The environment is connected to jobs, the economy and health as key ballot-box issues

Environmental science professor Greg King dissects each party's platform on climate change and the environment ahead of the upcoming federal election.

Tia Lalani - 18 October 2019

The Green Party has the most ambitious environmental plan, says Augustana environmental scientist Greg King, with the NDP and Liberals following. Regardless of party, climate change represents a key ballot-box issue alongside issues of the economy and health.

By Greg King

A Research Co. survey in September revealed that Canadians rate the environment as the top election issue over the economy and jobs, health care and housing. The highest-profile environmental issue is climate change. It is driving sea-level rise, increasing extreme weather and reducing the extent of sea ice; and Canada is warming at twice the global average. As a wealthy nation with high emissions per person, and already enviable access to renewable energy sources, Canada must play an important role in contributing to solutions.

Under the Paris Agreement, which aims to keep global average temperature increase well below 2 degrees Celsius, Canada committed to reducing carbon emissions to 30% below our 2005 level by 2030. We are not currently on track to meet this goal, making it important to evaluate where the major federal parties stand on this commitment.

A major contrast between parties is their position on a carbon tax. The Conservatives and People's Party of Canada (PPC) would eliminate the carbon tax, while the Greens, Liberals and NDP would retain a revenue-neutral price on carbon that would gradually increase over time. Revenue-neutral means that most or all money collected would be returned to individuals through income tax rebates (Canadian companies also pay a carbon tax and receive output-based rebates). Analysis by the Parliamentary Budget Office found that all but the wealthiest 20% of Canadians would receive more in rebates than they would pay in carbon tax. This structure provides an incentive for people to make choices that reduce their carbon footprint in ways that make sense for them. Economists consider a revenue-neutral carbon tax to be the lowest-cost way to reduce emissions.

The Conservative plan relies on providing incentives, such as a green technology fund, to attract private investment and industry-driven solutions. The CPC also propose a limited two-year green home tax credit along with public transit tax credits and have a goal to end the use of foreign oil by 2030. There are ideas here, but they lack details such as specific targets and firm timelines. Independent assessments show the plan will not meet the Paris Agreement targets.

The Green Party has the most ambitious environmental plan, a 60% emissions reduction below 2005 levels by 2030. Beyond a carbon tax, policies include imposing import tariffs on countries with lower carbon tax rates, ending all oil imports as soon as possible and using no oil for energy by 2050. They would harness the transferable skills of oil and gas workers through investments in retraining and create jobs through building retrofits. Overall, their plan sets quantifiable targets and links goals to specific policies. However, questions remain on the feasibility of the plan given the timelines proposed.

The Liberals say they will exceed the 30% target by 2030. Major policies include increasing the carbon tax from $20 to $50 a tonne by 2022 (about 11 cents per litre of gasoline), phasing out coal power by 2030, offering interest-free loans to energy retrofit homes and planting two billion trees over the next 10 years. Although some promises lack specificity, their goals may be more achievable as they build on four years of momentum.

The NDP plan proposes a 38% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030. Beyond the carbon tax, they would reduce carbon tax breaks to large polluters, while immediately eliminating fossil fuel subsidies and reinvesting the funds into low carbon initiatives. The party would create a Climate Bank to boost made-in-Canada manufacturing of renewable energy components and technology. The NDP have ambitious goals; however, many of their policies aim to affect areas of provincial responsibility.

The PPC have released a very limited environmental platform with many inaccurate statements, notably their denial of the reality of global climate change and the supporting science.

Although surveys and polls may separate the environment from issues such as jobs, economy and health, we know they are interconnected. I encourage you to learn more by carefully reading the party platforms or accessing an online platform comparison tool.

Climate change will continue to have an impact on our collective well-being and is a key ballot box issue.

Greg King, Environmental Science, Augustana Campus, University of Alberta. This column was originally published in the Camrose Booster on October 15, 2019.