Cracks appear in Liberal-NDP alliance as Singh condemns Ottawa's climate 'failure'

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New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh listens to a question during a news conference on Parliament Hill on April 5, 2022 in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press - image credit)
New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh listens to a question during a news conference on Parliament Hill on April 5, 2022 in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press - image credit)

While he has vowed to prop up the Liberal government for the next three years, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh made it clear Wednesday that he won't hesitate to criticize his parliamentary partner over its perceived failings on the climate file.

Speaking to reporters after the federal environment commissioner released five reports critical of the government's climate policy, Singh said he's deeply concerned about the Liberals' approach to the environment, adding there seems to be a disconnect between rhetoric and reality.

"The Liberal government is a failure on the environment," Singh said.

"The environment commissioner was scathing, and we believe him. It's not a surprise. Under the Liberals, every single target that's been set has failed to be met. They're not taking this seriously."

Since the Liberal government was first elected in 2015, greenhouse gas emissions have increased. In 2020, during the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a sizeable drop in emissions — a decline that's not expected to continue.

While there have been emissions increases on the Liberals' watch, the government has said the country's "emissions intensity" is lower because the economy has grown faster than emissions.

It also maintains that emissions would have been much higher if carbon pricing and other measures in the Liberal-brokered Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate had not been in place.

While the government has championed climate action, Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development Jerry DeMarco said Tuesday there are real doubts about whether the government will actually meet its commitment to lower Canada's emissions by 40 to 45 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. Under that plan, Canada's emissions would have to fall from 730 megatonnes to between 445 and 408 megatonnes.

Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press
Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press

DeMarco said Ottawa is too reliant on "overly optimistic" assumptions about the future of hydrogen as a fuel source.

The commissioner reported that there are competing claims within the government about the degree to which emissions will be offset by hydrogen — a fuel product that is not widely produced in Canada.

The commissioner questioned Natural Resources Canada projections that said hydrogen could cut up to 45 megatonnes of carbon dioxide by 2030 — an eye-popping share of the expected emissions reductions, considering there's relatively little hydrogen supply in Canada now.

DeMarco said the government's questionable hydrogen emissions targets "raise concerns about their overall approach to climate modelling and emissions reductions in general."

WATCH: Canada's environment commissioner discusses government's hydrogen modelling

Speaking on the sidelines of a hydrogen conference in Edmonton, Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said it's "feasible" to supercharge the hydrogen industry in the coming years, adding that his department's estimates are based on what's possible.

In response, Singh said the government's emissions plan is "a complete mess."

"They're relying on carbon capture and hydrogen but, based on what the environment commissioner said, this plan is not going to achieve reductions," Singh said.

Despite repeated promises to table legislation to initiate a "just transition" for energy workers facing unemployment as Canada shifts to a greener future, DeMarco said he found little evidence that the Liberal government has done any meaningful work on this issue.

Kyle Bakx/CBC
Kyle Bakx/CBC

To help coal workers who already have been forced out of their jobs by federal regulations, the government has largely relied on the existing employment insurance (EI) system — a policy approach, DeMarco said, that could lead the country to experience something similar to the disastrous cod moratorium in Newfoundland and Labrador, which resulted in thousands of lost jobs.

Singh said Wednesday that workers need to be at the centre of any government action on climate. With 170,000 fossil fuel industry workers facing an uncertain future, the NDP leader said Ottawa must craft a credible plan to prevent economic calamity.

"We can't leave workers behind and there's no plan in what the Liberals have proposed," he said. "It's a complete failure."

The commissioner also chastised the federal government for allowing some provinces to levy less onerous carbon charges on industrial emitters.

Singh said the result is "billions of dollars" of subsidies for big polluters while fuel-consuming consumers — especially those in rural, remote and Indigenous communities — pay more for everyday activities.

In his response to the commissioner, Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault said the government is committed to implementing a carbon pricing system that is "fair and effective." Work is underway now to establish minimum national standards for all carbon pricing systems for industrial emitters, he said.

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