Climate crisis a key issue in Canada’s election campaign

Apparently prompted by a desire to strengthen his political power, Prime Minister Trudeau called a federal election, to be held on  September 20.  Following this summer of heat, drought and wildfires, the climate emergency is top of mind for voters –  for example, 46% of Canadians ranked climate change as one of their top three issues of concern in the election, in an Abacus Data poll commissioned by the Professional Institute of the Public Service and The Broadbent Institute, summarized here. Two leadership debates are planned, on September 8 (French language) and September 9 (English language).   But as reported by The Tyee, four elders of Canada’s climate community sent an open letter to the head of the Leaders Debate Commission, calling for a special Climate Emergency Leadership Debate as well – described in  “Suzuki, Atwood, Ondaatje, Lewis Call for Emergency Leaders Debate on Climate”  (Aug. 18, The Tyee) . 

The full platform statements of the major parties, as of August 25, are here: Liberal;  Conservative, (with the climate plan, Secure the Environment ,in a separate document);  New Democratic Party , (with specific climate action commitments here, plus on Aug. 23 Leader Jagmeet Singh pledged to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies “once and for all”);  and the Green Party , whose proposals are not gathered in one document, but who have made a clear statement on Just Transition  .

The National Observer offers an Explainer summarizing the climate platform proposals of each of the main federal parties, here , and Shawn McCarthy contrasts the Liberal and Conservative platforms in “Climate crisis remains wedge issue on campaign trail ” ( Corporate Knights, Aug. 23). More analysis will no doubt follow – watch the National Observer Special section of the election here; sign up here for The Tyee election newsletter, The Run; follow the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Election coverage and commentary at https://www.policyalternatives.ca/Election44 ; or the Council of Canadians coverage here. New indie newsletter The Breach  also offers election coverage, including “Wielding the balance of power” , analysing the historical record of minority governments in Canada.

What are the demands and proposals from climate and labour groups? 

The Canadian Labour Congress hasn’t so far released specific statements regarding climate policies, but has spoken out against Conservative proposals which might lead to privatization of pensions and restriction to  EI (also criticized by the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE),  and against O’Toole’s outreach to workers – summarized in  “O’Toole’s rhetoric cannot hide his record of hurting workers” by the CBC.

Unifor’s 2021 Election campaign is sponsoring TV and social media ads, targeting O’Toole’s Conservatives as taking Canada in the wrong direction.   

United Steelworkers have a clear statement of support for the New Democratic Party at their election website. Their support statement doesn’t mention any climate-related policies.

Public Service Alliance of Canada surveyed their membership in June, and found approximately half ranked climate change as a top concern, with a focus on what the federal government and military can do to reduce their impact. PSAC calls for a commitment “ to a diversified, green economy that supports workers and communities, serves the wellbeing of society, and drastically cuts our greenhouse gas emissions.”

The Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) released a statement of  approval  of the  NDP transit and transportation policies.

Let’s Build Canada is a coalition of building and construction trade unions, advocating for candidates and political parties “to commit to supporting Canadian workers and well-paying, middle-class jobs.” This includes: supporting labour mobility in the construction industry; building good green jobs and a just transition for energy workers; and government programs and initiatives to support the workforce. (Coaliton members include:  International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied WorkersInternational Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW); International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT); Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART); International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron WorkersUnited Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry of the United States and Canada (UA); and Canada’s Building Trades Unions ).

Canadian oil companies rely on carbon capture technology in their new net zero alliance

On June 9, five Canadian oil companies –  Canadian Natural Resources, Cenovus Energy, Imperial, MEG Energy and Suncor Energy – announced their alliance in the Oil Sands Pathways to Net Zero initiative, whose goal is to achieve net zero GHG emissions from their operations in Alberta’s oil sands by 2050 (but not including the emissions created from the oil consumption after it is extracted).  Importantly, the companies still forecast a global demand for oil, so they do not discuss reducing production, but rather they will rely on a Carbon Capture, Utilization and Storage (CCUS) trunkline running from the Fort McMurray and Cold Lake regions to a carbon sequestration hub near Cold Lake Alberta. Other means to reduce GHG’s will include existing technologies at oil sands operations, including “CCUS technology, clean hydrogen, process improvements, energy efficiency, fuel switching and electrification”, as well as  “potential emerging emissions-reducing technologies including direct air capture, next-generation recovery technologies and small modular nuclear reactors.”   

The companies are aided in developing these new technologies by the federal government, which announced a $750-million Emissions Reduction Fund in October 2020 , providing loans to promote investment in greener extractive technologies. It is hardly surprising then that the new alliance calls for “ Collaboration between industry and government” , and in case that wasn’t clear enough, the press release continues: “In addition to collaborating and investing together with industry, it is essential for governments to develop enabling policies, fiscal programs and regulations to provide certainty for this type of long-term, large-scale investment. This includes dependable access to carbon sequestration rights, emissions reduction credits and ongoing investment tax credits. We look forward to continued collaboration with both the federal and Alberta governments to create the regulatory and policy certainty and fiscal framework needed to ensure the economic viability of this initiative.”  

