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Ottawa has announced sales targets for zero-emission vehicles, outlining proposed regulations that would make electric vehicles more readily available to Canadian consumers.DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

Ottawa has announced new sales mandates for zero-emission vehicles, saying the proposed regulations will make electric vehicles more available to consumers and help Canada hit its goal of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050.

The federal government said on Wednesday that the regulations would require at least 20 per cent of new vehicles sold in Canada to be zero emission by 2026, at least 60 per cent by 2030 and 100 per cent by 2035.

Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault had previously said that the government planned to introduce a zero-emission-vehicle (ZEV) mandate this year or next.

Environmental and energy groups welcomed the news, with the Pembina Institute calling a sales mandate a game changer that would make electric vehicles more available and result in lower prices as manufacturing picks up.

A Canada-wide policy will help increase ZEV sales and drive down vehicle prices, said Ekta Bibra, senior policy adviser with Clean Energy Canada.

“Currently in Canada, the two provinces with their own version of a mandate – B.C. and Quebec – are kilometres ahead when it comes to EV sales,” Ms. Bibra said Wednesday in a statement.

In the first six months of this year, sales of fully electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles made up just 7.2 per cent of new car registrations in the country. The percentage was highest in B.C., where electric vehicles accounted for almost 15 per cent of all new vehicles registered in the first half of the year. In Quebec, electric vehicles accounted for 11.4 per cent of registrations for that period.

Quebec began enforcing sales quotas for electric vehicles in 2018 and British Columbia followed in 2020.

“This new Canada-wide policy is desperately needed to even the playing field and ensure that Canadians from coast to coast can access the cost-saving benefits of going electric,” Ms. Bibra said.

But automotive groups raised warning flags, saying the proposed regulations will hurt consumers and put Canada behind other countries in the race to make a wholesale shift in automotive manufacturing and infrastructure.

“We are concerned the federal government is going to be advancing a sales regulation before doing the hard work necessary to build out the preconditions for success,” said Brian Kingston, chief executive of the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers’ Association.

Those conditions include adequate charging infrastructure, adequate consumer incentives and an electricity system that can support the shift to electric vehicles, Mr. Kingston said, adding that without those conditions in place, the federal government would in effect be forcing Canadians to buy vehicles “they can’t afford or charge.”

Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association president Flavio Volpe also raised concerns. He cited the lack of charging infrastructure, uncertainty related to supplies of critical minerals required to make ZEVs and the potential for the regulations to push profit-oriented manufacturers to move jobs and investment out of Canada.

“Targets that are really quotas that imperil the jobs of people who are responsible for the technological solutions are not the path to success in electric vehicles,” Mr. Volpe said.

The announcement was made at a facility run by Plug’n Drive, an Ontario non-profit that promotes electric cars.

The toughest part of bolstering electric vehicles right now is the lack of availability, Plug’n Drive president and chief executive Cara Clairman said at the event.

“Long waiting lists are definitely discouraging consumers that are ready to make the switch. And if we all agree we are in a climate emergency, we need to help consumers make the switch as soon as possible,” Ms. Clairman said.

In making the announcement, Ottawa said it would invest in 50,000 more electric-vehicle charging stations across the country, for almost 85,000 federally funded chargers. The government also said it would renew a program that provides Canadians up to $5,000, and businesses up to $10,000, to put toward the cost of buying or leasing a ZEV.

In a background document, the government said its policy is designed to align with the most stringent performance standards in North America from 2025 on, including ZEV sales requirements in California.

Canada is not investing nearly enough in ZEV infrastructure to compare with jurisdictions such as California, Mr. Kingston said, noting that Canada ranked 13th in an Ernst and Young survey of electric-vehicle readiness.

A formal 75-day consultation period is set to begin on Dec. 31, after the regulations are published in the Canada Gazette.

With a report from The Canadian Press

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