OTTAWA — The Conservative election platform will contain a climate-change plan that could cut greenhouse-gas emissions faster than the Liberals' plan will, party leader Erin O'Toole said Thursday.
O'Toole told a virtual audience of the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade that he "loves" the net-zero approach to carbon emissions, though not the wide-ranging federal carbon tax, and his party is working on a plan that would get Canada to its emissions goals.
"You're going to see a very detailed plan ... that will, I think, make our commitments probably faster than Mr. Trudeau without a running-out-of-control federal carbon tax that he's already promising," O'Toole said during a question-and-answer session.
"Net-zero" is an approach that means either the Canadian economy will emit no greenhouse gases or will offset those emissions other ways, absorbing equivalent greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. Last year, the Liberals tabled a bill that would require Canada to reach net zero by 2050, and will set rolling emissions targets in the meantime.
Right now, the goal is to get Canada's emissions 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.
That legislation was backed by a $15-billion plan, a plan that includes steady increases to the federal carbon tax.
How a Conservative government would achieve the same reductions without that tax is one of the bigger questions plaguing the party's policy shop.
Carbon pricing is an approach that some in the oil-producing regions of the country, as well as many Conservative grassroots supporters, say is unfairly punitive and depresses economic growth.
Those in favour of the approach argue that if there's no cost to using fossil fuels, there can be no meaningful reduction to emissions. Polls continue to suggest Canadians are receptive to the idea as one element of climate-change policy.
Polls also show many Canadians are worried about climate change and that the Conservatives' failure to advance a meaningful plan to combat it has consistently been a barrier to growing their support.
O'Toole had previously signalled he intends to shift course and has a policy team already at work on charting one. On their agenda is exploring how conservative governments elsewhere have tackled the problem.
To attract voters, especially millennials, O'Toole said he wants a made-in-Canada net zero approach that sees government partnering with, and pushing, organizations to bring their emissions down, and carbon pricing that targets only industry, not individuals.
"So I think millennials will see, maybe this isn't your father's Conservative party," he said.
O'Toole also said working more closely with the U.S. to harmonize environmental regulations should also be part of the mix.
Earlier Thursday, his office released a readout of a call he had with the acting American ambassador to Canada, which did briefly touch on environmental issues.
But he also devoted energy to advocating for the Canadian oil sector.
O'Toole told Katherine Brucker that he was disappointed by President Joe Biden's decision to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline on his first day in office last month.
O'Toole also said if the governor of Michigan follows through on plans to shut down a pipeline that passes through her state on its way to southwestern Ontario by May it would hurt both countries' economies.
About 87 million litres of oil and natural gas liquids moves daily through Line 5 from Wisconsin to Sarnia, Ont.
The U.S. Embassy in Ottawa declined to comment on the Wednesday conversation between Brucker and O'Toole.
"Mr. O'Toole raised his disappointment about the decision of the United States to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline and made the case for why this project should continue, including the economic benefits for both countries," the Conservative party's account of the call said.
"He also raised the potential Line 5 pipeline cancellation and the tremendous economic blow this would cause both countries."
O'Toole also registered his opposition to American tariffs on softwood lumber and the Buy American policies that the Biden administration is also following after Trump.
The two also spoke about China, and O'Toole thanked the United States for its willingness to assist in securing the release of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, two Canadians currently in prison there.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 11, 2021.
Stephanie Levitz and Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said Canada's goal is to reach net-zero emissions by 2030.