If you’re reading this, you probably want to know which party has the best platform to deal with the climate crisis. It’s an important question, but there are already countless “report cards” out there that break down exactly what the parties are promising. So instead, we wanted to provide you with a clear-eyed and honest take on not just the parties’ climate platforms but what they mean in the context of our political system and this election.
First, a disclaimer. Platforms are promises, not policy. We all remember Justin Trudeau’s promise to make the 2015 election the last one to be run under a first-past-the-post voting system. And, we remember that it took Trudeau two years to start moving forward a Just Transition Act, which he called a “top priority” during the 2019 election. And, he only did it on the eve of calling this election and under serious public pressure.
With other parties, we also have another problem that is made worse by Trudeau’s broken promise on electoral reform. For parties that are unlikely to form government or the official opposition, their platforms often include ideas that may win them votes, but ones they can’t— or won’t— ever have the power to implement.
Taken together, that means that while platforms are important, they need to be considered in relation to the harsh realities of our political system where politicians lie and parties promise things to get votes, but then change priorities once in office. They also need to be considered in relationship to winnability. The simple truth is that a party can have the best platform, but if they don’t actually have a chance of winning enough seats to wield power in Parliament, we have to ask, how likely are those promises to become policy?
With that out of the way, let’s dig in.
Ahead of this election, the Liberals had to make a choice about their climate platform. They could have read the recent reports from the IPCC and IEA laying out the urgent need for Canada to up its climate ambition, end fossil fuel expansion and get to work on a just transition, and put forward a platform that presented a bold pathway forward on climate. Or, they could have doubled down on their existing plan— adding some new vague promises before campaigning more so against the Conservatives rather than for their own vision of a bold climate plan. Unsurprisingly, they chose door number two.
The Liberal climate platform is basically the climate plan they announced in 2015 and updated earlier this year. Their emissions target is 40-45% cuts below 2005 levels by 2030 and net zero by 2050. Meeting their promise of “net zero emissions” by 2050 largely hinges on a carbon price and unproven technology. In fact, rather than a managed decline of the fossil fuel industry, the Liberals are promising billions for carbon capture technologies that don’t exist yet, and that the fossil fuel industry views as a license to continue expanding.
That being said, the Liberals announced they plan to regulate emissions from the oil and gas industry to meet net zero emissions by 2050, a notable departure for a party that has seemed terrified to utter the words “oil and gas” and “climate change” in the same sentence. The problem is, they haven’t offered any clarity on what this means. Some Liberal candidates have suggested this amounts to an emissions cap on oil and gas, but it’s unclear who sets that cap and how the government will enforce it.
The Liberals finally started working on the Just Transition Act they promised in 2019 just before the election, after tremendous pressure from civil society. And, they promised $2 billion for green job creation “in oil and gas-reliant communities in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador” in their platform. But, it’s important to remember that this is ten times less than they’re spending on the Trans Mountain pipeline, and nowhere near the scale of investment we need. While we’re on the subject of federal funding for fossil fuels, the Liberals have promised to end “inefficient” fossil fuel subsidies, bumping up their deadline to do so from 2025 to 2023 in this election. But, they also gave $18 billion to big oil in 2020, triple what they gave in 2019.
They’ve announced a zero emissions vehicle mandate, with a near term goal of 50% of all vehicles sold in Canada being ZEV by 2030. But, some suggest that the target needs to be 100% by 2030 or earlier to meet Canada’s pledge to keep warming below 1.5ºC.
While it is no small miracle that the Conservative Party has a climate plan, we’re not in the business of giving out participation ribbons for climate action. It’s important to note that the Conservatives have rejected Trudeau’s 40-45% emissions cuts by 2030 target in favour ofStephen Harper’s targets of 30% by 2030. More important to note is that both of these targets are way too low.
The Conservative plan largely hinges on a strange “low carbon savings account” program that’s been compared to Canadian Tire Money or Petro Points. It’s a confusing program that most experts think will do little to reduce emissions, and likely will increase Canada’s carbon output.
Interestingly, the Conservatives have changed their tune on a carbon price, supporting a carbon price of $20/tonne, rising to $50/tonne for individuals, with a higher price for heavy emitters. Colour us skeptical when it comes to believing that the Conservatives will follow through on putting a higher carbon price on Big Oil than the rest of us, but they are trying to appeal to a legitimate populist anger that exists around carbon pricing treating the average person as if they’re as responsible for climate change as Big Oil and other major polluters.
The Conservative plan has nothing about a just transition. And, rather than reining in or phasing out fossil fuels, pledges massive, $5 billion investments in carbon capture and expanding fracking and LNG exports to prop up another wave of fossil fuel expansion. They have a 30% electric light duty vehicle mandate by 2030 and have effectively pledged to increase fossil fuel subsidies with promised support and tax breaks for Big Oil.
