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Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greets Swedish climate change teen activist Greta Thunberg before a climate strike march in Montreal, on Sept. 27, 2019.

ANDREJ IVANOV/Reuters

The Grouse Grind is a challenging hike straight up a steep mountain on Vancouver’s North Shore. It’s a vertical ascent of 850 metres – the same as climbing the 1,776 steps of Toronto’s CN Tower, two and a half times. Reaching the top demands a long, sustained effort.

It’s an apt symbol for the challenge of climate change, which is why a recent Liberal election campaign ad shows Justin Trudeau making the climb – he even breaks a sweat – as the Liberal leader promises he can balance a growing economy with environmental progress.

The strategy reflects Mr. Trudeau’s four years as Prime Minister, during which the Liberal government put in place climate policies that, if they are maintained, can be expected to get Canada more than halfway to meeting its Paris Agreement commitments, which call emissions in 2030 to be 30 per cent below 2005 levels. At the same time, however, the Liberals also bought the Trans Mountain pipeline and approved its expansion – actions that attracted a torrent of criticism from the left, including from many of the Canadians who marched for climate action last week.

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Today, we’ll compare the environmental platforms of the Liberals and the Conservatives, the two parties with the best shot at forming government after Oct. 21. It’s clear that only one of them is taking climate change seriously.

The Liberal plans are not perfect, but they are a meaningful step in the right direction. The Conservatives, in contrast, barely acknowledge climate change as an issue. Last Friday, Andrew Scheer was the only major party leader who did not participate in a climate march. Instead, he was in the Vancouver area, promising to fight local traffic congestion.

The Conservatives accept that climate change is real. But to deal with it, they propose minimal policies. That includes avoiding anything that might lead to visible costs for voters. The party released its environmental plan in June; its primary position is a rejection of carbon taxes.

This leaves Mr. Scheer outside the mainstream of economic and environmental thinking. Christine Lagarde, former head of the International Monetary Fund, wrote in May of the growing consensus that carbon pricing is “the single most effective” tool policy makers have.

It also leaves the Conservatives unwilling to seriously tackle transportation emissions, since they reject carbon taxes and have attacked the Trudeau government for new clean-fuel standards that could indirectly make gasoline more expensive. The party instead calls for “green technology, not taxes.” Large industrial operations will be required to invest in technology “if they fall short of our emissions standards.” The latter are undefined. The Tories also do not mention key factors such as methane, whose fugitive emissions are a quarter of Canada’s oil and gas carbon pollution.

On the left, the Green Party and NDP have big, long-term goals. But the fine print is lacking. The Greens say they will “maintain carbon pricing”; the NDP will “continue carbon pricing.” Neither offers more depth. This absence of detailed thinking is problematic.

That absence of detail on longer-term plans also infects the Liberals. “We will achieve net-zero emissions by 2050,” the party’s platform declares – a destination that jibes with the Greens and the call from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The route there is extremely vague. They will establish a panel of scientists, economists and experts, and set “legally binding, five-year milestones.”

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When it comes to how Canada will reach long-term goals of more than 30 years in the future, the Liberal plan is, basically: Trust us.

But when it comes to something closer, namely the 2030 Paris carbon-reduction targets, the Liberals’ plan is real and considerably better than what’s on offer from the Tories. The Liberal record also shows a willingness to grapple with the challenge of balancing environment and economy.

Forecasts suggest emissions from everything other than the oil and gas industry could fall about 20 per cent by 2030 under existing Liberal policies. Emissions from the oil patch would be unchanged even as production increases; new regulations will lower methane emissions. In sum, the best estimates project the Liberal plan would reduce emissions by more than 15 per cent by 2030, taking Canada more than halfway to meeting its Paris goals. Assessments of the Conservative plan, in contrast, conclude that emissions would rise, not fall, under a Scheer government.

Of the Conservatives and Liberals, only one is committed to the steep hike up the mountain.

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