The Liberal Party of Canada (LPC) has a history of big talk on the environment, but, once in power, failing to deliver. Each climate change action plan has demonstrated this trend, accompanied by boastful press releases on how much money the LPC would be investing in sustainable development. Now, Justin Trudeau is showing every sign of repeating this pattern.
Liberal Party never serious about climate change
Stéphane Dion, as the former minister of the environment, introduced no comprehensive packages of legislation, fiscal measures, programs and policies to make much of a difference in addressing climate change.
As a former Government of Canada employee, I can attest, from a unique insider’s perspective, that various Dion/Liberal climate change action plans were all designed to fail, or lacking in substance to achieve stated GHG targets. Eddie Goldenberg, Chétien’s highest ranked government employee and key adviser, admitted as much in February 2007 when he revealed that the LPC had no idea how it would meet Kyoto objectives when it ratified the Kyoto Protocol.
The result was that carbon emissions spiked as much under Chrétien and Paul Martin’s governments as they have during the Harper regime. Michael Ignatieff got it right when he said to Dion, during one of the Liberal leadership debates, that Dion failed to get the job done.
Justin Trudeau represents a continuation of this LPC legacy, as I will demonstrate. What follows is an insider’s detailed view of LPC failures on climate change – leading up to Trudeau’s positions to-date and the choices Canadians face going into the 2015 election.
Subsidizing fossil fuels and paying the polluter
Prior to the Liberal defeat, Stéphane Dion, as environment minister, introduced yet another climate change action plan, this one with a $1B Climate Fund designed for the government to purchase emission reductions from Canada’s largest emitters, in particular the fossil fuel sectors. In other words, the more one emits, the more government support one could get under the Dion plan, a pay the polluter formula — rather than the polluter pays.
And no rewards were offered for the small and medium size private firms that had already contributed, or would like to contribute, significantly to emission reductions.
Price on carbon, maybe – but it would have to be cheap
Further along the lines of subsidizing the fossil fuel sector, Chrétien made a sweetheart deal with the oil industry to the effect that in the event of a price on carbon, it would be cheap/symbolic. My guess is that Trudeau’s “endorsement” of a price on carbon is the sequel to the Chrétien model.
Ambitious targets, ambitious cheating
In keeping with the LPC greenwash tradition, during the 1999 to 2000 period, a key element of the LPC plan to meet their ambitious GHG objectives was an attempt to get UN/international approval for crediting Canada for its forests – including reforestation efforts – which absorb CO2. The Liberals referred to their forest component of the climate change action plan of the time as “carbon sinks.”
In other words, the LPC wanted to get carbon credits for doing absolutely nothing, by creating a fairly tale to give the impression that they were making progress GHG targets. Fortunately, the UN rejected the carbon sink proposal.
This brilliant idea on carbon sinks has since been adopted by none other than Prime Minister Tony Abbott of Australia, known for being as ferociously anti-environment as Stephen Harper.
Carbon Capture and Storage: subsidizing greenwash
Yet another facet of the LPC subsidizing of the fossil fuel sector was a heavy investment in the carbon capture and storage technology (CCS) experiment in Weyburn, Saskatchewan.
The problem with CCS is that this technology 1) is so prohibitively expensive that no one would adopt CCS in the absence of major government subsidies 2) is very energy intensive consuming up to one third of total energy produced from a given generator facility and 3) offers no assurance that the carbon sequestered in former and empty wells would in fact stay there.
It is worth noting here that, prior to the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) elimination of all sustainable development innovation funds, the CPC continued the LPC tradition with more than one CPC sustainable development fund supporting CCS.
One of the CCS initiatives supported by the Conservatives, is the current Boundary Dam CCS project pertaining to one of the five coal-fired generation stations in Estevan SK, a project which received a $240M CCS subsidy from the Harper administration. For the generating station equipped with the CCS technologies, one third of the 165 MW of energy produced, or 55 MW, is dedicated to powering the CCS system, while only capturing 20% of the generator’s GHGs, falling well short of the objective to capture 90% of GHGs.
Recently, TransAlta abandoned its CCS project in Pioneer, AB after having received $800M in federal funding.
Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE)
The LPC record on the auto sector also reflects its tradition of putting the emphasis on appearances rather than getting the job done.
On this, there is the matter of the auto sector corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) – a given manufacturer’s CAFE performance for a given year is weighted by the individual sales and fuel consumption of each model, aggregated over the total vehicle sales of the manufacturer in the year in question.
During the Pierre-Elliot Trudeau reign, CAFE was approved but wasn’t presented as a law before Parliament. In its place, the elder Trudeau’s Cabinet adopted a voluntary CAFE without a government verification system in place.
Justin continues Liberal Party’s record
Justin Trudeau has chosen to continue in the LPC tradition of appearing to be committed on action on climate change, with doses of window-dressing, while ceding to powerful interests.
