Poilievre, Charest call for more pipelines while insisting they can cut emissions

Two of the main players in the Conservative leadership race have pitched plans to approve more Canadian energy products while backing away from the Liberals' strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Charest would aim for emissions reductions targets lower than those set by the federal government 

Conservative leadership candidates Pierre Poilievre (left) and Jean Charest. (Blair Gable/Reuters, Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Two of the main players in the Conservative leadership race have pitched plans to approve more Canadian energy products while backing away from the Liberals' greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets.

Pierre Poilievre and Jean Charest both released new policy proposals on energy and the environment Tuesday.

Poilievre told reporters in Gatineau, Que. that he would ban imports of foreign oil and and might revive energy projects rejected by the current federal government.

But when asked about environmental standards and emissions reductions targets, Poilievre has so far avoided committing to any specific goals. 

Charest released a new environmental plan online which would scrap the carbon tax charged directly to consumers and instead focus the tax on industry.

Charest is committing to more modest emissions reduction targets than those embraced by the federal Liberals.

He said his plan would meet and eventually exceed a 30 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by the end of the decade. This is in line with the Liberals' former target.

But the federal government recently released an emissions reduction plan that it says would see it dramatically curb emissions to 40 to 45 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

Charest also said his aim would be to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

Poilievre has built political rallies around his promise to kill the carbon tax. Asked today about setting emissions targets, he said his environmental plan will be released "well before the next election."

Supporters wait for federal Conservative leadership candidate Pierre Poilievre to arrive at an anti-carbon tax rally in Ottawa on Thursday, March 31, 2022. (Patrick Doyle/The Canadian Press)

Charest's plan provides enough detail to offer a meaningful path toward reducing emissions, said Michael Bernstein, executive director of the climate policy group Clean Prosperity. The organization has offered advice to political parties and candidates, including the Charest and Poilievre campaigns.

Bernstein said he believes Charest can meet the lower target of 30 per cent with the policy proposals. He said that while it's lower than the Liberal target, it would still be a significant achievement.

"The reality is we have just eight years to reduce emissions and we have never meaningfully reduced emissions in Canada," he said.

"So if we are to achieve a 30 per cent reduction in the next eight years, I think that would be substantial progress."

'Wildly inaccurate'

Much of Poilievre's environmental pitch seems to rely on replacing foreign energy with Canadian products.

"If our policies simply increase pollution into the global atmosphere, but from other countries, then we're actually cutting off our nose to spite our face," he said.

Instead, he said he would replace those international energy sources with Canadian energy and "show the world we can produce this energy in the cleanest, greenest manner anywhere on earth."

While Poilievre repeatedly referred to Canadian energy as "clean," one academic said that description is "wildly inaccurate" right now.

"We're doing a bit better but Canada's oil still has an environmental footprint that's well above the global average," said Stewart Elgie, a professor of law and economics at the University of Ottawa and the chair of Smart Prosperity Institute.

Shell's Quest Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) facility in Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta, Canada, October 7, 2021.
Shell's Quest Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) facility in Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta on October 7, 2021. (Todd Korol/Reuters)

To make Canada's energy supply the cleanest and greenest on earth, said Bernstein, would require serious investments in policies such as carbon capture and cleaning up methane leaks from pipelines.

Poilievre has spoken favourably of carbon capture technology and expanding its use in Canada.

The Ottawa area MP also said Tuesday he would review all the projects "blocked" under the current government. He cited a number of examples, including the Energy East pipeline and Northern Gateway.

In 2017, the proposed $15.7-billion Energy East project was cancelled by TransCanada after being bogged down by regulatory delays, new environmental criteria and opposition to the line along major sections of the proposed route. Northern Gateway was rejected by the government in 2016.

Members of Stop Energy East Halifax protest outside the library in Halifax on Monday, Jan. 26, 2015. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

"I will approve all of the projects that prove to be safe for the environment, after consultations with our First Nations, that generate paycheques for our people and displace dirty energy from foreign dictatorships," Poilievre said.

Poilievre said he would support a liquified natural gas (LNG) project in Quebec's Saguenay region. The project was rejected by both the federal and provincial governments.

Poilievre said he would try to change the province's mind about the $14 billion plant and wharf project. The project also would have included a pipeline that would move Western gas across Ontario and through Quebec.

Not 'a smart economic strategy'

"To say we'll produce more oil is not a climate plan or even a smart economic strategy," said Elgie.

"Poilievre seems to have his head buried in the sand. The world is moving to a low carbon economy whether he likes it or not."

Charest also blames Justin Trudeau's government for the low number of energy projects being approved.

Charest said he would aim to speed up approvals for big infrastructure projects and fast-track those that promise emissions reductions.

He also said he aims to increase the production of LNG and hydrogen to help Europe and Asia transition away from coal and Russian gas.

Charest's track record as Quebec premier and federal environment minister suggests he can achieve what he's setting out to do, said Elgie.

"Actions speak louder than plans," he added.

Banning foreign oil

Poilievre has announced that a government led by him would ban foreign oil, and would rely on increased production from Newfoundland and Labrador to replace it.

Last week in Toronto, when he was asked directly whether he would aspire to reach Canada's emissions targets under the Paris climate accord, Poilievre gave a vague answer.

"We will aspire for ambitious targets that are based on what is doable for our economy and our population," he told reporters.

Charest's plan promises a host of other measures. He said he wants to work with the provinces on emissions reductions targets and eliminate the HST on products that reduce carbon usage, such as electric vehicles, Energy Star appliances and high-efficiency windows.

The broader discussion around climate suggests "a bit of a sea change in the way Conservatives talk about this issue," said Bernstein.

He said that Conservatives seem to be acknowledging that a credible climate plan is something Canadians expect from any serious contender for power.


Catherine Cullen

Senior reporter

Catherine Cullen is host of CBC Radio's The House and a Senior Reporter on Parliament Hill.

With files from Chris Rands