Canadian climate policy overhaul on the way as Liberals sweep to power

Published 04:50 on October 20, 2015  /  Last updated at 04:56 on October 20, 2015  /  Americas, Canada, US

Canada’s Liberals won a majority government in Monday’s federal election, meaning the left-leaning party will face few obstacles in implementing a new, more ambitious climate change policy that could mirror its southern neighbour's.

Canada’s Liberals won a majority government in Monday’s federal election, meaning the left-leaning party will face few obstacles in implementing a new, more ambitious climate change policy that could mirror its southern neighbour’s.

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, son of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, had previously said he will reconsider the country’s existing emissions reduction target announced earlier this year by outgoing Conservative PM Stephen Harper, but stopped short of committing to deepen it.

The Conservatives, who in their 10-year reign pulled Canada out of the Kyoto Protocol and focussed on developing the country’s CO2-intensive tarsands and wider energy sector, including the funding of aggressive lobbying for the Keystone XL oil pipeline, in May pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030.

“Canadians voted for change …  The [Liberal] government has an unprecedented opportunity to reject boom and bust polluting industries by stopping tar sands expansion and making Canada a leader in renewable energies,” said Joanna Kerr, executive director of Greenpeace Canada.

“It’s now time to say yes to a brighter future and farewell to politics of fear and environmental degradation,” she added, referring to claims that Harper’s government had also defunded and muzzled the country’s climate scientists.

Trudeau has acknowledged that the bulk of Canada’s efforts to curb its carbon emissions now comes from the provincial level, and as such has vowed that if elected, his government would within 90 days convene a meeting with the country’s premiers over how to work together on a common climate change framework.

“Central to this would be the creation of national emissions reduction targets,” he said, according to the Liberal Party’s website.

Canada has historically aligned its climate and energy policies with the US, but under Harper the country largely diverged from the more ambitious goals set in the past few years by President Barack Obama.

However, the Liberals’ election platform, as well as that of the New Democrats (NDP) – who are forecast to finish in third place behind the Tories – appeared to line up once again with the approach being taken by the US, its largest trading partner.

Through the Clean Air Act, Obama has set a national target of a 26-28% cut in GHGs below 2005 levels by 2030, including reductions of 32% by the power sector. And under his Clean Power Plan, currently being implemented by the Environmental Protection Agency, Obama is letting each state decide on how to meet their individual targets.

“Under the Liberal plan, provincial and territorial governments will have the flexibility to design their own policies to meet these commitments, including their own carbon pricing policies,” Trudeau said.

Several provinces have developed comprehensive climate strategies, including British Columbia’s economy-wide carbon tax and Quebec’s carbon market, which is linked to California’s.

Oil-rich Alberta, home of the tarsands, has pledged to beef up its existing carbon levy programme under its new NDP government, while Ontario is in the midst of designing its own cap-and-trade scheme to connect to Quebec and California.

Canada is ranked as a top-10 emitter worldwide, and allowed its emissions to balloon under Kyoto before snubbing and eventually leaving the treaty.


“We will provide targeted federal funding to help achieve these goals, in the same way the federal government supports health care in Canada,” Trudeau said, according to the Liberal website.

He has promised to significantly increase federal funding for carbon-cutting projects, pledging C$20 billion ($15.3 billion) over the next 10 years.

“We’re talking about C$2 billion in a trust to help provinces make the shift to lower emissions. We’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars invested in green energy initiatives, in clean technology initiatives,” he told CBC earlier this month.

Trudeau has said his government would also attend this December’s UN climate summit in Paris and actively participate in the negotiations, in contrast to Canada’s low-key presence and perceived apathetic aspirations at the talks in recent years.

News of Trudeau’s victory and Harper’s loss seemed to be greeted by equal measures of enthusiasm on social media.

“Wonderful news that Harper is out and Trudeau is in after Canada’s election. As with Australia’s ouster of Abbott, perhaps climate sanity,” tweeted Jeffrey Sachs, director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, referring to ex-Australian PM Tony Abbott, who was also accused of introducing unambitious climate policies.

“I think this is the first time in my adult life the US, Canada, & Australia all have governments that acknowledge climate science at the same time,” tweeted Kalee Kreider, a former adviser and communications director to climate crusader and ex-US Vice President Al Gore.

By Mike Szabo –