Liberals' 2 campaign planes and their carbon offsets draw Scheer's ire

Maybe it's questionable optics for Justin Trudeau's campaign to be using two planes during this federal campaign when other campaigns are making do with one (or none). But it's also true that better optics aren't going to save the planet.

Scheer seizes another chance to label Trudeau a 'hypocrite' over carbon footprint

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau boards his campaign plane in Ottawa on Sunday, Sept. 29, 2019. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Maybe it's questionable optics for Justin Trudeau's campaign to be using two planes during this federal campaign when other campaigns are making do with one (or none).

But it's also true that better optics aren't going to save the planet.

It's a familiar complaint, particularly from those who are critical of climate-change activists — that the people calling for a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions also participate in activities that produce greenhouse gas emissions.

Nearly every international summit on the topic of climate change raises questions about the air travel that was required for participants to attend. The allegation of personal contradiction is used to disqualify the political cause.

Those criticisms, mostly coming from the political right, have been joined by a movement on the left known as "flight-shaming," which aims to discourage the general public use of emissions-intensive air travel — Greta Thunberg, the international climate activist, recently opted to travel by boat across the Atlantic Ocean to attend the United Nations' climate summit in New York.

So it's not surprising that the federal Conservatives are now trying to make something of the fact that the Liberal leader's national tour is using two planes, a complaint that Andrew Scheer dropped on Trudeau in the middle of Wednesday night's leaders' debate on TVA.

Trudeau uses carbon offsets

In response, Trudeau and the Liberals noted the Liberal Party is purchasing carbon offsets to compensate for the GHGs produced by their campaign travel. In this case, the party's carbon offset contributions are going toward the Essex‐Windsor Regional Landfill Gas Capture and Destruction Project in Essex, Ontario.

The Conservative Party is using just one plane, but it's not purchasing offsets for the emissions its campaign has produced.

(The Liberal government's own federal carbon levy also applies to jet fuel.)

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer pauses for a moment as he gives his morning address at a volunteer fire department in Upper Kingsclear, N.B. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Speaking to reporters on Thursday morning, Scheer dismissed the Liberal decision to purchase those offsets.

"I don't buy Mr. Trudeau's excuse that somehow purchasing some credits excuses him — gives him the privilege to burn more fuel," he said.

Ironically, a substantial portion of Scheer's climate platforms rests on the promise that, instead of focusing primarily on domestic emissions, a Conservative government would aim to help other countries reduce their emissions — to effectively offset the production of GHGs in Canada.

Would Scheer's Conservatives be more supportive of Trudeau's climate agenda if his campaign used only one plane, or if he abandoned air travel entirely? Likely not.

But it's a handy cudgel when you're trying to make the case that Justin Trudeau is not who he claims to be — that he's "not as advertised" and more style than substance. It doesn't hurt that using two planes sounds like the sort of thing an entitled rich guy would do — note Scheer's use of the word "privilege." (Party leaders don't pay for their own campaigns, of course.)

Insofar as critics are always quick to allege hypocrisy, the Liberals might have tried to transport their campaign more efficiently. If you're asking the average citizen to pay a bit more for gas — even if the revenue is rebated to households — you are always going to be vulnerable to a charge that you somehow don't face the same burden.

Scheer calls Trudeau 'hypocrite' for 2 campaign planes

2 years ago
Andrew Scheer calls Justin Trudeau a "complete hypocrite" for having two campaign planes, while Trudeau says unlike the Conservatives, his party bought carbon credits for their planes and buses, following Wednesday's TVA debate. 1:08

Trudeau hasn't told people to stop flying. But, similar to his support for the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, it's easy to suggest he has contradicted his commitment to combating climate change. 

Lead by example

There is likely also something to be said for leading by example — and it's not like Trudeau doesn't understand the potential weight of symbols. Perhaps Trudeau should be demonstrating climate consciousness, or even sacrifice.

That probably wouldn't hurt the cause. But there are surely limits to how much it would help — inspiring even a large number of people to bike to work more or fly less would go a relatively small way toward Canada reaching its international climate targets.

But the problem of climate change isn't simply a matter of millions of individual choices, so much as it's a matter of systems and structures and available options. If, for the past 50 years, clean energy had been cheaper and more bountiful than other fuels and zero-emission transportation had been readily available to all Canadians — and if the environmental damages of burning fossil fuels had always been priced into the consumer cost — we might not be in our current situation.

Individual choices and examples do matter. But there's a lot more going on here.

Actions are important

A political leader is uniquely positioned to drive meaningful changes — not by biking to work, but by leading a government that can propose and implement significant climate policies. Yes, he or she can lead by example. But they can do a lot more by passing laws and regulations and spending public funds to restrain emissions and encourage the development of cleaner technology. 

Optics aren't unimportant. But once the campaign is over, someone gets to implement actual policies.

Elections are generally about competing proposals to do such things.

Even before this campaign began, the Liberal and Conservative climate plans were found to be as much as 100 megatonnes of emissions per year apart.

That's a lot of plane rides.


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