effective zero-emission vehicle strategy “must include mandatory targets” for EV sales and a temporary purchase incentive program.

Editor's note: This article was updated at 7:50 p.m. ET on Jan. 18, 2019 with a new comment from the office of Canadian Transport Minister Marc Garneau.

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Of course Doug Ford and Scott Moe are so stupid on this file, they don't know how stupid they are. Does Canada need to get its house in order? Yes, because then, and only then can we talk with conviction to the US, China, India and the other BIG emitters to turn things around. A national EV strategy would be to have a national network of charging stations - the real hold up to more people wanting to buy EVs - range anxiety. The cars are great - take one out for a drive and you'll see. But we really need pick-up trucks, too. We can do this... if we show we want to.

We as a family are having so much of our budget ripped off in the myriad of fees and taxes imposed by all levels of incompetent Government that we simply cannot afford to buy an EV. Carbon taxes, property taxes, health fees, user fees, stupidly high grocery costs for packages and containers that are getting smaller and smaller. $3.99 for friggin tomatoes and some food agency wants us to go vegan? Stunned politicians think that imposing carbon taxes on the oil industry is where it stops. Businesses simply consider Carbon Taxes as an expense, add on their 20% profit margin, calculate the GST / PST and pass it on to consumers. I would like to buy an EV but can't afford it. Likely never will.

Manufacturing in Canada creates pollution. Period. As I can, I am trying to do my little part. My car, phone, TV and computer are made in S. Korea. Furniture is mostly American with a bit from IKEA and Asia. We just bought an area rug from Egypt. Frozen veggies & fruit are mainly American or Mexican with a bit from Asia. Cheaper than Canadian and I can stock up on sales. With frozen, we simply don't concern ourselves with Best before dates and throw out very little. We also don't have to run to the store every second day to buy fresh locally grown stuff., saving fuel. We don't consume much meat - too expensive. We don't BBQ because it uses propane wich creates pollution. We don't buy pop or beer because of the massive amounts of CO2 released. I make a deliberate effort not to buy Made in Canada so Trudeau and barbie can have "clean" air. Where is my Participation Medal?

Rebates take my money and give it away. How about I keep my money so I can afford to buy an EV when a suitable one is ever made?

This is trolling, pure and simple. Maybe go somewhere else? I actually bought an EV and it's saving me money every day. It takes 20 kWh to go 100 km. In B.C., that costs $2. It is $13 to $15 to buy the gas for that distance. It costs nothing if you build some solar panels. Don't give me this 'I can't afford an EV' line. You can, and if you do, it will save you money if you drive 50 km a day or more. It's that simple.

Agreed. Trolling crap. 1st complaint is about carbon taxes and not being able to afford an EV. You don't pay carbon taxes if you own one - you don't buy gas. Governments are only incompetent in my mind because we haven't moved much faster to reduce our carbon load.

Actually, we need more people like you to write in and tell the economic story for solar and electric vehicles. We have the solar and if we could get even a 2 for 1 feed in tariff, we'd not be paying any of the silly administrative fees Ralph's privatization scheme put into our electrical grid system....we recently solarized our daughter's house, and from the time of the estimate to time of installation, cost had dropped a thousand dollars.....

So installation is getting cheaper....and yes, we're looking at the new save both CO2 and our money.

However, incentivies in Alberta are 35% rebate on solar panels.....that will be gone if penny pinchers with neo-con ideas about saving money win the next election. The penny wise and pound foolish crowd need some coaching about economics....

Currently, they are dead set on contributing to a dead set ecosphere..not being able to afford a living one.

How much does a replacement battery cost for your vehicle? How is the old one recycled?

Zero lifetime emissions are impossible, and a tailpipe is not the worst place to emit from. If the batteries are reasonably benign, electrics make sense in the city, but carbon-neutral synfuels would give better range and efficiency. Electric motors are efficient, but providing electricity is not.
The bigger issue is that our passenger vehicles are absurdly bloated. There is no good reason for a land vehicle to weigh more than its payload. We are paying for tons of fashionable metal that endangers everyone else instead of avoiding accidents better or buying efficient padding. People hope their SUVs will be able to drive out of a disaster, but they create the disaster we have no other preparations for.

Last spring we laid out a pretty penny to acquire a two year old Audi hybrid (no rebate!). Lovely car but the EV range is paltry. Luckily there is a battery assist for the internal combusion engine so it gets excellent mileage for longer trips. I'm hoping that the next generation of EVs will be more advanced but still, the infrastructure for re-charging will have to grow exponentially as well and is anybody investing in that? And the speed of re-charging will have to improve exponentially as well.

I just want to say BC really isn't doing jack for EVs either, other than look pretty.

Insurance for EVs still cost $100+ more than gas cars despite much better risk statistics on them.

I'm sick of all the virtue signaling and hypocrisy in Canadian politics. We need real actions.

Time for some real action on transition.....we should be building our own electric vehicles, in Canada. I'm sure we have the expertise, and with the end of the age of oil, it is likely time to shake that branch plant mentality that neo-liberal neo-colonialism has inserted into too many of our heads.
Relying on the big boys...and their plants in Asia, while letting their multinationals build LNG facilities to continue fracking the life out of our backcountry is the expensive way to go. Investing in our own country, encouraging the expertise of our own men and women, seems to be the smarter way to go.
But of course, current gas guzzling car companies would like us to take it slow, while they bail out of Canadian factories and figure out how to monopolize the coming electric vehicle bonanza, with factories in China..........

We need to stop trying to appease that old business as usual crowd.