Climate change and the election: Compare party platforms

·8 min read
Climate change and the election: Compare party platforms
People attend a climate change protest in Montreal last September. All major parties running in the Sept. 20 election have proposals to tackle climate change in their platforms, but they differ on how to do it. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press - image credit)
People attend a climate change protest in Montreal last September. All major parties running in the Sept. 20 election have proposals to tackle climate change in their platforms, but they differ on how to do it. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press - image credit)

The next government's climate change plan will impact every aspect of Canadians' lives, public policy researchers say.

Climate change impacts such as wildfires, extreme heat and drought are already affecting Canadians in concrete ways, said Dale Beugin, vice-president of research and analysis at the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices, a non-partisan, publicly funded think-tank. But beyond that, countries worldwide are shifting away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy to meet targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate future damage and costs of climate change.

"How Canada competes in that growing net-zero economy or a low-carbon economy is going to be huge for how well we do in the long term," Beugin said.

CBC examined the platforms of (in alphabetical order): the Bloc Québécois, Conservatives, Green Party, Liberals and NDP. If a party doesn't appear in a certain section, there was insufficient information in its platform on that topic, or, in one case, no modelling analysis was publicly available. The People's Party does not accept the science behind human-caused global warming and simply promises to cancel all climate-related policies and pull out of the Paris Agreement on climate change so it was not included in the analysis.

LISTEN | What do the major parties have to say on climate change?

Here's how the major parties' platforms compare in terms of emissions reductions targets, the role of carbon pricing in meeting those targets, what evidence there is that the plans will work, and how the plans aim to transition Canada to a lower-carbon economy to compete in a changing world.

Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press
Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press

What are the parties' emissions targets?

Under the 2015 Paris agreement, Canada and 195 other countries have committed to cutting greenhouse gas emissions enough to limit global warming to well below 2 C, and ideally 1.5 C compared to pre-industrial temperatures.

All the federal parties include as a central part of their plan a promise to cut emissions by a certain percentage below 2005 levels by 2030, but to varying degrees:

Bloc Québécois

  • It does not specify a target it in its official platform.

Conservatives

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press
Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Green Party

  • 60 per cent.

Liberals

  • 40 to 45 per cent.

  • This would meet the new Paris targets that the current Liberal government has committed to.

NDP

  • 50 per cent.

WATCH | The political ambitions behind Canada's new climate targets

How do parties differ on carbon tax or carbon price?

The experts who spoke to CBC said the key to success on emissions reductions is to hit all sectors of the economy.

One broad measure that can do this is carbon taxes or carbon pricing. In general, a higher price drives emissions down more quickly but will cost businesses and individuals more.

All the major parties support carbon pricing in some form. Here are details for each party:

Bloc Québécois

  • In 2019, the Bloc supported a tax of $30/tonne, rising to $200/tonne by 2030 but only in provinces with higher-than-average per capita emissions.

Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press
Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

Conservatives

  • $20/tonne, rising to $50/tonne by 2030 for personal carbon taxes.

  • $170/tonne by 2030 for industry but only if the U.S. and Europe match that price. The tax is based on output, meaning companies pay only if they exceed a certain limit. This already the current model for industry.

WATCH | Will the Conservatives' take on carbon pricing will fly with their voters?

Green Party

  • $50/tonne rising to $275/tonne by 2030 ($25 increase each year).

Liberals

  • The tax the Liberal government introduced sits at $40/tonne, rising to $170/tonne by 2030 and applies in provinces without their own carbon pricing.

  • 90 per cent of personal carbon taxes are returned to consumers via rebates, with the rest going to business, schools, hospitals and municipalities.

  • Output-based pricing for industry. Platform says a Liberal government would "continue to put a rising price on pollution."

NDP

Carbon emissions by sector

How do we know parties will meet targets?

Some modelling and analysis has been done by experts to compare some of the plans using similar methodology, estimate whether the plans would achieve their varying targets and, to an extent, compare relative costs.

Conservatives

Green Party

  • Kathryn Harrison, a political science professor at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, said the plan hasn't been modelled to see if it would achieve its goal, but she thinks a 60 per cent reduction by 2030 would be "extremely difficult for Canada to do." "In practice, the Greens aren't going to form government. They know they're not going to form government, and they are putting issues on the agenda and speaking to a narrower subset of voters," Harrison said.

Justin Tang/The Canadian Press
Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

Liberals

  • But Harrison said the party hasn't provided modelling to show how the new measures proposed in its platform would get Canada to a 40 per cent reduction. "I think it's debatable whether they have quite enough policy in the window," said Ragan. Ragan is former chair of the Ecofiscal Commission, which found a carbon price of $200/tonne — higher than the $170/tonne proposed by the Liberals — was needed to get to just a 30 per cent reduction in emissions, well below the Liberals' current goal of 40 per cent by 2030.

