Pretending to have the most ambitious climate policies while granting new oil licences, exploring future oilfields, bragging about your so-called ambitious climate commitments — which, if you look holistically, are vastly insufficient — and then get caught not even trying to reach those targets.
The Liberal Trudeau government continues to avoid taking the climate emergency seriously. Witness the latest manipulations involving the net-zero emissions accountability law, Bill C-12. As originally drafted last fall, it lacked the substance and accountability needed to be effective. This was obvious to everyone.
However, many Canadian environmental groups have chosen to applaud the passage of this bill — while holding their noses over its inadequacies — because they are desperate for any legislation that might help move the federal government to action on the climate crisis. As several groups expressed in a June 23 letter to the Senate: “While the bill falls short of the gold standard, we cannot afford further delay in its progress through the Senate and passage into law.”
Before the bill was introduced in the House of Commons, the same climate NGOs wrote a joint letter to the federal government laying out what they saw as the five pillars of a serious climate accountability act.
Given that Canada has missed every climate target commitment over the last 30 years, and given that the Liberals have failed to cut emissions since their 2015 election majority, the necessity of a strong bill was clear. However, the Liberals refused to embrace the pillars in several meaningful ways in their legislation.
Most worrying was Climate and Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson’s refusal to establish a 2025 milestone with its reporting requirements and followup action. The 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report made it crystal clear that the 2020s is the critical decade for countries to reduce their carbon footprint in half. The recently leaked IPCC draft report on tipping points increases the urgency. Not having a 2025 milestone undermines the incentives and accountability crucial to meeting our commitments.
Tellingly, Bill C-12 was delayed for months through the winter, and then, during the last few weeks of the parliamentary session, rushed through the environment committee, the House and the Senate. This left little time for the detailed discussion and expert input that would be the norm for such an important bill.
The environment committee hearings were basically undermined. Because of the cynical, last-minute rush, many of the briefs from the public did not reach environment committee members before key decisions were being made. Also, Green Party MP Elizabeth May had arranged for several expert witnesses to appear, but there wasn’t time to hear from them. These included New Zealand’s minister of climate change who was willing to speak about that country’s comprehensive climate bill, which had recently come into effect.
To make matters worse, when the bill was referred to the environment committee, the Liberals were accused by the Green Party of making a backroom deal with the NDP. The party would support C-12 if the Liberals gave it some limited amendments the NDP could use to demonstrate it cares about the climate.
Instead of holding the Liberals’ feet to the fire for a 2025 milestone, the NDP compromised on a 2026 “objective” — without the planning, impact or consequences of a milestone. The NDP environment committee member reported that his party wanted a 2025 milestone, but Wilkinson was unwilling to agree to it. So, the NDP, which has never properly used its balance of power possibilities, compromised on this crucial point.
Wilkinson has claimed that Canadians can vote the Liberals out if they miss future targets — a right we had before C-12. The “accountability act” changes nothing! Would you be satisfied with a bank that first refused to review your finances regularly, and then offered you the opportunity to switch banks if you uncovered incompetence?
So, why wouldn’t the Liberals agree to a 2025 milestone or true accountability? The answer seems clear from the deep analysis the group Seniors for Climate Action Now (SCAN) conducted on the Liberal climate plan announced last December: The Liberals have little intention of cutting greenhouse gases by 50 per cent this decade.
Many environmental groups applaud #BillC12 out of desperation for any legislation that might help push the federal government to action on climate, but the Liberals' new “accountability act” changes nothing, writes Ken Johnson. #cdnpoli
Their focus is not on replacing fossil fuels with renewables, but rather on increasing fossil-fuel extraction to make “blue” (mostly from fracked gas) hydrogen, invest heavily in costly, unproven and risky small nuclear reactors, while ramping up very costly, ineffective carbon capture to bury emissions. Tar/oilsands companies are now requesting a $50-billion taxpayer subsidy to decarbonize. Each of these initiatives is fraught with problems, will distract from the required urgent action and divert tax dollars away from renewables. The SCAN assessment is captured in the 50-page report’s title, “The Liberal Climate Action Formula: A Recipe for Failure.”
Canada now has a Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act that the Liberals and the NDP will no doubt hold up in the widely expected election later this year to demonstrate their deep commitment to climate action. Sadly, too many will believe them.
The climate crisis is here in many forms — including the raging, deadly, record-setting heat wave causing uncontrollable wildfires throughout Western Canada.
Ken Johnson is an adjunct professor at the School of Epidemiology, Public Health and Preventive Medicine at the University of Ottawa.