To this end, Justin has: 1) defined Canada as a resource export economy; 2) claimed that cap and trade and opposition to Keystone are not based on science; 3) also used the line that opposition is not based on science with regard to the proposed largest volume pipeline, the 1.1M barrel/day TransCanada Energy East pipeline, with it’s Cacouna, Quebec port planned on the St-Lawrence River, precarious for tankers ; 4) blindly supported free trade agreements with China and Europe that would allow foreign enterprises, including state-owned ones, to sue Canada in the event our environmental laws or aboriginal rights impede the maximization of profits from their investments in Canada; and 5) praised former Alberta Premier Redford for boasting of Canada’s environmental record as a sales pitch to convince the US to approve Keystone.
Trudeau firmly in denial camp
Trudeau’s cavalier dismissal of opposition to tar sands exports as not being based on science puts him squarely in the same camp as Harper – the denial camp.
According to the International Energy Agency, to avoid catastrophic climate change, 80% of known reserves must be kept in the ground, which translates into a maximum tar sands production rate of 3.3M barrels/day. But tar sands production projections, based on current and planned projects, are for 7.1M barrels/day.
Furthermore, the facts on the ground are affirming that Trudeau’s characterization of Canada as a resource export economy is dated. The fossil fuel party is over. Specifically, it has become evident that non-conventional fossil fuel resources, such as the tar sands, cannot be supported by market prices. Already, Big Oil has pulled out of many non-conventional resource projects around the globe and it is now clear that long-term energy and energy-related investments favour clean energy and clean transportation, and more generally a green economy.
China leading way on renewable energy
As for the FIPA trade agreement with China, Trudeau has gone so far as to proclaim that FIPA, provides a great opportunity for Canada to sell its resources to China. However, contrary to Trudeau’s dated paradigm, China is moving with incredible speed towards a green economy with: 1) 28 GW of solar and wind capacity added in the single year of 2013; 2) its coal consumption down in 2014; 3) aggressive policies on electric vehicles; and 4) a strong possibility for the introduction of a national cap and trade system beginning in 2016. China already has two cap and trade pilots, one in Shenzhen and the other in Beijing.
Of particular significance to Canada, the above-mentioned green economy initiatives of China will ultimately lead to greater energy independence, thus once again showing that Trudeau’s FIPA resource export opportunity paradigm is totally out of sync with emerging new realities. Moreover, the gap between Trudeau’s tunnel vision and China’s new paradigm will surely widen as China accelerates its migration to a green economy under their 5 year plan for the 2016-20 period.
Trudeau wrong to pan cap and trade
With respect to Trudeau’s comments against cap and trade, the empirical evidence from the longest standing existing international cap and trade scheme, the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS), proves otherwise. That is, the ETS has proven to be critical component of the EU success in meeting Kyoto Protocol objectives. More importantly, the ETS has put nearly all EU nations on track for meeting their respective 2020 targets
Yet Justin referred to Australia’s abolition of a cap and trade system as proof that the cap and trade concept is not supported by science. This, despite the fact that Australia’s Prime Minister Abbott has views similar to those of Harper on environmental matters.
Corporate tax stance misguided
Lastly, though indirectly related to the green economy, another important Trudeau policy position that would have an adverse impact on Canada’s ability to go green is maintaining Canada’s corporate tax rate at 15%, the lowest in the G7. While $630B lies dormant in corporate liquidity, the low corporate tax will limit a Trudeau government’s ability to assure adequate investments of financial resources in Canada’s own migration to a green economy.
Not only does Trudeau propose to maintain the low corporate tax rate, but he is also on record implying that he might go one step further than Harper by lowering the rate more in the future.
Suffice it to say that empirical evidence on the Liberals’ past, together with Justin Trudeau’s policy statements to date, clearly reveal that, for the LPC, environmental issues are primarily about political manipulation, rather than facing environmental challenges.
One cannot be serious about the environment and support the LPC.
Our choices for 2015 election
By contrast, the NDP is committed to a cap and trade system; ending subsidies to the fossil fuel sectors; and using the money saved on fossil sector subsidies to invest massively in the green economy – one of the highest growth and job creation sectors of our times.
As for subsidies for fossil fuels, at a cost of $110/tonne, they are one of the most significant barriers to our migration to a green economy. On this matter, the International Monetary Fund has estimated that in 2011 US dollars, Canadian subsidies associated with fossil fuels – including indirect costs pertaining to climate change and health – amount to $26.4B/year.
In contrast to the Trudeau Liberals, the NDP would raise the ridiculously low federal corporate tax rate of 15%.
To conclude, the only barriers stopping Canada from catching up with our competitors in the global migration to a green economy are Harper and Trudeau.
We should all keep that in mind heading into the election of 2015.