Liberal climate plan likely least costly, most effective, says economist assessing main parties' proposals

The federal Liberals come out on top of a new analysis on the effectiveness and cost to the economy of  the climate change policies on offer by the four main federal parties running in the federal election, but the Conservatives plan sees them not far behind in second place. 

Simon Fraser academic Mark Jaccard says Conservative plan would meet party's emissions reduction target

A flare stack from an oil refinery with an orange hue.
A flare stack lights the sky from the Imperial Oil refinery in Edmonton in December 2018. Economist Mark Jaccard's recently studied the main federal parties' climate change policies. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

The Liberals have the most effective, least costly climate change policy of the four main federal parties, according to one economist, but the Conservatives are not far behind in second place. 

According to analysis by Simon Fraser University's Mark Jaccard, the Liberals have the most effective and affordable plan, followed by the Conservatives, the Greens and, in a distant fourth, the NDP. 

Jaccard, a professor at the B.C. university's school of resource and environmental management, looked at three criteria in conducting his analysis: the economic cost of implementing the plan; how effective that plan would be in reducing emissions; and he then gave them a rating out of 10 for how sincere he thought each plan was. 

Based on those three criteria, Jaccard said the Liberal plan was "effective" and "affordable." He called the Conservative plan "possibly effective" and "affordable," the Green Party plan "somewhat effective" but "very costly" and the NDP's plan "largely ineffective" and "unnecessarily costly."

Jaccard first looked at the greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets set by each party and compared those to the policies they say will help reach those targets.

If a party's policies aren't enough to meet the target, Jaccard uses the Navius Research Inc. gTech modelling method to tweak the policies, like raising the carbon tax or strengthening regulations, to see what would be required to get the job done.

He then calculated the economic cost of each revised policy in terms of lost GDP in the year 2030 — when the targets must be met under the Paris climate agreement. His results were published in Friday's issue of the magazine Policy Options. 

Jaccard graded the policies on their effectiveness and cost the economy, giving top marks to the Liberals, followed by the Conservatives. (CBC)

When Canada first signed the Paris agreement, it committed to cutting greenhouse gas emissions to 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. Jaccard said the Liberals' carbon tax would come close to achieving that target at a hit of two per cent of GDP. 

But earlier this year, the Liberals raised their target to between 40 and 45 per cent. Jaccard says he only looked at the 40 per cent target and whether the Liberals could hit it with the additional policies they have announced. 

"While I haven't had time to precisely model these latest policies, my triangulation between our many simulations suggests they'll likely achieve the 40 [per cent] target, albeit with a larger GDP impact of about 2.5 per cent," Jaccard wrote in Policy Options.

Tories stick with 30%

For the Conservatives, who have stuck with the 30 per cent target, Jaccard says their lower carbon tax combined with other policies such as their clean fuel standard would likely hit that target at a two per cent cost to the economy — about the same as the Liberals' plan when their target was 30 per cent. 

Jaccard gives the Greens, who have a target of 60 per cent below 2005 levels, some credit for introducing measures that would help industries hurt by such cuts but says the carbon price would have to reach $580 a tonne by 2030 compared to the Liberals' $170 or the Conservatives' $50.

The Greens, he says, would also harm the economy the most by reducing GDP in 2030 by 7.5 per cent. 

Green Party candidate and former party leader Elizabeth May says Jaccard's assessment was "not credible" and pushed back against the suggestion the party does not have a plan to meet its targets.

"There's deep, deep detail in the Green Party approach that he has given short shrift," said May. 

"We're looking at an absolute clear risk to humanity. We will not survive hitting the target that the Liberals have promised. So a realistic plan [that] can meet a target for failure shouldn't get you good points."

The NDP's target of cutting emissions by 50 per cent, combined with their other policies, would be the worst of the lot, Jaccard says, costing the economy 6.5 per cent of GDP while being "largely ineffective."

"An ambitious target combined with economically inefficient policies is devastating to the economy," he wrote. 

NDP says Liberal plan is all 'talk'

An NDP spokesperson told CBC News in an email that when it comes to fighting climate change, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is "all talk."

"Justin Trudeau can make big promises but the reality is that, since he was elected, Canada's emissions have increased and the country has become the third biggest air polluter in the OECD," the statement said.

According to the latest report from Environment and Climate Change Canada, the country's emissions have ticked up on Trudeau's watch.

In 2019 — the first year of the federal carbon pricing system, commonly called the "carbon tax" — Canada produced 730 megatonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, an increase of one megatonne — or 0.2 per cent — over 2018.

Broadening the assessment

Isabelle Turcotte, the Pembina Institute's director of federal policy, said that it is "valuable to have an analysis based on ... the economic and the greenhouse gas impact of the different plans" and that she was not taken aback by the results. 

"At a very high level we're not surprised to see the Liberal plan would rank the highest because in my own analysis, looking at the Liberal platform, I do find that it has a lot of strong elements, a comprehensive approach to tackling climate change," she said. 