Justin Tang/The Canadian Press
Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

NDP

LISTEN | Mark Jaccard discusses the major parties' scores on fighting climate change

How do they plan to transition Canada to a low-carbon economy?

As the rest of the world shifts away from fossil fuels, experts anticipate that demand for low-carbon technologies will grow, demand for fossil fuels will decline, and Canada's economy will need to shift its jobs and production to new industries.

That concept is sometimes called a "just transition," and the parties' positions on it differ.

WATCH | A climate expert says Canada needs to get out of the oil and gas business:

Conservatives

Green Party

  • Harrison said this plan "really stands apart" in that it's the only one calling for a broad reduction of fossil fuel production.

  • It includes a promise to cancel all new pipeline projects, oil exploration projects, leasing of federal lands for fossil fuel production; ban fracking; ban exports of thermal coal; and phase out bitumen production between 2030 and 2035.

  • Would end $7 billion in fossil fuel subsidies, including accelerated capital cost allowance on liquefied natural gas (LNG); tax write-offs for oil and gas wells, coal mining exploration and development; flow-through share deductions for coal, oil and gas projects, and oil and gas properties.

  • A Just Transition Act by the end of 2021 that encompasses the needs of workers and communities during transition.

  • Promises to replace every "high-paying" fossil fuel sector job with a high-paying green sector job.

Liberals

  • $2 billion for a Futures Fund for Alberta, Saskatchewan and N.L. for job creation and a Clean Jobs Training Centre and "just transition" legislation.

  • End thermal coal exports by 2030.

NDP

  • Promises expanded EI benefits, retraining, job placement services and retirement benefits for workers affected by transition away from fossil fuels and "over a million new good jobs." In its fiscal plan, it promises $1 billion between now and 2026 for the worker transition, in addition to what is in the current government's 2021 budget.

  • Would eliminate oil and gas subsidies, ban future subsidies, and redirect money to low-carbon initiatives. In its fiscal plan, it specifies that it will cut tax write-offs for oil and gas property and development expenses and the Accelerated Investment Incentive for the oil and gas sector. It expects that to generate $10.8 billion between now and 2026.

Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press
Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

How else do the climate platforms differ?

All the parties have a climate adaptation component in their platforms that includes disaster response and infrastructure upgrades.

They also all offer support for a cleaner grid, electric cars, green retrofits and "nature-based solutions," such as restoring wetlands and tree planting for carbon sequestration, although they differ in the details.

Beugin said those types of commercially available and scalable solutions are safe bets and "almost certainly central to any path to net zero."

LISTEN | Where the major parties stand on climate change

The parties differ in the extent to which they rely on regulations in addition to carbon pricing to cut emissions.

Harrison said in general, other regulations can achieve the same goals as carbon pricing if they're enforced but are more costly for the economy than a higher carbon price.

She suggested that the Conservatives and NDP in particular rely more heavily on regulations as a substitute for higher carbon pricing.

The NDP's plans include regulations for each sector, which need to be developed and implemented.

"What worries me about that is it's slow," she said.

Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press
Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

The plans also differ in some of the less-developed technology solutions they support, which Beugin calls "wild cards," such as carbon capture and hydrogen. Some of those could succeed and pay big dividends, but "there is a need to kind of acknowledge some of that uncertainty and to plan for multiple possible futures," he said.

Jason MacLean, an assistant professor who studies environmental law at the University of New Brunswick, cautions that investing heavily in them can also be a distraction: "These are very risky bets because if these unproven and expensive technologies don't pan out, then we won't have taken the more radical actions to rethink and redesign our economy and our society."

WATCH | Nationwide rallies call for leaders to act on climate change

Here are some of the "wild cards" supported by each party:

Bloc Québécois

  • Green hydrogen development in Quebec, which would be funded by cutting the existing national hydrogen strategy

Conservatives

  • A national clean energy strategy that includes production of hydrogen and liquid natural gas.

  • $1 billion for hydrogen.

  • $5 billion for carbon capture.

  • $1 billion for small modular nuclear reactors.

  • Renewable gas mandate requiring 15 per cent of natural gas consumed in Canada be renewable, from sources such as food, sewage and landfill waste, by 2030.

Liberals

  • Net zero emissions from oil and gas by 2050 via carbon capture.

NDP

  • Research and development and hydrogen fuel cell technology for heavy trucks, freight, marine and aviation.

Lucas Jackson/Reuters
Lucas Jackson/Reuters
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