Politics

Ottawa turns to 2 'clean growth leaders' to lead climate advisory panel

The federal government is turning to a longtime environmental activist and the CEO of the country’s largest credit union for advice on how to reach its climate change targets, particularly in the transportation and buildings sectors.

Conservative MP says panel should have included better representation from business leaders

The co-chairs of a new federal government advisory panel on climate change are tasked with greening the transportation and buildings sectors. (David Donnelly/CBC)

The federal government is turning to a longtime environmental activist and the CEO of the country's largest community credit union as it seeks advice on how to reach its climate change targets, particularly in the transportation and buildings sectors.

The newly named panel chairs are Steven Guilbeault, co-founder of Equiterre, a Quebec-based non-profit that promotes sustainable agriculture and solutions to environmental degradation, and Tamara Vrooman, president and CEO of Vancity, a member-owned financial cooperative.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced the establishment of the panel in his fall economic update on Wednesday. Its mandate has not yet been fully defined, said Guilbeault.

Morneau called the co-chairs "clean growth leaders" in the House of Commons on Wednesday.

"I just hope I can help the federal government do more," Guilbeault told CBC, adding he would like to explore adapting greenhouse-gas reduction initiatives being pursued by municipal and provincial governments at the federal level.

One of the chairs is Steven Guilbeault, co-founder of the Quebec-based environmental group Équiterre. (CBC)

He pointed out that the B.C. government just announced it was planning to ban the sale of new combustion engines by 2040, and that Great Britain and France have pledged to do the same. Norway aims to do it by 2025.

"So is it something that could be done at the national level? And if so, how would it happen?"

Meeting Paris commitments

Guilbeault also suggested looking at whether the country could adopt a zero-emission vehicle standard, or "ZEV" mandate, as Quebec and some U.S. states have done. The standard is meant to counterbalance market forces that have made selling internal combustion engine (ICE) cars more profitable for automakers than selling electrics.

Tamara Vrooman is president and CEO of Vancity, Canada's largest community credit union. (VanCity Community Investment Bank)

Vrooman believes she was chosen because of her work at Vancity helping to finance clean technology projects.

She said the government has asked her to help provide advice on how "to help accelerate investments" into reducing the carbon footprint of the transportation and buildings sectors.

Both co-chairs are unclear on the timeline for the panel's first meeting, but say they expect their work will move quickly.

"I think there's a desire for this to be as nimble as it can," Guilbeault said, admitting that his past experience on provincial advisory boards in Quebec taught him that sometimes governments don't follow the advice they get from their own chosen experts.

Guilbeault suggested looking at whether the country could adopt a zero-emission vehicle standard, as Quebec and some U.S. states have done. (Don Pittis/CBC)

Green Party leader Elizabeth May said both Guilbeault and Vrooman are thoroughly committed to climate policy, and the sort of activists whose integrity she "would never question."

"Between the two of them, they'll have a very good grip on carbon pricing, what it can, and can't, do," May said. 

"They'll also know that we don't have a climate plan at the moment."

May said the government has "the beginnings of some ideas," but doesn't have a plan that meets the aims of the Paris Agreement, which seeks to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Conservative MP and environment critic Ed Fast said the panel should have incorporated more representatives from the business community, such as representatives from the resource sector, small business and finance.

"If the government truly believes it's a balance between the economy and the environment they would have done a much better job in reflecting that balance in the membership of that panel," he said.

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the U.K. and France have committed to phasing out the sale of internal combustion vehicles by 2025. In fact, both countries have committed to the phase out by 2040.
    Nov 24, 2018 11:28 AM ET

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