The NDP seem to be taking climate change more seriously in 2021 than they did in the last election. But, that doesn’t mean their platform is perfect. The NDP targets are “at least 50%” cuts by 2030 and net zero emissions by 2050, which is closer to Canada’s fair share of 60% cuts by 2030 than the Liberals, but should be stronger. In particular, it’s unclear where the NDP stands on defining “net zero” and it would be better to see them talking about absolute zero emissions and phasing out fossil fuels. For many voters, this is particularly important since there is a degree of distrust in the NDP when it comes to standing up to Big Oil given how the NDP governments in Alberta and BC have cozied up to oil and fracking companies.
The NDP have pledged to end fossil fuel subsidies and to do a review of the Trans Mountain pipeline, but leader Jagmeet Singh has stopped short of outright saying he would cancel it. However, a number of candidates have gone that far or pledged to cut off federal funding for the project. The NDP has also promised to have 100% zero-emissions vehicle sales by 2035, to include Indigenous peoples in shaping Canada’s climate policy and to create a federal Office of Environmental Justice.
The most interesting elements of the NDP’s climate platform are their promises around a just transition. They’ve promised a “civilian climate corps”, doubling public transit funding to make it fully electric by 2030, and a massive job creation program to put people to work on climate solutions. They’ve also made pledges around green transit, green buildings and transition policies like support and training for affected workers that could start Canada on the path towards a Green New Deal. And, they’re promising to pay for it with a wealth tax. It’s nowhere near everything we need, but it’s a better start than we’re seeing from other parties.
The Greens have the most ambitious climate targets on the table and, arguably, the most ambitious platform of any party. They’re pledging to cut emissions 60% by 2030 and meeting net-zero emissions “as soon as possible” with a goal of negative emissions by 2050. But, these promises also need to be weighted with how likely the Greens are to hold enough power to turn them into policy.
The Greens have also pledged a full stop to fossil fuel expansion and extraction. They promise a fracking ban, no new pipelines and an end to all fossil fuel leasing on lands under federal government control. They’ve also pledged to pass a Just Transition Act by the end of 2021, alongside some big transition policies, like a pledge to replace every lost fossil fuel job with a high paying green job, creating a youth climate corps and incentivizing green investment.
Green leader Annamie Paul also talks a lot about a “carbon border adjustment”, essentially a tax on goods crossing the border depending on their climate impact. It’s an interesting idea that other parties also have expressed some support for, but there are some serious questions about the goals and implementation.
If you live in Quebec, the Bloc Quebecois is also in the mix, and have historically been a leading voice when it comes to pushing climate policy. In August, they released their platform, which calls for increasing Canada’s climate ambition and accelerating a fossil fuel phase out. But, while the basics of the Bloc’s climate plan are sound, some of the Bloc’s policies focus so much on securing benefits for Quebec that they also create challenges for tackling the climate emergency across Canada.
The Bloc is opposed to fossil fuel transport through Quebec. They’re also proposing a new equalization transfer that moves money from heavily polluting provinces to those, like Quebec, that are leading on climate action. This probably all sounds great to Quebecers, but presents major challenges for the rest of the country. The simple fact is that Quebec probably needs some of the least support to accelerate climate action, while workers and families in provinces like Alberta will need big, bold just transition policies as we make the shift off fossil fuels. The Bloc’s plans ignore this in favour of appealing to Quebec voters, and risk pushing a dangerous polarity that Big Oil loves to exploit, arguing that eastern Canada, especially Quebec, has it out for the west.
We need federal policies that understand Canada is built on a lot of fossil fuel extraction, and because of that, we need a big, visionary transition in the vein of a Green New Deal. While the Bloc clearly understands the science and urgency of climate action, their somewhat cynical, Quebec-first approach could create more problems than it solves when it comes to delivering the kind of action we need across Canada.
What this means for you
If you’ve read this far, you might still be wondering who to vote for.
If you’re in a riding where 350 Canada has endorsed a climate champion, we recommend voting for the endorsed candidate. These candidates represent defending climate champions, political game changers and candidates with a real chance of unseating a climate delayer or climate denier. Many of them have made promises that go beyond their party platforms and have shown a willingness to push other politicians within and outside their parties to do what it takes to tackle this crisis. They’re also all in ridings where uniting the climate vote will help them win the race.
If you don’t have a champion in your riding, the best thing you can do is organize before you vote. That means rather than voting alone, getting together with your community, especially other climate voters, to talk about who you collectively think is the best climate candidate to vote for in your riding. Doing that will help you make the most effective choice about who to vote for, and will mean that even if you end up having to vote for someone you don’t 100% agree with, you’ll already be organized to push them on day one if they win.