Is Any Party in the Canadian Election Taking Climate Seriously?

Who has the greenest party platform of them all?

Canada's Parliament
Canada's Parliament Buildings on the right, a big hotel on the left.

Richard T. Nowitz/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

On August 9, 2021, the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its latest report, "Climate Change 2021: the Physical Science Basis," which found that "unless there are immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting warming to close to 1.5°C or even 2°C will be beyond reach."

Less than a week later, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau called a snap election two years into his minority government's term. Everyone knew an election was coming, so all of the parties had their platforms written before the IPCC report came out. But the question is still valid: How rapid and how large-scale are reductions proposed by the various parties? How serious are they about climate change?

The Canadian government is a parliamentary system like the one in Great Britain, where citizens vote for a member of Parliament who usually belongs to one of the political parties, and the leader of whichever party gets the most seats usually becomes prime minister. If the party doesn't get a majority of seats, it can still govern if they get the support of a smaller party, which is how Trudeau governed for the last two years. Trudeau is riding high in the polls thanks to his handling of the pandemic, which is why he called the election now—he wants a majority and thinks he can get it at this time.

We look at the National parties in order of seats held in Parliament in the last session.

The Liberal Party

The Liberal Party's platform starts with the statement "We will achieve net-zero emissions by 2050."

"Net-zero emissions – where there are no carbon emissions, or where emissions are completely offset by other actions that remove carbon from the atmosphere, such as planting trees – are essential to keeping the world our children and grandchildren grow up in safe and liveable."

However, they don't say how they are going to do this. They apparently have no idea how they are going to do this, saying they will "set legally-binding, five-year milestones, based on the advice of the experts and consultations with Canadians, to reach net-zero emissions" and will "appoint a group of scientists, economists, and experts to recommend the best path to get to net-zero."

Seriously, it's 2021, and a bit late for starting consultations with scientists and experts, even the International Energy Agency (IEA) says "all the technologies needed to achieve the necessary deep cuts in global emissions by2030 already exist, and the policies that can drive their deployment are already proven." 

But the liberals did bring in a carbon tax, and "it is no longer free to pollute anywhere in Canada." They reiterate that they are moving to a net-zero future, "including strengthening existing rules to cut emissions from Canada’s biggest polluters, including oil and gas."

Environmentalists question the government's seriousness, given that the liberals spent $4.5 billion on the Trans-Mountain Pipeline and will have to spend another $7.4 billion to finish it. The standard response to any statement Trudeau makes about climate is to scream in upper case "YOU BOUGHT A PIPELINE!!!" They actually justify this in the Liberal platform with a sort of "We had to burn the village in order to save it" statement:

"It is estimated that additional federal corporate income tax revenues resulting from the Trans Mountain Expansion Project could generate $500 million per year once the project has been completed. This money, as well as any profit from the sale of the pipeline, will be invested in natural climate solutions and clean energy projects that will power our homes, businesses, and communities for generations to come."

Given that even the IEA has said there should be no more approvals of oil, gas, or coal developments from this moment forward, this is all a bit disingenuous.

The liberals will promote zero-emission vehicles:

"Whether picking kids up from school, doing grocery shopping, visiting with friends, or making a delivery to customers, people and businesses need practical and cost-effective ways to get around. Zero-emission vehicles are a good solution – provided we have the right kind of infrastructure to support them."

Alas, by infrastructure, they mean charging stations, and subsidies for new and used zero-emission vehicles. No mention anywhere that maybe people shouldn't be picking their kids up at schools with cars, or that bikes and e-bikes are zero-emission vehicles needing different kinds of infrastructure, it is all about cars.

The policies on housing have been covered on Treehugger before, including net-zero home grants and interest-free loans to pay for retrofits. We might point out that net-zero is the wrong target, especially in a country that could electrify everything. There's not a peep in the plan about natural gas, either—that's too politically radioactive.

Read the Liberal Platform here.

