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Liberal candidate and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said the aim of green economy measures is to align the Canadian economy with broader shifts happening around the world.Stephen MacGillivray/The Canadian Press

The Liberals are putting a distinctly green lens on their plans for job creation and economic growth, with promises to accelerate the transition toward a low-carbon economy if the party forms government after the Sept. 20 election.

The party platform, published Wednesday, promises a range of new green economy measures, including a 30-per-cent tax credit for clean technology investments and $2-billion to retrain oil and gas workers. It also pledges new strategies for clean-energy home renovations, aimed at kickstarting a “vibrant retrofit economy.”

Other pillars of the party’s economic vision include its child-care program, aimed at bringing women into the work force, and increased investments in science and innovation – including a $2-billion promise to establish a Canada Advanced Research Projects Agency modelled on the United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. But the core of the party’s economic growth agenda is built squarely around low-carbon initiatives.

At a news conference in Toronto, Liberal candidate and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said the aim of the plan is to align the Canadian economy with broader shifts happening around the world.

“The green transition is a reality in the global economy. As Canadians, the only choice we have now is, do you want to be ahead of the curve? Do we want to build a green economy so we can continue to sell things to other people? Or do we want to fall behind? And that is no choice at all,” Ms. Freeland said.

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The Liberal Party is not alone in focusing on a low-carbon economy. All the major parties are promising support for the zero-emission vehicle industry, including investments in manufacturing and charging infrastructure. The Liberals say they would require 50 per cent of all new car sales to be zero-emissions by 2030, while the Conservatives would require 30 per cent by 2030.

Both the Liberals and the Conservatives are vowing to use government dollars to spur the creation of battery supply chains based on Canadian minerals. The Liberals are promising to build on their party’s “critical mineral strategy” by doubling the Mineral Exploration Tax Credit for mining companies exploring for metals used in batteries and other clean technology.

The parties differ on some environmental questions, such as carbon taxes and subsidies for electric vehicles. However, a cross-party consensus appears to have emerged around the use of industrial policy – targeted government spending on private companies – to push forward low-carbon initiatives.

This is happening against a backdrop of major spending in the U.S. and Europe, where governments are using COVID-19 recovery funding to kickstart clean technology industries and build out electric vehicle supply chains. The focus on the electric vehicle industry, in particular, is aimed at ensuring Canadian automakers remain an integral part of the North American vehicle supply chain, which is undergoing momentous transition.

“What they are putting forward are what our major trading partners, like the United States and the U.K. and the EU, have already committed to,” Merran Smith, executive director of Clean Energy Canada, said of the Liberal platform.

“If we are not in line with their level of ambition, we’re going to find that our products are going to have challenges, because those countries are looking for low-carbon products – like low-carbon steel, low-carbon cement, low-carbon metals and minerals – and they’re talking about border carbon tariff adjustments.”

A major piece of the Liberal Party’s green industrial policy is the “net-zero accelerator,” an $8-billion fund announced last year and greatly expanded in the April budget. The fund is designed to distribute money to companies for them to use in reducing their emissions, or to invest in clean energy technologies. So far, the scope of the fund has not been clearly defined. Possible recipients could range from aluminum manufacturers trying to reduce their carbon footprints, to auto manufacturers building electric vehicle plants.

The Conservatives are promising to invest $1-billion in each of three sectors: the small nuclear reactor industry, the electric vehicle industry and the hydrogen industry. The NDP, meanwhile, is promising a range of initiatives, including a Canadian Climate Bank, which it says “will help boost investment in renewable energy, energy efficiency and low carbon technology across the country.”

Michael Bernstein, executive director of Clean Prosperity, a non-profit focused on market-based climate solutions, applauded the Liberal platform’s focus on green initiatives.

“It’s incredibly ambitious, and links climate policy directly to the economic strategy,” Mr. Bernstein said. “The one thing that I was surprised there wasn’t a little more detail on was the building sector, where there could be some of the most obvious near-term and dispersed benefits.”

The Liberals’ proposed $2-billion “Futures Fund” is aimed at retraining workers in oil-producing provinces who could lose their jobs in the oil and gas industry over the coming years.

The party is also promising to spend $205-million a year on a new Clean Jobs Training Centre aimed at helping tradespeople gain skills relevant to the zero-carbon economy.

The Liberals say they will set new five-year emissions-reduction targets for the oil and gas industry, aimed at hitting net-zero by 2050. The plan relies on carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) technology. The government was already developing a new CCUS production tax credit to take effect sometime in 2022.

The Conservative Party has promised a tax credit of its own, as part of a $5-billion CCUS package. Both parties have presented CCUS as a way to reduce emissions, while simultaneously creating new jobs developing that technology and helping the Canadian resource sector remain internationally competitive.

Alongside direct spending promises, the Liberals said they would “move toward mandatory climate-related financial disclosures” for public companies. Developing standardized disclosure rules is seen as an important step in the process of reallocating capital toward low-carbon industries – although financial disclosure decisions lie largely with provincial and territorial securities regulators.

The Liberals have also made a new commitment to develop a net-zero emissions electricity system by 2035, which their platform promises will create green jobs alongside its environmental benefits.

That promise is similar to a commitment by U.S. President Joe Biden. Canada comes at it with a considerable head start, because the country’s electrical grids are currently far less reliant on fossil fuels than American ones. Maintaining that advantage – which could be helpful in attracting manufacturers and other companies committed to lowering their own carbon footprints – will likely require adding considerable new clean-power generation to meet rising demand caused by the electrification of transportation, buildings and industry.

Toward that end, the Liberals are promising unspecified new investment tax credits for renewable energy and battery storage. They are also promising the creation of what they call a Pan-Canadian Grid Council to engage the provinces, which have primary jurisdiction over electricity policy.

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