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Catherine McKenna at the Central Experimental Farm in Ottawa on Aug. 9, 2019.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

The Liberals and New Democrats promised Tuesday to lower carbon emissions on the heels of a United Nations climate summit, where world leaders were urged to take more ambitious action.

Liberal candidate Catherine McKenna held a news conference in Ottawa, announcing her party’s plan to immediately commit Canada to net-zero emissions by 2050, if re-elected on Oct. 21. This would mean joining 65 other countries and the European Union that made the same pledge at the UN summit Monday.

While the Liberals agreed to the same 2050 target, the government’s own numbers show they are on track to miss a shorter-term target to cut emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

Federal election 2019: Where the four main parties stand on climate policy

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau maintained Tuesday that Canada would be “meeting and exceeding our climate targets for 2030,” but he did not point to any changes in policy that would reach them.

Ms. McKenna said a Liberal government would pass legislation requiring a new plan every five years to reach interim targets on the way to the 2050 goal. She declined to outline any specific new policy measures to show how that would be done, but said a Liberal government would create an expert panel to advise the government on specific measures.

“Do we have all the details? No,” she said in Ottawa. “We’re going to figure this out, but the first thing we need to do is we need to get through this election.”

Mr. Trudeau sidestepped questions about how he would ensure the targets are met and instead attacked the Conservatives.

The Liberal Leader said he would halve the corporate taxes for companies that develop and manufacture zero-emissions technologies. The move would cost the treasury $67-million by 2023-24, according to the Liberals but costing from the Parliamentary Budget Officer was not released to independently verify the numbers.

The Liberals have not ruled out raising the carbon tax after 2022, but say any decisions will be made in consultation with the provinces.

The Conservatives said Tuesday that for the carbon tax to be truly effective, it would have to be higher. “I do not understand why he’s still going all in on a carbon tax that has been proven to fail,” Tory Leader Andrew Scheer said. “I believe Canadians will see through that and support our plan.”​​

Committing to net-zero emissions by 2050 is “important,” according to University of British Columbia Professor Kathryn Harrison, because it puts phasing out fossil fuels on the agenda.

She said it’s “disconcerting” that the Liberals have yet to explain how they would meet their 2030 targets. But even with those gaps, Prof. Harrison said the Liberal plan is “more credible” than the one put forward by the Conservatives.

Since last week’s revelation that Mr. Trudeau wore blackface at least three times in the past, the Liberals have unveiled a slate of major new policies, even as he still faces questions about the controversy. After days of refusing to answer the question directly, Mr. Trudeau told Global News on Tuesday he last wore blackface in 2001.

Speaking to reporters in Winnipeg on Tuesday, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh accused Mr. Trudeau of failing to act on climate commitments made during the 2015 campaign. The NDP said it would cut greenhouse gas emissions by 38 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. The party said the targets would be reached through a $15-billion plan over four years with a suite of policies, including removing fossil fuels from the electricity grid and retrofitting half of Canada’s housing stock by 2030. Prof. Harrison said the party’s plans for retrofits and electrifying transit “need to happen,” but the plan lacks details on the impact the measures would have.

When asked Tuesday whether he would support the UN secretary-general’s call for world leaders to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, Mr. Scheer would say only that the party is “committed to the targets that we have signed on to.” While the party has said it would try to meet the targets, it hasn’t said whether its plan would meet those targets.

The Conservatives have vowed to repeal the federal carbon tax, as well as the planned Clean Fuel Standard, which would force fuel providers to lower the greenhouse gas emissions associated with their products. The party hasn’t said how stringent the proposed regulations would be.

An analysis from Simon Fraser University professor and member of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Mark Jaccard, shows emissions would rise under the Conservative plan.

“The Liberals are clearly way more climate sincere than the Conservatives,” Prof. Jaccard said, but he added that “real climate sincerity” requires near-term policies that will guarantee change.

To reach Canada’s 2030 targets, he said the parties need to pitch policies that show either an increasing carbon price or regulations that increase in stringency. For example, he said, regulations to ensure more zero-emissions vehicles are sold in Canada in the next few years would have a more significant impact on emissions.

The latest numbers from Nanos Research show the race for first place remains tight. The Liberals had the support of 35 per cent of respondents and the Conservatives had 34 per cent. The NDP is at 13 per cent, followed by the Green Party at 10 per cent, the Bloc Québécois at 6 per cent and the People’s Party of Canada at 2 per cent.

The poll was sponsored by The Globe and Mail and CTV, with a total of 1,200 Canadians surveyed from Sept. 21 to 23. It has a margin of error of 2.8 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. Respondents were asked: “If a federal election were held today, could you please rank your top two current local voting preferences?” A report on the results, questions and methodology for this and all surveys can be found at

With reports from Kristy Kirkup and Michelle Zilio

Follow Marieke Walsh on Twitter: @mariekewalshOpens in a new window
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