Professors Kathryn Harrison,  Martin Olszynski, and Patrick McCurdy offer guidance on how to read the Alliance goals, in “Why you should take oilsands giants’ net-zero pledge with a barrel of skepticism” in The National Observer (June 10). “Alberta is gambling its future on carbon capture” (The National Observer,  June 11) compiles reaction (mostly skeptical) from Environmental Defence and the Pembina Institute. The Energy Mix reacted with: “Fossils’ ‘Net-Zero’ Alliance has no Phaseout Plan, Relies on Shaky Carbon Capture Technology”, which surveys a broader range of reaction and quotes Pembina Institute’s Alberta regional director, Chris Severson-Baker, at length.  

For Alberta oil workers facing a future of industry volatility- policy options include Just Transition, green tax reform

In Search of Prosperity: The role of oil in the future of Alberta and Canada  was released on May 26, that cataclysmic day of bad news for the oil and gas industry when the Dutch courts ordered Royal Dutch Shell to reduce its emissions immediately, and shareholders at Exxon and Chevron defied management to press for climate-friendly policies. The future of the oil and gas industry is also grim in Canada, according to In Search of Prosperity, published by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD). Using economic models, it concludes that “the volatility of the industry poses a much greater threat than low prices to the Alberta economy – more than five times worse than the effect of just low prices.” And further: “….. unless there are innovations in the uses of oil for non-combustion, also known as “bitumen beyond combustion,” the oil sector will contribute less and less to Alberta’s prosperity.” According to the modelling, employment in the oil sector will potentially decrease byan average 24,300 full-time jobs per year toward 2050 ( accompanied by a potential 43% drop in royalties to the Alberta government). 

How to cope with those upcoming job losses? Another report from the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), also released on May 26, suggests the EU Just Transition Mechanism as one of its model strategies for the future. 10 Ways to Win the Global Race to Net-Zero: Global insights to inform Canadian climate competitiveness offers an overview of the global policy literature and describes successful case studies, including the innovation of green steel in Sweden; hydrogen policy in Germany; collaboration in the form of the European Battery Alliance and the European Transition Commission; the Biden “all of government” approach to governance in the U.S.; New Zealand’s consultation with and inclusion of the indigenous Maori; and the EU’s Just Transition Mechanism as part of the European Green New Deal. The report’s conclusion offers five strategies, including that the Canadian government must take action as a “top priority” on its promised Just Transition Act.

The discussion of Just Transition in 10 Ways to Win provides a brief, clear summary of the complexity of the EU Just Transition Mechanism, and states that the EU approach is consistent with the recent report,  Employment Transitions and the Phase-Out of Fossil Fuels by Jim Stanford, published by the Centre for Future Work in January 2021. Stanford argues that a gradual transition from fossil fuels is possible without involuntary layoffs, given a “clear timetable for phase-out, combined with generous supports for retirement, redeployment, and regional diversification”.

The IISD also recently published Achieving a Fossil Free Recovery (May 17), an international policy discussion with a focus on ending subsidies and preferential tax treatments for the fossil fuel industry. The report concludes with a brief section on Just Transition as the predominant framework for the transition to a clean energy economy, and calls for a social dialogue approach. As in previous IISD reports (for example, Fossil Fuel Subsidy Reform and the Just Transition in 2017), the authors argue that dollars spent to support and subsidize the fossil fuel industry could be better spent in encouraging clean energy industries.  This argument also relates to an April 2021 IISD report, Nordic Environmental Fiscal Reform, which offers case studies of the success of environmental taxes – for example, in the use of tax revenue to support the Danish wind energy industry which now employs 33,000 workers.

$17.6 Billion announced for Green Recovery in Canada’s new Budget- but still not enough to meet the Climate Emergency – updated

On April 19, the federal government tabled its much-anticipated 2021 Budget, titled A Recovery Plan for Jobs, Growth, and Resilience, announcing $30 billion over five years and $8.3 billion a year afterward to create and maintain early learning and child-care programs – stating:  “It is the care work that is the backbone of our economy. Just as roads and transit support our economic growth, so too does child care”. COVID-19 wage subsidy, rent subsidy and lockdown support programs will be extended until September, depending on how long the crisis continues, the maximum sickness benefit period for Employment Insurance will be extended from 12 to 26 weeks, and a new Canada Recovery Hiring Program will provide employers with funding to hire new workers between June 6, 2021 and November 20, 2021.  A new $15 federal minimum wage will apply in federally regulated private businesses.

Green Recovery and the Climate Emergency: The Budget still falls short

In an article in Policy Options in March, Mitchell Beer laid out the challenge: Chrystia Freeland must pick a lane with next budget – climate change or oil and gas? Climate activists laid out what they were looking for in Investing for Tomorrow, Today: How Canada’s Budget 2021 can enable critical climate action and a green recovery , published on March 29 and endorsed by nine of Canada’s leading environmental organizations: Pembina Institute, Nature Canada, Climate Action Network Canada, Environmental Defence, Équiterre, Conservation Council of New Brunswick, Ecology Action Centre, Leadnow, and Wilderness Committee. 

Yet it appears that the federal Budget is still trying to maintain one foot on the oil and gas pedal, while talking about GHG emissions and clean technologies. The reactions below indicate such concerning elements – incentives on the unproven technologies of carbon capture and storage and hydrogen, no signs of an end to fossil fuel subsidies, no mention of a Just Transition Act, and, despite hopes that the Prime Minister would announce an ambitious target at the U.S. Climate Summit convened by President Biden, a weak new GHG reduction target increasing to only 36 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

The Budget summary announces “$17.6 billion in a green recovery that will help Canada to reach its target to conserve 25 per cent of Canada’s lands and oceans by 2025, exceed its Paris climate targets and reduce emissions by 36 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, and move forward on a path to reach net-zero emission by 2050.” This  Backgrounder summarizes some of the Green Recovery highlights, which include :

  • $4.4 billion to support retrofitting through interest-free loans to homeowners, up to $40,000
  • $14.9 billion over eight years for a new, permanent public transit fund
  • $5 billion over seven years, to support business ventures through the Net Zero Accelerator program – which aims to decarbonize large emitters in key sectors, including steel, aluminum, cement—and to accelerate the adoption of clean technology. Examples given are aerospace and automobile manufacture industry.
  • $319 million over seven years “to support research and development that would improve the commercial viability of carbon capture, utilization, and storage technologies.” This would be in the form of an investment tax credit, with the goal of reducing emissions by at least 15 megatonnes of CO2 annually.
  • a temporary reduction by half in corporate income tax rates for qualifying zero-emission technology manufacturers, such as solar and wind energy equipment, electric vehicle charging systems, hydrogen refuelling stations for vehicles, manufacturing of equipment used for the production of hydrogen by electrolysis of water, production of hydrogen by electrolysis of water and others
  • $63.8 million over three years, starting in 2021-22, to Natural Resources Canada, Environment and Climate Change Canada, and Public Safety Canada to work with provinces and territories to complete flood maps for higher-risk areas.
  • $2.3 billion over five years to conserve up to 1 million square kilometers more land and inland waters, and an additional $200 million to build natural infrastructure like parks, green spaces, ravines, waterfronts, and wetlands.

Reactions

Watershed moment for child care, long-term care: Budget 2021: But pharmacare, tax reform and climate change remain in limbo”, from CCPA states: “Budget 2021 delivers on a number of previously-announced emission reduction initiatives and green infrastructure projects, including $14.9 billion over eight years for a new, permanent public transit fund…….Unfortunately, while the budget makes big strides toward a greener economy, it fails once again to tackle Canada’s dependence on fossil fuel production. Without a clear plan and timeline for winding down oil and gas extraction we simply cannot meet our net zero emission target.”

“Federal Budget React: Canadian Civil Society Responds” compiles reactions from Canada’s major climate advocacy groups, including Climate Action Network’s own statement: “…. Some investments made by budget 2021 are extremely helpful – particularly investments in clean transportation, energy efficient homes, resilient agriculture, and Canada’s first green bonds. Some investments made by budget 2021 are extremely worrisome – investments in carbon capture and storage risk perpetuating our dangerous addiction to fossil fuels, and some of the forestry investments perpetuate a transactional relationship with nature that treats it like a commodity we can trade. Yet the big take away is this: we are in a time of changing norms, and Budget 2021 does not present a vision for climate-safe transformational change” 

Budget 2021 is a healthy dose for the clean economy, but climate measures lack potency” from the Toronto Atmospheric Fund, which points out “There is no way to reach our near-term or net zero targets without retrofitting practically all of Canada’s homes and buildings.  That’s why the lack of mention of energy efficiency and deep retrofits for buildings beyond single-family homes is surprising … There is no mention in the budget of strategic incentives or financing for municipalities or developers to ensure new construction is near-zero construction.”

The Canadian Labour Congress press release, Canada’s unions welcome ‘crucial’ funding for child care, skills training and $15 federal minimum wage doesn’t mention any of the green recovery elements. The CLC later released a Summary and Analysis of the Budget, here.

