CAMBRIDGE, Ont. — Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau vowed to regulate total emissions from Canada's oil and gas producers as he laid out his first major climate change promises of the campaign Sunday, a plan that was welcomed by several environmental and climate organizations.
Trudeau said that if re-elected, the Liberals will set out regulated five-year targets for emissions from oil and gas production to get them to net-zero emissions by 2050, but also create a $2 billion fund to create jobs in oil and gas-reliant communities in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador.
Oil and gas companies would also have to reduce methane emissions by at least 75 per cent from 2012 levels by 2030, up from the previous requirement of 50 per cent.
"Let's be realistic, over a quarter of Canada's emissions come from our oil and gas sector. We need the leadership of these industries to decarbonize our country," Trudeau said.
"That's why we'll make sure oil and gas emissions don't increase and instead go down with achievable milestones," while ensuring local economies can prosper."
The Liberals are also introducing an interim electric vehicle mandate, which will require half the cars sold in Canada to be zero-emission by 2030, ahead of the final mandated target of 100 per cent by 2035.
They also promised to build 50,000 more charging stations across the country, on top of the 17,000 they have already committed to.
Trudeau spoke in Cambridge, Ont., where protesters once again made an appearance amid a visible police presence. Officers carried one woman off the property when she refused to leave when asked.
Trudeau alluded to the protesters and their actions, which included sounding sirens and chanting expletives, as he defended his government's record on climate change and touted its new plan.
"Sirens in the background may remind us that this is a climate emergency. That's why we will move faster and be bolder," he said.
Canada's largest oilsands producers have already committed to reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, but the policy proposed Sunday "calls the oil companies' bluff" by making those goals a legislated requirement, said Keith Stewart, senior energy strategist with Greenpeace Canada.
The new timeline for electric vehicles also "sends a clear signal to auto companies to get cracking (and build them here)," he said on Twitter. "We'd like to see this happen faster but the shift away from voluntary targets to requirements is big."
Merran Smith, executive director of Clean Energy Canada, a climate program at Simon Fraser University, said clean electricity, clean transportation and "phasing out oil and gas with accountable milestones" must be key priorities over the next decade.
"Today's announcement, which checks all of these boxes, is not just good ambition—it's good policy. Policy that will drive down carbon pollution and drive up clean job growth and economic competitiveness. It is policy that will drive Canada forward with cleaner cars, power Canada with clean electricity, and invest in businesses that will last," Smith said in an email.
Michael Bernstein, executive director of the climate policy organization Clean Prosperity, said the promises laid out Sunday offer a "strong boost" to the federal government's previous climate commitments.
He said the organization prefers market incentives, such as carbon pricing, that spur innovation over further regulation. But since the largest oilsands companies have already committed to reaching net-zero emissions, he said the newly unveiled policy could provide some support.
More details are needed, however, he said.
" First, I would encourage the Liberal Party to release independent modelling showing the types of emissions reductions they expect to achieve with their new package of policies. Second, many policies are referred to in general terms so I hope the Liberal Party will provide further details in the coming days," he said.
“Finally, the document does not specifically mention carbon capture or carbon dioxide removal technologies but both technologies will be critical to achieve some of the pledges in today's announcement, especially reaching net-zero emissions in the oil a gas sector."
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh painted the announcement as the latest in a string of "empty promises" from the Liberals on climate change, saying Canada has the highest increase in greenhouse gas emissions among all G7 countries.
"Climate targets mean nothing when you don't act on them. We can't afford more of Justin Trudeau's empty words on climate change," he said in a statement.
A spokesperson for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers said the organization is choosing not to comment on political promises made by individual parties or candidates.
"Canada's natural gas and oil industry is a pillar of the Canadian economy and our products are relied on to support life as we know it around the world. It is crucially important for the incoming federal government to make reasonable policy decisions that position Canada's economy for success," Jay Averill said in a statement.
The association issued a series of platform recommendations last week, however, which did not include regulated five-year emissions targets or steeper methane reductions.
The Trudeau Liberals submitted new targets to the United Nations in July, promising that Canada will curb emissions by 40 to 45 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030.
Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole has said he will revert to the original target of 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, a goal first set by the former Conservative government under Stephen Harper.
Also Sunday, Trudeau defended his decision to appoint Mary Simon, an Inuk leader and former diplomat, as Governor General, following a wave of complaints to Canada's official languages watchdog over her inability to speak French.
"It wasn't a mistake," he said in French in an interview on the Radio-Canada program "5 chefs, une élection."
"We're at a moment right now where I think Mary Simon had to be the exception — not a precedent but the exception — because our country needs to better understand and be there for Indigenous communities ... and Mary has the capacity to bring people together," he said, noting Simon has committed to learning French.
Simon is Canada's first Indigenous Governor General and the fifth woman to hold the position.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 29, 2021.
-with files from Mia Rabson in Ottawa
Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press