The Current

Battling climate change in Canada: Experts examine the major parties' climate plans

When Canadians cast their ballots on Sept. 20, some people will be making their decision based on climate change, and what party’s plan they think is best.

'All the parties are taking it seriously ... with different levels of seriousness,' says economist

Climate scientists say there is little doubt that climate change from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas is driving extreme events, such as heat waves, droughts, wildfires, floods and storms. (Salvatore Cavalli/The Associated Press)

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When Canadians cast their ballots on Sept. 20, some people will be making their decision based on climate change, and what party's plan they think is best. 

The Current's guest host Anthony Germain spoke with two nonpartisan experts about what parties have planned for the climate. 

"I think that's very important because it is a very serious issue," said Christopher Ragan, an economist and director of the Max Bell School of Public Policy at McGill University and former chair of the EcoFiscal Commission.

"All the parties are taking it seriously, I think they are taking it with different levels of seriousness."

The Liberal Party is running on the steps they've already taken while they were in government. Justin Trudeau put in a carbon tax of $40 per tonne, which is set to rise annually for the next nine years until it hits $170 a tonne in 2030. 

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has already implemented a carbon tax. (CBC)

"That really was a very big and important change in Canadian climate policy," said Kathryn Harrison, a political science professor at the University of British Columbia who specializes in climate policy. 

"I think it was the first time a government did the hard job, what was actually necessary to deliver emissions reductions." 

In the past, the Conservatives have opposed the Liberals' carbon tax plan, but their election platform now includes its own version. The party is open to matching that $170 target, but with a caveat that the European Union and the U.S. do the same. 

Despite the party being in opposition of a carbon tax in 2019, Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole has his own version of the plan. (CBC)

Ragan cautioned, however, that a drastic rise in carbon pricing could end up pushing businesses out of the country — with little benefit to the environment in the end.

"If you shut down your cement plants in Canada because of the carbon price, but the cement business just moves across the border to northern Pennsylvania, then the emissions just also migrate," said Ragan.

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole also has a different stance on the price for households. They would freeze the price at $50 per tonne at the pump.

"Instead of giving the money back through tax rebates, which is what happens in federal carbon tax provinces, they would establish what they're calling a carbon savings plan, which seems to be a bit of a gimmick," said Ragan. 

The NDP has indicated it would follow carbon pricing but hasn't said whether it would follow the same pricing scheme as the Liberals' plan.

Leader Jagmeet Singh wants to put pressure on big industries, but Harrison feels the current plan is already doing that. 

Singh says his party would follow carbon pricing but hasn't said whether it would be the same as the plan currently in place. (Kirk Pennell/CBC)

"The federal policies haven't exempted the biggest polluters. There is a kind of complicated scheme called output-based allocation, " said Harrison.

"It's the equivalent of giving households back money through their tax returns. The policy still works and the big polluters are not being exempted."

Harrison noted that it's currently unclear what the Green Party under leader Annamie Paul have planned for carbon pricing.

"The Greens haven't provided a lot of detail. I'm not finding anything on their website. Some of their press releases indicate that they would continue to increase the carbon price, but they don't say by how much," she said.

Green Party Leader Annamie Paul and her party has the most aggressive climate action plan, according to Ragan. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The Greens' proposals are more aggressive than other parties' plans, according to Ragan, including cancelling all new pipeline projects and a ban on fracking — but he noted that it would also be much more expensive.

"They're trying to get 60 per cent emissions reductions by 2030. So it's much more aggressive, actually, than any other party, but their policies, I think, would be very, very costly."

Under its leader Yves-François Blanchet, the Bloc Québécois also wants to limit fracking and an end to fossil fuel subsidies.

Ragan says when it's time to vote, it's important to look at the economic value of a policy, along with its effectiveness in combating climate change. 

"My view and I think the view of most economists is if we have alternative policies in front of us and they can all actually achieve the same emissions reductions, but they have very different costs for the economy, then why would we intentionally use a higher-cost policy?" he said.

Written by Philip Drost. Produced by Julie Crysler.


  • During the Ecofiscal Commission's operation from 2014 to 2019, the non-partisan research body, chaired by Christopher Ragan, received $630,000 in funding from the Suncor Energy Foundation, a charitable foundation established by energy company Suncor. The group also received funding from 11 other organizations, including the TD Bank Group, KTG Public Affairs, the Max Bell Foundation, the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation and the Peter Gilgan Foundation.
    Sep 21, 2021 8:19 AM ET

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