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Voting for sustainable energy and the climate

Thomas Hackney, BCSEA Policy Director
Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Want to support the sustainable energy transition but don’t know how? VOTE on October 19th. You just might tip the balance.

The Conservatives, Greens, Liberals and NDP all make platform commitments on sustainable energy and climate action. Here is a quick comparison. (Assessing credibility is up to you!)


The Paris Climate Change Conference is in December. Countries will be asked to make binding commitments to combat global warming. The US and China are now collaborating on emissions reductions. ‘Unburnable carbon’ is becoming mainstream, and Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, is telling high-calibre financiers that most remaining fossil fuels must stay in the ground. (For BCSEA’s assessment of the scientific case for zero emissions, see The 2040 Climate Imperative).

Global investment in renewable energy is at $270 billion annually and growing. Countries are making ever more ambitious renewable energy commitments, such as Austria’s 2020 renewables pledge of 34% of its total energy needs.

So what do Canada’s national parties offer?

Emissions targets

The NDP under Tom Mulcair and the Green Party under Elizabeth May both offer ambitious, science based short-term and long-term targets to reduce carbon pollution. An NDP government would re-introduce its Climate Change Accountability Act, which calls for an 80% reduction of emissions below 1990 levels by 2050. The Green Party has the same 2050 target.

The Liberal Party under Justin Trudeau gives no specifics, but would work with the provinces and territories on targets aimed at avoiding more than two degrees (Celsius) of global warming. This is implicitly about the same as the NDP/Green long-term target.

The Conservative Party under Stephen Harper is committed to reducing carbon pollution by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030 (equivalent to 2% below 1990 levels, according to Climate Action Tracker). Harper agreed at the recent G7 summit that the world must eliminate carbon pollution by 2100, but the Conservative platform offers no targets for the critical period from now to 2040 or 2050.

Renewable energy support, fossil fuel transition and budgetary balance

The Green platform details a broad transition away from fossil fuels to renewable energy. Ambitious targets would be set for renewable energy generation and building energy efficiency. Resources would be reallocated to these and an east-west electricity grid. Oil sands expansion would be stopped. The Greens would seek to refine existing bitumen production domestically, rather than exporting it raw. The Greens would balance the budget and reduce the national debt.

Specific measures include an expanded home renovation tax credit for efficiency, $1 billion per year in Green Technology Commercialization Grants, support for small businesses and a Canadian Infrastructure Bank to provide innovative financing. These are coordinated with plans for sustainable jobs, trades education (including retraining for oil sands workers), municipal infrastructure spending and a Youth Community and Environment Service Corps

On transportation, the Green Party would work with industry toward 85% emissions reductions by 2040. The Greens would invest in transit, passenger rail and electric vehicle infrastructure, rather than in highways. Aviation emissions would be addressed, as would emissions from meat production. Thermal coal exports would be curtailed.

The NDP would direct resources toward renewable energy, energy efficiency, transit and climate resilient infrastructure, meanwhile balancing the budget. The NDP would apply a “green lens to all new federal legislation” to ensure consistency with greenhouse gas reduction goals.

The NDP plan includes Green Bonds that would allow $4.5 billion in government-backed private investments. These would fund clean energy development, climate resilient infrastructure and energy efficiency retrofits for buildings. The NDP would spend $1.3 billion annually on a Better Transit Plan, $200 million over four years to retrofit 50,000 homes and apartments, and $850 million on flood mitigation, seismic upgrades for schools, wastewater infrastructure and renewable energy in remote and northern communities.

The Liberal Party emphasizes partnering with the provinces and territories to “develop real climate change solutions … while growing our economy.” The Liberals would invest in green technologies and run deficits totalling $25 billion over three years, in order to invest now in renewable energy, energy efficiency and ‘green’ community infrastructure. Despite the deficit, the federal debt-to-GDP ratio would continue to fall to 27% in 2019.

The Liberal plan would spend $20 billion over ten years on clean energy, climate resilient infrastructure, and water and wastewater facilities. A Canadian Infrastructure Bank would issue Green Bonds to support electric vehicle charging stations, renewable energy transmission, clean power storage, energy retrofits for buildings and the like. The Liberal plan would invest $300 million per year in clean technologies for the resource sector and to promote clean technology firms. $300 million per year would go into industrial innovation and acceleration. $5.6 billion over four years would go to municipalities for public transit.

The Conservative platform says, “The solution to the climate change challenge must come from innovation, not deprivation – through technology and Canadian ingenuity ...” The platform gives no specifics on renewable energy, but cites “careful, well-designed regulations and support for companies and researchers to develop new, cleaner technologies.” Low taxes and a balanced budget would “strengthen and grow Canada’s economy [and] create the conditions for … cutting-edge innovation.“

The Conservatives would support Sustainable Development Technology Canada to “finance the development and demonstration of new, clean technologies that create efficiencies for businesses and contribute to sustainable economic development.” They would give $1.33 billion over six years to the Canadian Foundation for Innovation and another $1.6 billion to research and industrial development initiatives. Some of this spending could support renewable energy.

The Conservatives would make the Home Renovation Tax Credit permanent, providing $3.3 billion over four years to homeowners, some of which would likely fund energy efficiency. $1.75 billion would go to public transit over three years.

Carbon pricing

The Green Party supports a ‘fee and dividend’ system somewhat like British Columbia’s carbon tax. It would tax carbon pollution and distribute the revenues to Canadians, creating an incentive to switch off fossil fuels, but apparently not causing a net tax increase.

The NDP proposes a cap-and-trade system, under which the revenues would be returned to the provinces “so that they can be reinvested in greenhouse gas reduction efforts.”

The Liberals promise carbon pricing, but would leave it to the provinces to determine what system to use. They do not say how they would deal with non-complying provinces.

Stephen Harper rejects carbon pricing as a tax grab and has promised sectoral regulation to reduce emissions, except that he rejects regulations for the oil sands in the current economic climate.

Fossil fuel subsidies

The Green Party would scrap fossil fuel subsidies. The Liberals would phase them out. The New Democrats would redirect $240 million per year of fossil fuel subsidies to renewable energy. Stephen Harper previously promised to cut fossil fuel subsidies, but this is not in the Conservative platform, which highlights a Capital Cost Allowance on machinery and equipment to support the liquefied natural gas export industry.

Oil sands pipelines

The Green Party opposes all the oil sands pipeline proposals (Northern Gateway, Trans-Mountain, Keystone and Energy East). The NDP position is similar to Green Party’s, except the NDP has reserved judgment on Trans-Mountain, and might support Energy East depending on the environmental assessment. The Liberal Party opposes Northern Gateway and supports Keystone. The Conservative Party opposes “closing down our vital natural resources industries” and would “continue to support [the energy industry] and the many Canadians who depend on it for their livelihoods.


It’s a close election, and four different visions of sustainability are in the running. You can make a difference on the 19th. If you don’t know how or where, contact Elections Canada online or at 1-800-463-6868.