Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer unveiled a plan for the environment Wednesday that he said would meet Canada’s emissions reduction targets while eliminating the current federal carbon tax regime.
The plan, detailed in a 60-page platform-like document, is focused on what it calls “green technology, not taxes.” It hinges on setting strict emissions standards for major greenhouse gas emitters that, if exceeded, would force those companies to pay into a fund that would in turn be invested in government-certified clean tech companies — a policy the party said would force companies to make emissions reduction part of their business models.
“Conservatives fundamentally believe that you cannot tax your way to a cleaner environment. Instead, the answer lies in technology,” Scheer said in a speech to supporters in Chelsea, Que.. “The fact is, we can actually create more jobs in Canada through technological growth while at the same time lowering global emissions.
“Canadians expect results. And Conservatives know that Liberals are great at making promises but Conservatives are great at delivering. Because protecting the environment is a core conservative principle.”
No hard numbers on emissions reductions
The plan includes a host of other environmental measures meant to reduce the country’s carbon footprint — and give Canada a shot at meeting targets set at the Paris climate talks — but it does not include any hard data on how much this proposed policy suite would actually reduce the country’s emissions.
When asked if the party had any projections for expected reductions, a Conservative official, speaking on background, said, “We believe that our plan gives Canada the best chance of meeting our Paris targets.”
Citing research by the parliamentary budget officer (PBO), Scheer said in his speech Wednesday that this push for rapid technological innovation and adoption could lower the country’s baseline emissions by as much as 101 megatonnes by 2030.
The PBO said Canada likely would miss its goal of reducing emissions by some 30 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030 — a target initially pitched by the former Conservative government and agreed to by Environment Minister Catherine McKenna at the Paris climate talks — even with the Liberal government’s $50 per tonne carbon tax.
In real terms, the Paris promise requires Canada to lower GHG emissions from 732 megatonnes to 513 megatonnes by 2030. The Liberal carbon tax is expected to help offset this country’s emissions by 50 to 60 megatonnes.
More than ‘a Liberal tax grab’
“The carbon tax isn’t simply another Liberal tax grab,” Scheer said. “It is so much more than that. It represents a betrayal of trust. A classic Liberal bait and switch, promising Canadians a plan to lower emissions and protect the environment and instead delivering nothing but a tax to punish taxpayers and pad government revenues.”
The federal government has vowed to return every dollar it collects in carbon tax to the people in the province in which it was collected — an attempt to make most households whole on the money they’ll pay as part of the emissions reduction regime.
The Conservatives said Canada — a relatively modest emitter compared to countries like the U.S., China and India — should receive credit for selling cleaner energy products like liquefied natural gas (LNG) to coal-reliant markets abroad.
“If you shut down Canada’s entire economy for a year, China would replace all of our emissions in 21 days. The fact is, Canada will not make a meaningful contribution to fighting climate change by focusing only on our own emissions,” Scheer said. “We have to look beyond our borders … CO2 molecules don’t have passports.”
While there is a mechanism in the Paris climate agreement under Article 6 to allow for a sort of emissions credit-trading scheme, the Conservative Party said the “international community has been unable to agree to the rules” and a Scheer government would work to ensure Canadian energy products — which the leader proposes to formally brand “Canadian Clean” — can be used to replace “dirtier foreign energy sources.”
A ‘fake plan’
McKenna mocked Scheer’s plan Wednesday, saying any credible climate plan includes a price on carbon to encourage consumers to switch from fossil fuels to cleaner sources of energy.
“I guess we now know why Andrew Scheer waited until the dying hours of this Parliament to shovel out his ideas to tackle climate change. It’s because he has a fake plan. No numbers, no serious measures and no commitment to move the needle on climate action,” she said.
“He says, ‘We can save the planet but we don’t have to make any changes. Pollution can be free, we can burn coal, develop oil forever and build as many pipelines as oil lobbyists want. Just invent some technologies and sell them to other countries. That’ll do it.’
“Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that. You can’t export your way out of this problem. You can’t invent your way out of this.”
Home retrofit tax credits
The plan also includes a $900 million per year green homes tax credit (GHTC) to help people pay for energy-saving renovations. Homeowners would be eligible for refundable tax credits — up to $2,850 each year — for improvements like the installation of high-quality insulation, high-efficiency furnaces, new doors and windows and solar panels. The party said the credit would help reduce building-related emissions, which accounted for 12 per cent of Canada’s total emissions in 2017.
The previous Conservative government had a similar plan in place for five years that paid $934 million in grants to nearly one in 20 Canadian households — or 640,000 beneficiaries — before then-Finance Minister Joe Oliver pulled the plug in 2014.
The Conservatives also are touting a “green patent credit” that would reduce business tax rates for companies that generate income from green technology developed and patented in Canada. The party said the credit would encourage the sector to conduct research and development. The current 15 per cent business tax rate would be reduced to 5 per cent for income generated from a green patent. This relatively modest initiative would cost about $20 million in its first year, the party said.
The plan also calls for a $250 million investment in a “green technology and innovation fund,” a venture capital plan similar to the Canada Infrastructure Bank that would leverage public and private funds to help fledgling green tech companies and entrepreneurs secure the capital they need to grow.
“It is time to unleash our technology and commercialize our products right here in Canada,” the party said.
No penalty set for exceeding limits
As for emissions thresholds for large emitters, the party said the money collected from companies that exceed targets would be invested in research and development and emissions-reducing technology related to the industry. The plan does not stipulate just how much companies would have to pay for exceeding set emissions thresholds.
“For each industry, a reasonable emissions intensity threshold will be determined to ensure they reduce emissions while remaining competitive,” the Conservative official said.
The Conservatives said their plan would force more major emitters to document emissions — and develop a plan to lower them — than the current Liberal output-based pricing regime.
The plan would compel facilities that produce 40 kilotonnes of emissions or more per year to invest in green tech. The Trudeau government’s current rules impose emission caps on firms that emit more than 50 kilotonnes per year.
“We want major emitters to invest in technology that will give them the best shot at reducing their own emissions,” the plan reads. “This should be technology with the greatest potential to reduce emissions and offer the best potential return on investment as dictated by the market.”
The party suggested eligible investments could include, for example, money for developing a new carbon capture process or a company that recovers waste heat for re-use. The party said if China fitted its 100 coal plants with carbon capture and storage, the country would eliminate more than 300 megatonnes of emissions per year — nearly half of what Canada’s entire economy produces.
Other promises in the plan include regulatory changes to increase the efficiency of trucking goods, efforts to “green the grid” and “foster renewable power technologies,” and the creation of a single online hub for green technology companies to help them find talent, information and resources from the private and public sectors.
Environmentalists dismissed Scheer’s plan as inadequate, saying that without a carbon tax, Canada will never come close to meeting its Paris commitment.
“This is a plan only an oil lobbyist could love. It checks all the key boxes on the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers’ wish list and if it ever became federal policy it would deepen the climate crisis,” said Keith Stewart, the senior energy strategist at Greenpeace Canada.
“Today’s climate announcement by the Conservative Party doesn’t deserve to be called a plan. The announcement is full of meaningless rhetoric and failed approaches, with absolutely no accountability to meeting the commitments Canada has made to do our fair share on fighting climate change,” added Tzeporah Berman, a noted anti-pipeline activist and the international program manager at Standearth.