Iain Rankin says he'll quit coal early, electrify transit if he becomes premier
The former cabinet minister released his environmental platform Monday
Nova Scotia Liberal leadership hopeful Iain Rankin is making far-reaching promises that he says will help the province make a difference on climate change.
The contender for premier released his environmental platform Monday, which includes more than doubling renewable energy use and eliminating coal from the province's energy mix by 2030, as well as ensuring municipalities have the money they need to electrify transit.
The campaign pitch also includes a promise to implement the Lahey forestry report in 2021 and a vow to reduce clearcutting on Crown land as one of his first orders of business.
In an interview, he said the ideas are a reflection of his experience as both environment minister and lands and forestry minister. Rankin, 37, said his generation is one that "understands that we need to see more progress to tackle the climate crisis."
"We have done some good things," he said of his party. "But I want to be very clear about some strong initiatives that we should be pursuing."
Among them is the Atlantic Loop, a project the federal Liberals alluded to in the latest throne speech. Still in the early stages of planning and negotiation, the Atlantic Loop would connect the Atlantic provinces' energy grids and allow them to share renewable energy sources, tapping into hydroelectric from Muskrat Falls in Labrador as well as hydroelectric energy generated in Quebec.
Rankin said the cost of building the necessary infrastructure would likely be in the billions and shared between the provinces and Ottawa. While not the only path to reducing Nova Scotia's reliance on coal within the next decade, he said he thinks it's the clearest one.
The rest of Canada is already on track to stop burning coal — a greenhouse gas-intensive fuel — by 2030, but Ottawa made a unique agreement with Nova Scotia to extend its coal use to 2040.
Rankin said he'd support further reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by incentivizing private spending on solar infrastructure, increasing funding for energy efficiency programs and introducing net zero-focused building codes. He also proposed the creation of a clean energy fund for the agricultural sector.
He said the sum of his ideas would bring the province to 80 per cent renewable energy use by 2030, up from about 30 per cent today.
The greening of transportation makes up another significant piece of Rankin's environment platform. While public transit and active transportation infrastructure fall largely under municipal mandates, Rankin promised up to $80 million in provincial dollars for municipal efforts.
He said he was disappointed that Halifax Transit recently replaced 150 buses in its fleet with diesel vehicles. The municipality does have a long-term plan to electrify more of its fleet and build new ferry terminals in Bedford — contingent on provincial and federal funding to the tune of $576 million.
To the same end, Rankin said he wants to incentivize personal electric vehicles and e-bikes and ensure widespread availability of the necessary charging infrastructure.
The Biodiversity Act, which was tabled by the Liberal government in 2019 but stalled before passing into law, is due to be wiped from the order paper when the legislature prorogues this month.
When Rankin tabled the bill, he said it would close gaps in species protection not covered by the Wildlife Act and Endangered Species Act. Nova Scotia Supreme Court recently ordered the government to do a better job of living up to its obligations under the Endangered Species Act to protect at-risk species.
Rankin said he would reintroduce an "improved" Biodiversity Act in the spring, and develop a framework for identifying areas of ecological significance for protection.
He said he would also amend the Crown Lands Act as per a recommendation of the Lahey report.
Further to his conservation goals, Rankin said he would designate remaining sites in the province's parks and protected areas plan, which at one point included Owls Head — a 285-hectare area on the Eastern Shore.
As lands and forestry minister, Rankin fielded much of the criticism for the government's decision to delist Owls Head for possible protection, which freed it up to be considered for a golf course development.
Rankin said he never took a position on Owls Head when he was minister, and maintains that neutrality now as a leadership candidate.
"I wanted the process to go forward to find out what the public support was, and as well if a development would be viable and not have adverse impacts on the environment," he said in an interview last month.
Opponents to the proposed development are seeking a judicial review of the decision to delist Owls Head. Meanwhile, the would-be developers have yet to put together a community consultation plan, which must be submitted to the Lands and Forestry Department.
Nova Scotia Liberal Party members will choose their new leader on Feb. 6.
With files from Michael Gorman