Conservative Party

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole is a man with a plan, hundreds of pages of detailed plans for everything, starting off with the statement: "We will fight climate change and protect the environment, but we won't do it on the backs of working Canadians." Shorter form: No carbon tax. "Canadians can’t afford Justin Trudeau’s carbon tax hike."

They will have what they call a "personal low carbon savings account," sort of like airline points when you buy gas. "They will be able to apply the money in their account towards things that help them live a greener life. That could mean buying a transit pass or a bicycle, or saving up and putting the money towards a new efficient furnace, energy efficient windows or even an electric vehicle."

The plan says "Canada must not ignore the reality of climate change. It is already affecting our ecosystems, hurting our communities, and damaging our infrastructure." This is despite losing a motion at the last party convention that would declare that "climate change is real." As CTV News noted:

"Those opposed voiced concerns that a focus on greenhouse-gas emissions was misplaced, that it did not take into account the adverse impacts of industrial wind-turbine projects and that the party simply didn't need to include the line "climate change is real" since many types of pollution have nothing to do with climate change."

It's hard, leading a party full of climate arsonists and deniers, but O'Toole said: "I'm the leader, I'm in charge," and pushed ahead with a climate program that includes lower industrial emissions, renewable natural gas, carbon capture and storage including direct air capture. They will somehow "reduce carbon emissions from every litre of gasoline (and other liquid fuels) we burn, turning them into a true Low Carbon Fuel Standard."

The Conservatives will "insist that major polluters like China clean up their act" and "will study the imposition of a carbon border tariff which would reflect the amount of carbon emissions attributed to goods imported into Canada."

Even though 81% of Canadians live in urban areas, many conservative voters don't, and cities skew Liberal. Hence the policy of promoting cars and hydrogen:

"Public transit is important, but let’s be realistic: Canada is a big, northern country, where for many people the idea of giving up a car and taking transit is simply impossible. Even in cities and suburbs, most families cannot meet the challenges of work and parenting without one or more cars. That makes electric and hydrogen vehicles essential to meeting our climate goals."

With buildings, it is all pretty vague. Instead of a program with dollars attached, they will "provide an 'efficiency concierge' service for homeowners that acts as a one-stop-shop to access programs and information."

There's the standard disclaimer: "As much as leadership begins at home, the truth remains that Canada only accounts for less than 2% of global emissions. If we are going to pull our weight globally, we need to do our part to help other countries cut their emissions." They will do that by exporting liquified natural gas (cleaner than coal, right?) and uranium.

In summary, every technological gimmick from cleaner gasoline to direct air carbon capture to blue hydrogen, but hey, O'Toole is in charge and he says climate change is real, so that's something.

Read the Conservative platform here.

New Democratic Party (NDP)

I will admit here that I have voted NDP all my life, and they have always been a disappointment when it comes to environmental issues, often held back from strong positions by their union supporters who like building cars and pipelines. However, this platform is encouraging; they "will set a target of reducing Canada’s emissions by at least 50% from 2005 levels by 2030," which is what has to be done to keep the global temperature rise under 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius), and which is a tough target that the Liberals and Conservatives ignored.

Being the NDP, they are big on green, local jobs, "and because products produced by Canadian workers have some of the lowest carbon emissions in the world, we will require the use of Canadian-made steel, aluminum, cement and wood products for infrastructure projects across the country."

The NDP would crank up the building codes, fast, "to ensure that by 2025 every new building built in Canada is net-zero." They will roll out national high-speed internet because "supporting more remote work will reduce commuting times and support efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions."

"And a new Civilian Climate Corps would mobilize young people and create new jobs supporting conservation efforts and addressing the threat of climate change by undertaking activities such as helping restore wetlands, and planting the billions of trees that need to be planted in the years ahead."

