Some voters had a lot of hope for the federal Liberals back in 2015. First of all, Justin Trudeau was not Stephen Harper, a fact some people really liked. He also had a pile of platform promises that appealed to many Canadians. Confronting climate change was one of the big ones.
The Liberal platform pointed out how inept Harper’s Conservatives were on climate change and said “We will end the cycle of federal parties – of all stripes – setting arbitrary targets without a real federal/provincial/territorial plan in place.” Then Catherine McKenna hit the ground running as environment and climate change minister. There was a lot of excitement as she helped lead the successful negotiations of the Paris Agreement on climate change in December of 2015. She got all kinds of credit for pushing the aspirational goal of a maximum 1.5 C increase in global warming. It looked like the Liberals really meant it and that Canada, as they claimed, really was back.
So what happened? Well, the air was let out of the tires. They decided to go with Harper’s goal of a 30 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in Canada by 2030. They said that reduction would be a floor rather than a ceiling. Turns out it’s a ceiling. It also turns out they really don’t have a plan to implement the goal; their ‘Pan Canadian Framework’ is mostly hype and has pretty well fallen apart. And even then it didn’t actually say how Canada would meet Harper’s target. So not what was promised.
The Liberals have hung their hats on carbon taxes. But it turns out that if you can’t specify the end result you’re looking for (something that would come from an actual plan with defined actions and outcomes), then it’s hard to sell a carbon tax as the right tool.
And the provincial Conservative governments across the country are fighting carbon taxes, apparently not quite understanding why they are such a good idea. The Trudeau government’s latest way of trying to sell the carbon tax is to give money back to the people. After all, people like getting cheques, right? The government also issued a complex, difficult to understand version of the carbon tax for industry. It contains adjustments so that industries that burn a lot of carbon won’t be hit too hard because apparently that would make them uncompetitive.
Trudeau has to run on his own record this time
Effective carbon pricing makes the alternatives to fossil fuels at least as economic as the fossil fuels. While the Trudeau government can say they have priced carbon, it is not clear their confused approach will reduce the burning of any carbon. To hold the temperature down to the level agreed in Paris we actually have to stop burning fossil fuels this century, and really sooner rather than later.
So as other countries announce the end of sales of gasoline and diesel powered cars in the next decade or so, Canada has no specific plans to stop using fossil fuels, except for coal which we are mostly off anyway. Canada is already a leader in non-emitting electricity generation because of our legacy of hydro and nuclear. Still, we’re big on telling other countries to get off coal.
What the federal government is not so big on is telling other countries to stop buying our bitumen, which when processed yields a high amount of something that actually looks exactly like coal. The government also thinks it would be a really good idea if they bought liquefied natural gas (LNG) from new facilities under construction in British Columbia. That’s another source of greenhouse gas. And it isn’t clear that LNG is is much better than coal when the full carbon emissions, including fugitive methane, is looked at from wells to burner tips.
Well, here we are about to go into an election, so it isn’t surprising that Trudeau has pointed out the similarities between Harper and the current Conservative opposition under leader Andrew Scheer. It’s unlikely that ploy will succeed this time. Trudeau now has to run on his own record. In terms of climate change, the record has barely changed. Trudeau has adopted Harper’s goal as his target and has not produced a real plan to meet it.