Quebec to ban sale of gas-powered cars by 2035 as part of $6.7-billion climate plan

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MONTREAL — Quebec will ban the sale of new, gasoline-powered cars and SUVs by the year 2035 as part of a $6.7-billion plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Premier Francois Legault announced Monday.

Legault said the new policy will help the province meet its pledge to reduce emissions by 37.5 per cent over 1990 levels by 2030. But the premier admitted that the new measures will only move Quebec 42 per cent of the way to its goal. He said he hopes technological advances and added investment from Ottawa will help close the gap.

"We have a duty to the next generations," Legault told a news conference alongside Environment Minister Benoit Charette. "As I said when I was getting sworn in as premier, I could not look my two sons in the eye if I didn’t make efforts to meet this enormous challenge that all of us on the planet have." 

Legault's $6.7-billion plan -- to be spread over five years -- depends heavily on the province's hydroelectric resources powering large swaths of the economy. More than half the funding announced Monday -- about $3.6 billion -- will be invested in the transportation sector, for such things as subsidies to encourage individuals and businesses to purchase electric cars, trains and taxis.

Legault dismissed criticism that electric vehicles are costly, have a limited range and can be problematic for people who live in apartments and don't have access to a wide supply of charging stations. He said the state will continue to offer subsidies and that he expected battery technology to improve over the next 15 years. 

The government's investment will also pay for more electric charging stations and to convert buildings to electric heating, he said. 

Legault said Quebec's previous target -- reducing greenhouse gases by 20 per cent over 1990s levels by 2020 -- has been missed. Data from 2015 to 2017 indicated emissions were increasing -- a sign Quebec is "going in the wrong direction," the premier said.

Legault blamed that failure on previous governments. "For the first time in Quebec," he said, "we have a plan that is costed, both in terms of costs and impact in terms of greenhouse gas reduction."

The Opposition quickly seized on the fact the government's plan meets fewer than half the state's climate goals, calling Monday's announcement "neither realistic nor ambitious."

"Hard to agree when only 42 per cent of the path forward is known," Liberal climate change critic, Carlos Leitao, wrote on Twitter. He also denounced what he said was as a lack of commitment to ensuring Quebec is carbon-neutral by 2050.

Quebec Solidaire, the second opposition party, said the government isn't doing enough to discourage private vehicle use. The party said the state should tax the owners of SUVs to encourage them to buy cars that are smaller and pollute less. 

Legault replied that he preferred incentives to punishment, while Charette said Quebec's territory is large and people outside big cities rely on larger vehicles to move around on tough terrain. 

Despite it being panned by the opposition, the plan received positive reviews from a group representing business leaders in the province. The Conseil du patronat du Quebec said in a statement the government's plan is "ambitious" and presents "new economic opportunities tied to sustainable development."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov 16, 2020.

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press