Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has unveiled an environmental policy that proposes new regulations and tax incentives to curtail climate change, but stops short of promising to reach the country’s international commitment to reduce carbon emissions.
In the last of five pre-election policy speeches on Wednesday evening in Quebec, Mr. Scheer outlined what steps he would take to protect the environment and reduce emissions if the Conservatives form the government after the October federal vote. He has already unveiled his foreign, economic, immigration and federalism policies.
Mr. Scheer did not explicitly say a Conservative government would meet the target Canada accepted in the Paris climate accord, which was to reduce emissions 30 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030. He only reiterated that his plan would be the country’s best chance to reach that goal, which was set by Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper.
But he pointed out that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals are not on track to reach the Paris targets. “Not only is Canada failing to hit our targets, we are getting further and further away.”
The Liberal government has imposed a carbon price on provinces, and pledged, along with other Group of 20 countries, to phase out inefficient fossil-fuel subsidies by 2025. It has also cancelled eight of nine tax measures that support fossil-fuel exploration or production.
Earlier this month, the Parliamentary Budget Office said that under current projections, Canada will reduce its emissions to 592 megatonnes by 2030, 79 megatonnes short of the Paris target. The Liberals have said the PBO analysis did not account for all the measures the government is enacting.
Mr. Scheer said the Liberal carbon pricing plan is not the solution, pointing to the PBO report’s conclusion that the tax would have to rise to $102 a tonne by 2030 to meet the climate-change commitment if governments rely on that alone. (The Liberals promised last week to freeze the tax at $50 a tonne after 2022.)
“Conservatives know we can never out-promise the Liberals. But we can and we will out-deliver them,” Mr. Scheer said as he listed former Conservative prime ministers’ achievements on environmental policy. “Protecting the environment is a core conservative principle."
In response to Mr. Scheer’s speech, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said in a statement that Canadians want an ambitious plan, “not a return to the failed policies of the past, written by fringe oil lobbyists who want to have unlimited pipelines and to gut environmental protections and shut down public input.”
Instead of putting a price on carbon, Mr. Scheer said a Conservative government would reduce the level of emissions industries are allowed. “We will set this limit at 40 kilotons per year. That’s 10 kilotons stricter than the Liberals’ output-based system,” he said.
The Conservatives would introduce regulations requiring companies that exceed this level to invest in emissions-reducing technology specific to their industry.
A policy document the party released on Wednesday says a future Conservative government would market some of the country’s energy products, such as liquefied natural gas (LNG) under the name “Canadian Clean” as an alternative to carbon-intensive options in an effort to help Canadian companies reach global markets.
“By expanding our LNG capacity, we can help countries like China transition away from coal and dramatically lower global emissions."
Stewart Elgie, a professor of law and economics at the University of Ottawa, took issue with that aspect of the Conservative plan.
“Exporting more oil and gas is good for the economy, but it is not a climate-change solution,” Prof. Elgie said.
He said when it comes to industry, the Conservatives are taking the same approach as the Liberals.
“This approach will only work if the carbon price is high enough to encourage reductions, and the Conservative plan says nothing about the price, so there is no way to say if it will be effective,” he said.
Greenpeace Canada energy strategist Keith Stewart said the blueprint is a “plan that only an oil lobbyist could love” and noted it hews closely to a recent “energy platform” released by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.
Indeed, Mr. Scheer’s plan borrows a page from major oil and gas companies and Calgary executives who say Canada should be able to take credit for emissions reductions in countries that replace carbon-intensive energy sources such as coal with Canadian shipments of LNG.
The plan comes one day after the Liberals approved an expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline to nearly triple the flow of oil sands crude to Canada’s west coast.
The document says Canada should be involved in negotiations over a section of the Paris climate accord known as Article 6, “to ensure that our efforts are recognized.” The provision could theoretically allow Canada to include reductions made in another country with Canadian exports against its own target. But those rules have not been set, and experts say there is no guarantee LNG actually produces lower global emissions than otherwise would have been the case. Crucially, an importing country must agree to give Canada credit, something it is unlikely to do for free.
Mr. Scheer also promised to create a two-year income tax credit of 20 per cent for green improvements to homes. The party expects it would cost $900-million a year.
He is also proposing to reduce the small business tax rate for green technology companies from 15 to 5 per cent to encourage research and development in Canada.
Mr. Elgie said the plan is missing crucial details, “like how much emissions they would reduce, or what the carbon price will be for industry emitters.”
“A climate plan without emission reduction numbers isn’t a climate plan,” he said.
With a report from The Canadian Press