Canada’s leadership on climate change and preparedness for an energy transition away from fossil fuels could be disrupted by a national election Oct. 21, energy analysts say.
Widespread public support for ambitious environmental policies hasn’t turned into a clear path to power for any of the parties offering the strongest climate plans, leaving the door open to a Conservative Party government and its more relaxed proposals to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
None of Canada’s main political parties has appeared close to forming a government by winning a majority of the 338 seats in the House of Commons.
As of Oct. 18, an average of publicly available polls by the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. puts Conservative support at 31.7%, the Liberals at 30.8%, the New Democrats at 18.8%, the Green Party at 8.3% and the Bloc Quebecois, a separatist party that runs only in Quebec, at 6.9%.
After the vote is tallied, the incumbent Liberals—who say they’ve created the most robust climate policy in Canada’s history over the past four years under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau—could also end up forming a coalition government with left-leaning parties that want faster emission cuts.
“The [New Democrats] and the Liberals could work together; they’re aligned on some of the top priorities to reduce carbon pollution,” said Merran Smith, executive director of think tank Clean Energy Canada, which focuses on accelerating the development of clean energy.
Without a majority, parties have to make alliances and win the confidence of the House to form a government, which involves an unpredictable mix of historical convention, public appeals, and political horse-trading.
In a hung Parliament, as a minority government scenario is called, the incumbent party typically gets a first chance to form government by seeking an agreement with other parties to support it.
The Liberals, who created a carbon tax on fuels and emission limits on large facilities, have promised to create legally binding, five-year targets for emission reductions aimed at Canada reaching net-zero emissions by 2050. They have also promised a program to help out-of-work fossil fuel workers.
The plan could become bolder with support from the New Democrats, Smith said. The New Democrats have also planned to expand the emission limits on large facilities, and vowed to cancel an oil pipeline that the Liberals have supported.
The Green Party, should it play a role in an alliance, also wants to scrap the pipeline and double Canada’s target for emissions cuts by 2030.
The Conservatives, should they win a majority or form a minority government, would bring about a different set of changes. The party says it wants to reduce more emissions through technological innovations and by exporting natural gas to replace dirtier fuels overseas.
They’ve vowed to cancel the national carbon tax on fuels and replace the emission limits with a new system. “Because of Canadian innovation we can reduce global emissions without taking money out of your pocket with a carbon tax,” Conservative leader Andrew Scheer has promised.
The Conservatives have also vowed to scrap a clean fuel standard and a new impact assessment law for large infrastructure projects that put a greater emphasis on climate change, said Isabelle Turcotte, director for federal policy at the Pembina Institute, an energy and environment think tank.
“The prospect of a Conservative majority government would not be a positive one for continued climate action in Canada; there’s just no way around that,” she said.
A Conservative-led government would also shift Canada’s position in international climate change meetings, said Neil Craik, a professor at the Balsillie School of International Affairs.
Canada will be under pressure to increase its ambitions when parties to the Paris Agreement on climate change meet to update their emission cut targets next year, but a Conservative government would be under even more scrutiny, Craik said.
A Canadian government with weaker policies than today’s could go from providing moral leadership to being a laggard on climate change, he said. That could have a cascading effect on developing countries, who may question their own contributions to the Paris deal if wealthier countries like Canada join the U.S. under President Donald Trump in declining to lead the way.
A common theme from the Liberals, National Democratic Party and Green Party is the pledge to ban all single-use plastics in Canada, including bags, straws, plates, lids, cutlery, and small plastic water bottles, RBC Capital Markets analyst
“This will ultimately result in increased demand for fiber-based alternatives such as paperboard and containerboard,” he said.
— With assistance from Aoyon Ashraf (Bloomberg)