The House

What is appropriate influence in an election?

This week on The House, we talk about Elections Canada's plans to enlist social media influencers to get out the vote with expert Amanda Clarke. We'll review the upcoming energy-related decisions on Trans Mountain and Bill C-69 with Enbridge CEO Al Monaco and Coldwater Chief Lee Spahan. Finally, we look at the new carbon tax report with former Ontario environment commissioner Dianne Saxe.
Elections Canada is using social media influencers to encourage young people to vote. (Peter Power/The Canadian Press)

It's time for Canadians to ask themselves how much Elections Canada should be involved in mobilizing voters, one expert says. 

The election agency has come under fire from the Conservatives in recent weeks as it prepares to announce a list of 13 influencers — Olympians, TV stars and music icons — who will play a role in encouraging young voters to cast a ballot in the upcoming federal election. 

Young people tend to vote at lower rates than other age cohorts, and when they do vote, it tends to favour left-leaning parties.

MP Pierre Poilievre called the move "gross" and tweeted "hard to trust the Liberal lapdogs at Elections Canada."

The issue also sparked debate about if and how the election agency should be involved in mobilzing voters before an election, says Amanda Clarke, a Public Affairs Research Excellence chair at Carleton University.

"The core question is do we want Elections Canada to take on this role?"

The list of influencers will be released on June 25, and Clarke says the next steps she wants to see is some clarity on the selection process. 

She added public affairs operations have been using influencers for decades, and there's nothing wrong with that as long as people remain non-partisan.

Elections Canada has picked 13 'influencers' to encourage Canadians to vote in the upcoming election. We don't know who they are yet --- that announcement doesn't come until June 25 --- but it's already sparked a lot of debate. Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre called the plan "gross" on twitter and said "it's hard to trust the 'Liberal lapdogs' at Elections Canada." Amanda Clarke will put the debate into context. She's an Assistant Professor & Public Affairs Research Excellence Chair at Carleton University's School of Public Policy and Administration.

"[Elections Canada is] acknowledging that in particular in a digital age they don't necessarily have the reach, the authority, the credibility with their target populations to directly communicate and engage with them. So instead you work through these intermediaries, these influencers who are identified as having a larger network online and an ability to get your message out more effectively."

Clarke says there's no evidence of interference by the prime minister and if the opposition is alleging that, there's a different questions about election independence that needs to be asked.

Until that time, she says it's up to Elections Canada to answer those questions.

"I'd really like to see some transparent disclosure from Elections Canada on how they identified people, the methodologies they used, how they weeded out those who were considered to be partisan. And it would be great to see the training that's being given and the written instructions on what counts as partisan and not how to handle that in these online settings in particular."

The path for oil out of Canada

Two decisions on Trans Mountain and Bill C-69 are expected this coming week.

Two decisions next week will provide greater clarity on the future of energy projects in Canada, but the controversy isn't over. 

The federal cabinet will announce Tuesday the next step for the Trans Mountain pipeline. The decision comes after a second round of consultations with Indigenous communities along the route following a Federal Court of Appeal ruled the initial discussions fell short of meaningful dialogue.

And after a shaky path through the Senate so far, the red chamber will take a final vote on the Liberals' controversial environmental assessment overhaul legislation, Bill C-69. The legislation would change how major infrastructure projects, like pipelines, are assessed and approved.

The outcome of both decisions could create more problems for the federal government with the oil and gas sector and with Indigenous groups.

"I think if you look at the state of Canadian energy these days it's certainly being hampered," Enbridge CEO Al Monaco told The House

This week the Liberal government accepted substantial changes to Bill C-69, but rejected almost all amendments put forward by the Conservatives. 

Environmental groups have argued the regulations set out in the legislation don't go far enough, while opponents — including Alberta's Premier Jason Kenney — say it would make it impossible to get any new energy projects approved.

The legislation is now going back to the Senate, which must accept the Liberal government's changes before it can be passed into law.

While oil and gas proponents argue the path for energy projects in Canada is murky, Monaco says the U.S. doesn't always provide a warm climate for pipelines either. 

There's a lack of clarity for pipelines on both sides of the border, he said, adding Canada's proposed new rules would be a particular challenge.

"It really comes down to the certainty and transparency in the process and ultimately its predictability so to attract investment," he said. 

While regulatory review can also be difficult in the US, Monaco said delays are more manageable.

"Average times for approval are definitely better in the United States, for the most part, compared to Canada." 

The fate of the TMX expansion is only part of the debate over pipelines, and the role of the Canada's energy sector in the economy. Enbridge CEO Al Monaco joins us to talk about the value of developing oil and gas reserves at a time of growing concern over climate change.

Enbridge currently has two projects in jeopardy that straddle the Canada-U.S. border.

The company's Line 3 pipeline — that would carry crude oil from the Alberta oil sands across Minnesota — is still before the courts. Judges in that state sided ruled that state regulators failed to consider the impact of an oil spill in Lake Superior when they approved project.

The existing Line 5 is also under threat of closure after Michigan's attorney general said she would shut down the pipeline if the company and the new state government couldn't reach an agreement about how to deal with the 65-year-old pipeline.

Still, Monaco prefers those odds.

Fate of Paris commitments rest in Ontario, former commissioner says

Parliamentary Budget Officer Yves Giroux said the current carbon tax plan isn't enough to meet Paris commitments. (CBC)

Ontario's lack of climate action could throw all of Canada out of alignment with international commitments, the province's former environment commissioner warns. 

Dianne Saxe says the country's ability to meet targets committed to in Paris, could be in jeopardy because of the Doug Ford government. Under that agreement, Canada has committed to lowering emissions by some 30 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030.

"If Ontario does as little as Mr. Ford says then Canada's not going to be able to comply," she told The House. 

This week the Parliamentary Budget Officer reported that in order to meet those Paris commitments, the new carbon tax imposed by the Liberal government would have to increase to $102 per tonne of emissions. That would be much higher than the current plan, which is $20 per tonne of emissions this year and rises incrementally to $50 by 2022.

The estimations were made looking at carbon tax as the sole method for addressing climate change, and Saxe says if you're looking at that one element the estimates make sense, but she doesn't know "why we would do absolutely nothing else."

The bulk of the weight will rest on Canada's most populous province, she said. 

"It's simply not honest to say that Ontario can sit on its hands and do nothing and Canada can still comply."

Ontario's lack of climate action could throw all of Canada out of alignment with international commitments, the province's former environment commissioner warns.