Turcotte said she was still surprised by the low assessment given to the NDP but added that Jaccard's analysis uses its own focused criteria to look at cost and effectiveness without considering other factors.

"If we truly want to have a full picture, let's take a look at the cost of inaction and this is a very high cost and it's difficult to capture," she said. 

Turcotte said she doesn't want people to come away from reading Jaccard's report with the impression that hitting higher targets is impossible.

We can get there, says environmental group

Climate Action Network's national policy manager Caroline Brouillette also criticized Jaccard's research, saying it gives credit to a platform for having a plan to meet lower targets.

"A plan that is really great but that gets to a non-1.5 degrees compliance target would only mean that either Canada is not pulling its weight internationally ... or that we're headed above that 1.5 degrees threshold and therefore towards catastrophic warming," she said. 

The goal of the Paris agreement is to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees — preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius — over pre-industrial levels.

Climate Action Network says that the only way to do that is to cut emissions by 60 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, which it says is achievable using different policy options.

Brouillette said that Climate Action Network conducted its own modelling using the same gTech modelling method employed by Jaccard and found a path to cut emissions by 60 per cent with the economy growing at an average rate of 1.8 per cent.

Points for sincerity

Jaccard also gave each party a mark out of 10 for sincerity, giving the Liberals an eight, saying their policies would be effective and affordable. He gave the Conservatives a five, saying he's concerned by the their less-than enthusiastic history of tackling climate change and the complexity of some of their policies. 

The NDP come away with a sincerity score of just two out of ten, with Jaccard saying that not only would their policies not work but implementing them would be "unnecessarily costly."

"It's misleading to tell Canadians we can magically eliminate 50 per cent and more of our GHG emissions in just nine years, without enormous cost and disruption," Jaccard wrote.

"The NDP score even lower than the Greens on climate sincerity because it is not credible that they would destroy Canadian industries as the means to achieve their target."

"Social democratic governments in Scandinavia do not implement the policies the federal NDP are proposing. Nor have recent NDP governments in Alberta and B.C." he said.

What the parties are proposing:


The Liberals claim that with a national price on carbon (rising to $170 per tonne by 2030) and other measures, they can cut Canada's greenhouse gas emissions by 40 to 45 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. 

They pledged previously to cut emissions by 30 per cent by that date.

The Liberals passed a climate plan, C-12, to set legally binding emissions targets to reach net-zero emissions in 2050. They have pledged to ensure the oil and gas sector cuts emissions at the pace required to hit net-zero in 2050, with five-year targets. The party says it will ban single-use plastics by 2030.


The Conservatives opposed the Liberals' net-zero emissions legislation and say their climate plan would meet Paris climate commitments of 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. 

They would replace the Liberal carbon pricing system with one that includes a price on carbon for consumers that would rise to a maximum of $50 per tonne.

Instead of the rebates offered under the Liberal system, however, the money collected through the Conservative carbon pricing scheme would be diverted to "personal low carbon savings accounts" to be used by individuals to buy "green" products.

The party wants to keep in place the current output-based pricing system on larger industrial emitters. Conservatives plan to invest in carbon capture and tax products imported from countries with low climate standards.

New Democrats

New Democrats supported the Liberals' net-zero legislation and have set an emissions reduction target of 50 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

They pledge to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies and target net-zero electricity by 2030, with a goal of moving to 100 per cent non-emitting electricity by 2040.

Bloc Québécois

The Bloc Québécois says it wants to meet and exceed the Paris climate agreement targets, redirect unspent money on the Trans Mountain pipeline to renewable projects, and compel provinces that have emissions higher than the national average to pay into a "green equalization" fund to be distributed to provinces polluting less.

The party's platform proposes subjecting all federal policies and public contracts to a "climate test."


While they criticized the government's net-zero bill, Green MPs ultimately voted for it. 

The party wants to slash greenhouse gas emissions by 60 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 (using an annual carbon tax increase), cancel pipeline projects, ban fracking and slap tariffs on imports from countries with weak climate policies. 

They promise a detailed carbon budget to keep GHG emissions within the 1.5 degrees Celsius threshold and say they want to name an all-party climate cabinet.

People's Party

The People's Party platform claims that there is "no scientific consensus" that human activity is driving climate change and has said warnings of looming environmental catastrophe are exaggerated.

The party would withdraw Canada from the Paris climate accord and abandon what it calls "unrealistic" targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

They would scrap the Liberal carbon pricing regime and leave it to provinces to adopt programs as they see fit. The party pledges to invest in adaptation strategies as a result of "any natural climate change."

Jaccard has provided academic analysis of climate change policies to the federal and provincial Liberals, Conservatives, Green Party and NDP over the past two decades. The Conservative government led by former prime minister Stephen Harper appointed him to Canada's National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy from 2006 to 2009. He currently serves on the B.C. NDP government's Climate Solutions Council, where he provides strategic advice to the provincial government on climate action and clean economic growth.

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