Federal election results give carbon tax a chance to continue with Liberal gov't

OTTAWA — Environment leaders say the federal election result should be a signal from Canadians that climate change should no longer be fodder for partisan bickering.

Results from Monday's federal election parties that promised to get Canada's emissions in line with the demands of international scientists getting a clear majority of the popular vote.

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The Liberals, Green Party and NDP all campaigned to cut Canada's emissions and act on climate change in line with what international scientists say must be done to prevent catastrophic effects. Largely that means changing Canada's economy and energy use to a point, by 2050, where it can absorb as many greenhouse-gas emissions as it produces.

The Conservatives campaigned on a promise to do away with the carbon tax, halt the implementation of tougher emissions standards on fuels, and tear up legislation that overhauled the environmental assessment of major national projects like pipelines.

Catherine Abreu, executive director of the Climate Action Network Canada, said voters clearly rejected the Conservative plan.

"At the same time, voters did not have enough confidence in the Liberal climate record to hand them another majority," she said. "Voters have put the NDP and Greens in a position of power to make sure the Government of Canada amps up action on climate change, now."

Keith Stewart, senior energy strategist at Greenpeace Canada, said voters told the Liberals they liked a little of what they saw but that they need to do better.

"This is a really good scenario for action on climate change," he said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he heard the message loud and clear.

"You have asked us to show even more vision and ambition as we tackle the greatest challenge of this era, climate change," Trudeau said in French during his victory speech. "That is exactly what we will do."

Just in case, Greenpeace Canada is about to spend the first 48 hours after the election spamming Trudeau with thousands of phone calls, emails and social media messages, to demand his new government immediately work with other parties to set up a climate response plan.

The election results surely mean the national price on pollution will survive, as will Bill C-69, the environmental assessment legislation. The two measures were the catalysts for anti-Liberal sentiment in oil-rich Alberta. Other parts of the Liberal climate policy include a clean-fuel standard, incentives to get people to buy more electric cars, and regulations to curb methane emissions from Canada's oil and gas sector. Trudeau also promised during the election to plant two billion new trees, the best natural way to keep carbon emissions from ending up in the atmosphere.

Stewart said the Liberals showed in the election what can happen when put under pressure by other parties by upping their promises during the campaign to be more ambitious in cutting greenhouse-gas emissions. During the campaign Trudeau promised to come up with a plan to get Canada to beat its current 2030 target and then all the way to net zero emissions by 2050.

The election results' impact on the future of major energy projects like LNG Canada and the Trans Mountain pipeline is much less clear. Trudeau's decision to buy the pipeline in a bid to overcome political opposition and get it expanded, was a $4.5-billion elephant on his back among climate-conscious voters.

Dan Woynillowicz, program director at Clean Energy Canada, said it's unlikely the government will withdraw its previous financial support for the LNG project because that could have devastating impacts on investor confidence across the economy. He said whether Trans Mountain goes ahead likely will depend on the outcome of another court challenge underway by Indigenous communities.

Both the Greens and the NDP have said they don't agree with those projects but while Green Leader Elizabeth May said she won't back a party that is building a pipeline, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh stopped short of using the pipeline as a line in the sand between his party and supporting a minority Liberal government.

Tim McMillan, CEO of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, said he congratulates the Liberals but there is a lot of work to be done to bring capital investment confidence back to the energy industry.

With the Conservatives winning almost every seat across the Prairies and in Canada's energy heartland, voters there rejected climate action being promised by the Liberals, NDP, and Greens. The anger in the prairies about the energy industry taking direct hits from climate policies will surely not diminish come January, when the carbon tax is scheduled to be implemented in Alberta as well.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Oct. 21, 2019.

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