We noted previously that the IEA has called for the end of all investment in oil and gas. Here, the NDP twists itself into a pretzel to avoid saying such a thing and jeopardizing their chances in Western Canada, and never mentions gas or oil, sort of saying it without saying it:

"The International Energy Agency has called on governments throughout the world to dramatically speed up efforts to build renewable energy. New Democrats will set a target to power Canada with net-zero electricity by 2030, and move to 100% non-emitting electricity by 2040."

All that clean electricity will go into electrified, modernized, and expanded public transit, in high-speed rail, electric vehicles, and finally, someone says something about bikes. Given that leader Jagmeet Singh carries a Brompton folding bike with him on national tours, it is about time that someone made the connection.

"Lastly, we will promote smart community planning and active transportation like walking and cycling, helping Canadians make choices that are healthier and more affordable for everyone. And we will work with other levels of government to encourage the use of electric bikes and their safe integration into our active transportation network."

Read the NDP platform here.

The Green Party

Oh, the Green Party, which should be the natural home of environmentalists. It has often seemed like they were really Conservatives in Birkenstocks. Now, just in time for the election, the Federal Party is tearing itself apart, just when we need a strong Green Party the most.

Even their policy platform, which starts off with Greta Thunberg's "Our house is on fire" speech, is a bit sad, dated 2019 and starting with "a message from Elizabeth May," who was replaced by Annamie Paul 10 months ago. It's a strong Green Recovery Plan that calls for 60% reductions in emissions by 2030, would cancel the Trans-Mountain Pipeline, and of course, would "make electric vehicles affordable and expand charging stations."

The Green Party would "change the national building code to require new construction to meet net-zero emission standards by 2030 and work with the provinces to enact it"– fully five years after the NDP.

The Green Party would ban the sale of internal combustion engine-powered cars by 2030, invest in rail, and would "create a national cycling and walking infrastructure fund to help support zero-emissions active transportation." They are the only party that mentions aviation and would "lead an international effort to bring international shipping and aviation into the Paris framework. Introduce an international tax for aviation and shipping fuels earmarked for the Global Climate Fund."

It is actually a terrific platform, if it actually is the platform, given that it was prepared for the last election and the last leader. There is another document, "Reimagining our Future," that is newer and deals with a post-pandemic recovery.

Paul issued a press release after the IPCC report came out, which has some powerful language from her:

“The IPCC report was very hard to read. I know that it will frighten many people and cause feelings of hopelessness in some. We must acknowledge that fear, and grieve for what has been lost, but we must not let our sadness paralyze us into inaction or cause us to despair. Rather, the IPCC findings must strengthen our resolve to do all we can as a global community to avert the worst impacts of global warming. This report does contain rays of hope, hope that should create a sense of purpose and provoke decisive, rapid and ambitious climate action in Canada and internationally. The IPCC has said again today that the world needs to cut global emissions in half by 2030 and reach net zero by the middle of this century, and in doing so eventually halt rising temperatures."

Paul points to the Green Recovery Plan and picks its best points, so it is evidently still the platform. She has picked a Liberal stronghold to run for Parliament, and her chances appear slim. Given the chaos in the party, the two sitting members are in for a tough fight. It is all so sad; we need a strong Green Party in Canada.

So Who Has the Greenest Platform?

Even if it is two years old, the Green Party still has the most thoughtful platform, with a real green vision of cozy insulated houses, electric cars, renewable energy, local food, free tuition, guaranteed livable incomes, and good jobs. Who wouldn't vote for that?

It must look so strange to American readers: An election in just five weeks ending on September 20, the winner installed in days. As noted earlier, Canadians don't vote for the party or the leader, they vote for the candidate in their riding [district], with borders set by an independent commission; no gerrymandering here. There are no big Florida-style ballots: just one vote, a big X on a big piece of real paper, provided by Elections Canada, an independent non-partisan agency of Parliament that runs the election across the country. Canadians may not trust politicians, but they trust the process.

Our prediction is that the party with the greenest platform won't win, but the party with the worst platform won't either.