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If you pump gas, then today’s the day.

If you’re planning to buy a car, then today’s also the day.

If you’re concerned about climate change, today’s the day, too.

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But if you’re sitting in traffic and complaining about congestion, then maybe that’s an issue for tomorrow.

After all, today’s the day to vote to make a difference, but the federal government only plays a small role in your daily drive. It adds a tax to the cost of fuel, and it determines how much income tax and federal sales tax you pay, and it forces manufacturers to make safe vehicles, but most everything else on the road is a provincial or municipal responsibility.

The feds play a very big role, however, in regulating how those vehicles affect our environment. For example, in 2016, cars, light trucks and motorcycles accounted for about 12 per cent of all Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions, slightly more than 10 years previously. If current federal policies continue, those vehicles are expected to reduce their total emissions by 18 per cent by 2030. How you vote today will directly influence what you – and everyone else – will be driving 10 years from now.

This was a heated discussion around our Thanksgiving dinner table this month, where 15 members of my family gathered from B.C., Alberta, Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia. We’re politically diverse as well as geographically scattered, so the conversation threatened to go off the rails a few times (railways, now they’re a federal responsibility) but we stayed fairly on track and unscathed. Everyone had an opinion for today.

My brother-in-law started it off. When somebody complained the price of gas had gone up over the long weekend, and “somebody should do something about that,” my brother-in-law was the one who suggested using less gas. He’s a Green Party supporter, from Cape Breton. “It’s not about changing how we pay for things – it’s about changing the way we consume,” he said, helping himself to a second serving. We all agreed sagely and wondered what was for dessert.

He pressed the issue and brought up climate change, as he does at every dinner conversation. However, as one of the Liberals at the table pointed out, the Greens have said nothing about providing financial incentives to buy electric vehicles, other than waiving the federal sales tax. The Liberals will maintain the current $5,000 rebate on electric vehicles that’s good anywhere in the country, and my NDP nephew mentioned that his party will go one better, raising the rebate to $15,000 for made-in-Canada electric vehicles.

None of this went down well with the Alberta side of the family, Conservatives all, who protested that the carbon tax on fuel was trying to force change in the wrong direction. Indeed, they’re pretty confident the Conservatives will kill the $300-million EV rebate program, maybe even relax emissions requirements as they’re doing south of the border, and there’s plenty of energy still left in the tar sands. The British Columbians told them they should get with the times and clean up their electricity, so they can drive electric cars with a clear conscience. The Quebecers pointed out that they already have clean hydro, and the most generous rebates in the country for buying electric vehicles. And I mentioned that I was in the Isles de la Madeleine last month, where I saw a Tesla plugged in to a home fast charger. Those Quebec islands are powered entirely by shipped-in diesel fuel.

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Around and around the table went the debate, as spirited as anything on television but without the mudslinging of the advertisements. We’re family, after all, and we’re all in this together. By the end of dessert, none of my middle-aged generation had changed their vote but our kids saw that nothing is black and white. My mother-in-law had voted already, so she just sipped her coffee quietly.

We all agreed this election is about more than just Canada’s next four years, but the way that Canada prepares now for the next 40 years. The climate is warming but the economy is hurting, and the way we drive and travel plays a large part in that. And only my Cape Breton brother-in-law was prepared to forego car ownership and take the bus.

The fact is, the way Canada is politically structured means the federal government tends to look after the big picture, down-the-road stuff. That includes the carbon tax that makes gasoline less affordable and forces us to consider alternative fuels. Also, our relative wealth through our struggle with easy debt, which narrows down our choice of vehicle and transport. The feds hold the national focus on scientific research, which makes our roads and vehicles safe, and our climate more sustainable. And not to get too misty-eyed, but the only major road the federal government maintains is the Trans-Canada Highway, which helps connect us emotionally as a nation.

This is what we’ll be voting for today, and if you’re a driver – even if you’re not – you must consider where these values rank for you as priorities. Then cast your ballot, and make sure the potential politicians who would govern you feel the same way.

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