From NUPGE: Federal Budget 2021: Lofty ambitions need details , which follows NUPGE President Larry Brown’s letter to Environment and Climate Change Minister Wilkinson, titled No more delays on climate action, justice.  

Federal Budget Leaves Out Transit Workers and Riders as Operational Transit Funding Completely Left Out, Says ATU Canada” from the Amalgamated Transit Union  

If not now, when?” Liberals waste another shot at equitable recovery with Budget 2021 from Canadian Union of Public Employees

And from the National Observer: “Critics throw shade at federal budget cash for home retrofits”  and  “Will Trudeau’s wager on carbon capture help or hurt the environment? “.

Two new reports call for end to subsidies and phase-out of Canada’s oil and gas industry

Two new reports expose Canada’s continuing financial support of the fossil fuel industry and call for a phase-out. These appeared in the same week as the federal government reported Canada’s latest National Inventory of Emissions to the United Nations’ UNFCC, showing that the oil and gas industry is the top source of carbon emissions in Canada.

The first report, by Environmental Defence, is Paying Polluters: Federal Financial Support to Oil and Gas in 2020 , released on April 15. It estimates that the government has provided or promised at least $18 billion to the oil and gas sector in 2020 alone, including  $3.28 billion in direct subsidy programs and $13.47 billion in public financing. Paying Polluters decries the lack of transparency – especially for funding through Export Development Canada  – but nevertheless attempts to list the tax subsidies and direct spending programs, in an Appendix at the end of the report. In addition to obvious subsidies, the tally includes loans for pipeline construction, research into new technologies for cleaner processes, job subsidies for reclamation of oil wells, and even policing costs for pipeline construction – think $13 million taxpayer dollars paid to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to protect the construction site of the Coastal GasLink pipeline.

Environmental Defence concludes with five recommendations, including a call for greater transparency, and for “a roadmap to achieve Canada’s commitment to phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies before 2025, and shift these investments and public finance towards supporting a path to resilient, equitable zero-carbon societies.” It should be noted that the government first pledged to phase out these subsidies in 2009. The report is summarized, with reactions, by Sarah Cox in The Narwhal, on April 16.  

A second report, Correcting Canada’s “One-eye shut” Climate Policy, was released on April 16 by the Cascade Institute. It summarizes Canada’s history of fossil fuel production, and refutes those who argue that we are a small country whose emissions don’t compare to those of China or the U.S. Calling on Canada to accept its global responsibility, the authors state that “Canada’s 2021-2050 oil and gas production would exhaust about 16 percent of the world’s remaining carbon budget. Canada is indeed a “carbon bomb” of global significance.”  This is the first of many hard-hitting, frank statements in the report, including a highly critical discussion of the “fool’s gambit” of hydrogen production, and an assessment that “A highly resourced and well-organized “regime of obstruction” has developed in Canada to block effective climate action and ensure increased fossil fuel extraction.”

Correcting Canada’s “One-eye shut” Climate Policy references the Environmental Defence  Paying Polluters report, agreeing with the call for a phase-out of government support and subsidies. It also offers more information about subsidies – for example, an estimate that the provincial supports, including royalty credits, constitute an additional estimated $4.2 billion a year. Other less-than-obvious examples of support for oil and gas:  subsidies that encourage fossil fuel consumption, like aviation or mobility investments,  and over $250 million  directed to four oil sands major companies under Canada’s Emergency Wage Subsidy during Covid-19.  The report states that Imperial Oil alone received $120 million in wage support while concurrently issuing $320 million in dividends. Yet on the issue of oil and gas jobs, the authors state that in 2019, the oil and gas sector represented just 1 percent of direct employment in Canada, and 5.5 percent in Alberta. “To save costs, the industry has aggressively cut jobs, by 23 percent over the 2014 to 2019 period, even as oil and gas production increased by 24 percent, reaching record highs, over that same period.”

The One-Eye Shut report goes further, offering specific policy options within the federal jurisdiction to phase out the industry, including: “prohibiting the leasing of federal lands and waters for fossil fuel production and infrastructure; implementing a “climate test” on all new fossil fuel projects and removing federal impact review exemptions; canceling the Trans Mountain expansion pipeline; divesting federal public investment funds from fossil fuel production; and removing federal subsidies and public financing that supports fossil fuel exploration, production, or transportation, including federal funding for technologies that delay a transition away from oil and gas.”

Correcting Canada’s “One-eye shut” Climate Policy: Meeting Canada’s climate commitments requires ending supports for, and beginning a gradual phase out of, oil and gas production  is a Technical Paper written by University of Waterloo professor Angela Carter and PhD. Student Truzaar Dordi, and published by the Cascade Institute.   Participating Institutions include the Corporate Mapping Project, University of Waterloo, Royal Roads University, and the McConnell Foundation.