Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau listens to protestors during a campaign event at VeriForm Inc. in Cambridge, Ont, on Aug. 29.GEOFF ROBINS/AFP/Getty Images

Greenhouse gas emissions from the oil and gas sector would not be allowed to grow under a re-elected Liberal government, Justin Trudeau said Sunday as he unveiled his party’s climate plan that would also set a faster pace for the country’s transition to zero-emissions vehicles.

In April, Mr. Trudeau’s government set a new target to cut emissions by 40 to 45 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. But until now it hadn’t revealed any new policies to reach the higher target.

The party is promising to pay for 50,000 more zero-emissions vehicle charging stations, mandate that half of all car sales be net-zero by 2030, and ensure the electricity grid is net-zero by 2035.

Mr. Trudeau’s proposals for the oil and gas sector will likely be the most contentious of his climate plan and risk fanning regional divisions. The Liberals said they would set five-year targets for emissions reductions in the sector starting in 2025. The party did not say what baseline level of emissions it will use for the targets and did not say how it would be tracked or enforced.

Federal election 2021: What are the challenges facing the major political parties before Canada votes on Sept. 20?

Canadian federal election 2021: Latest updates and essential reading ahead of Sept. 20 vote

Federal election poll tracker: Follow the latest Nanos-Globe-CTV numbers ahead of the Sept. 20 vote

The Liberals also propose a tougher limit on methane emissions from the sector, requiring a 75-per-cent cut below 2012 levels by 2030.

The party released the plan ahead of the first French-language leaders debate later this week in Montreal. Climate change and emissions from the oil and gas sector are key issues in Quebec, where there has been vocal opposition to the oil sands and new pipelines.

“Emissions in the oil and gas sector will no longer rise, will decrease every year,” Mr. Trudeau said in Cambridge, Ont. Data from Environment Canada show that overall emissions from the sector have been relatively stable since 2014.

Oil and gas companies are already working to cut their carbon footprints – testing out new technologies to lower emissions per barrel and capture and store the carbon that is still emitted. Some energy companies have already pledged to hit net-zero emissions by 2050, Mr. Trudeau noted. “Our plan announced today gets us there in those five-year increments,” he said.

The Liberal policy would put the squeeze on companies who will have to meet the first target in less than five years, said Richard Masson, an executive fellow at the University of Calgary, who consults with companies in the sector. He questioned why the targets would be imposed on the sector in 2025, five years before Canada’s legislated emissions targets come into force.

“There is great concern that the move to a ‘just transition’ is code for shutting down the oil and gas sector, rather than allowing the sector to innovate and reduce green house gas emissions, which is what needs to happen to address climate change,” Mr. Masson said.

If Canada cuts the size of the oil and gas sector while there is still demand for the product, the policy will only benefit other oil-producing countries, he added. The Liberals believe that if the companies are successful in slashing per barrel emissions, the policy won’t shutter the sector.

“The big focus areas for the next decade need to be: clean electricity, clean transportation, and phasing out oil and gas with accountable milestones,” said Merran Smith, the executive director of Clean Energy Canada.. “Today’s announcement, which checks all of these boxes, is not just good ambition – it’s good policy.”

Earlier this month a United Nations report found that climate change is proceeding at a faster pace and producing widespread effects that are more definitively tied to human influence than ever before. The extreme heat waves, severe floods and catastrophic fires that people are already seeing will become more frequent and more intense as the global temperature rises, the report found.

Conservative Party members defeated in March a bid for the party to acknowledge that climate change is real. But Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole rejected the message from his grassroots and in April released a plan that would cut emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 – a step back from what Canada has already pledged. The NDP proposes stricter targets than the Liberals and advocates cutting greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

On Sunday, the Liberals also announced a $2-billion fund for oil-producing provinces to partner with local workers and communities to create jobs. In a brief statement, Newfoundland and Labrador’s Premier Andrew Furey said he supports cutting emissions and is “committed to achieve net zero by 2050.”

Spokespeople for the governments of Alberta and Saskatchewan did not respond.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh dismissed the Liberal plan as “empty words,” saying “climate targets mean nothing when you don’t act on them.”

Mr. Trudeau‘s announcement in Cambridge, Ont. was again met by a large group of protesters shouting obscenities. One person held a sign depicting the Liberal Leader standing beside a noose and the crowd chanted “lock him up.” A Friday event was cancelled over safety concerns from angry protesters, but the Liberals still held their Sunday event outside.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole has condemned the demonstrations and said his party will have a professional, respectful debate of ideas. However, on Sunday he wouldn’t disavow comments made by long-time Ontario Conservative MP Cheryl Gallant who sent constituents a letter spreading misinformation that the Liberals are planning a “climate lockdown.”

And in a video posted to YouTube on June 18, she asked: “How long do you think it will take before the Trudeau Liberals start calling for a climate lockdown.” The video was removed on Sunday.

Asked several times whether her comments were acceptable, Mr. O’Toole did not answer, and instead talked about his party’s platform.

He later released a statement saying he was committed to his climate plan. “If there are candidates who don’t support it – or any other part of Canada’s Recovery Plan – they won’t be sitting in the caucus.”

Ms. Gallant later said on Twitter that she supports the plan and the party said she is still in the caucus.

Mr. Trudeau said it was disappointing to see elected politicians “peddle in conspiracy theories.”

“Its not enough for leaders like Erin O’Toole to simply distance themselves from those comments, he has to flat out condemn them and then correct the record,” he said.

Mr. O’Toole was in Saint-Hyacinthe, Que, on Sunday to announce a Conservative government would give a 25-per-cent tax credit to individuals who invest up to $100,000 in a small business in the next two years. They would also give interest-free loans of up to $200,000 to small and medium businesses, with up to 25 per cent forgiven depending on revenue losses.

With reports from Carrie Tait in Calgary and The Canadian Press

Follow the party leaders and where they stand on the issues this election campaign by signing up for our Morning or Evening Update newsletters.

For subscribers only: Get exclusive political news and analysis by signing up for the Politics Briefing.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe