Global warming followers may be flummoxed by party positions on climate change action plans

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But by refusing to put a price on his plan, and by assuming that technology alone will bridge the carbon gap, Andrew Scheer’s plan runs counter to advice from environmentalists and economists.

By Sheila Copps
First published in The Hill Times on June 24, 2019.

OTTAWA—Global warming followers may be flummoxed by the differences in party positions on climate change action plans.

Andrew Scheer’s announcement last week was long on photos and short on specifics.

He characterized his plan as the most anticipated policy announcement of an opposition leader in the history of the country.

Scheer framed his work in the context of Conservative prime ministers who came before him, from Sir John A. Macdonald to Brian Mulroney.

Our first prime minister established Canada’s first national park back in 1885. Brian Mulroney was recognized as Canada’s greenest prime minister, launching the $3-billion Green Plan in 1990 in the lead-up to the Rio Earth Summit. This was the first-ever gathering of world leaders on environmental issues.

Since the 1992 United Nations summit, multiple international meetings have tackled climate questions.

Then environment minister Angela Merkel chaired the first United Nations Climate Conference in 1995. Berlin set the stage for the Kyoto Accord, which paved the way for the Paris targets.

Canadians can be forgiven for being confused. After almost 30 years, our carbon footprint is still growing.

Scheer says his plan will change that. He cited multiple Progressive Conservative leaders to buttress his claim that environmental protection was a core Conservative principle.

But one prime minister’s name was glaringly absent from the list, that of Stephen Harper.

Progressive Tory predecessors believed that governments could lead in climate solutions. But when Andrew Scheer and his boss split from progressives to create the Reform Party, environmental interests were also dismissed.

In his time Mulroney signed the Canada-United States Air Quality Agreement with his American counterpart, George W. Bush.

That treaty committed both governments to legislating solutions for the reduction of acid rain. The agreement also annexed a chapter on ozone depletion, pricing ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons that were used as cheap coolants for refrigeration.

Both governments committed to costing pollution, because that is the best way to get companies and citizens to tackle the current climate crisis.

Scheer’s predecessor was not mentioned because in the legacy of green Conservative prime ministers, he is not one of them.

One of Harper’s moves was to eliminate many environmental initiatives, including government funding for homeowners and businesses to retrofit for energy efficiencies.

The cancelled retrofit program was recycled last week in Scheer’s announcement.

Scheer also promised to regulate heavy industrial polluters, forcing them to reinvest in environmental solutions when emissions exceed 40 kilotonnes per year, a threshold 10 kilotonnes lower than the Liberal plan.

But Scheer does not explain how his government would oversee reported company investments. What would stop a company from simply passing off normal capital acquisitions as new technology investments?

By refusing to price pollution, the Tory plan also ignores the origin of one-quarter of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Transportation accounts for one-quarter of our country’s total emissions.

But the Scheer plan does not include any strategy directed to reducing carbon use in planes, trains and automobiles.

Instead, the leader of the opposition plans to follow in the footsteps of his cousin at Queen’s Park. Doug Ford’s first act was to cancel the pricing framework put in place by the previous Liberal provincial government. He also cancelled the planting of one million trees, designed to absorb carbon emissions.

Scheer says his solution will be based on technology, not taxes.

But economists agree that the single most effective way to change consumer behaviour is to properly include the price of pollution in any consumer purchasing decision.

From gasoline to automobile trends to housing footprints, people generally use price as a major factor in their spending decisions.

By putting a price on pollution, the Liberal plan would drive innovation and also encourage Canadians to change their habits.

At the end of the day, Canadians and companies will be moved by the key argument of their wallets.

If it costs them more to pollute, they will find ways to cut down on pollution. That means buying an electric vehicle, or using alternative methods of transportation like bus, rail and bicycle and ride sharing.

LED lighting pays for itself in reduced hydro bills and reduces carbon footprint.

By refusing to put a price on his plan, and by assuming that technology alone will bridge the carbon gap, Scheer’s plan runs counter to advice from environmentalists and economists.

The Liberal plan, while not perfect, will reduce our collective carbon footprint faster and more effectively.

The electoral choice is clear. Those Canadians who consider climate change the key campaign issue cannot vote Conservative.

Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.