On climate politics, Canadian parties lag behind U.S. progressives
Canadians like to think of ourselves as a generally progressive, forward-thinking people. If not perfect, then at least far ahead of those gun-toting Americans. While their President thinks climate change is a Chinese hoax, our head of government claims for Canada the mantle of “climate leader” and has staked considerable political capital on pollution pricing.
But as if often the case with our self-image, this rosy picture is something of a fiction. On climate, Canada’s “progressive” politicians are lagging well behind their American counterparts.
Take the government’s flagship climate policy: the pollution price and rebate. It is a necessary part of any climate plan, and ought to be defended, but it is also woefully insufficient to meet the scale of the crisis headed our way. Even if the price reaches its target level of $50 by 2022, it will still only be a small part of what science tells us needs to be done to avoid catastrophe.
The Liberals have yet to unveil their re-election platform, which could very well be more ambitious than what they have so far implemented. For their part, both the NDP and Greens’ policy documents for this election raise the stakes in a welcome way, committing to targets that must be hit if we’re going to come out the other side of this thing relatively in tact: steep emission reductions by 2030 and decarbonization of the electricity grid by 2050.
Neither, however, has provided significant detail on what this would look like or how it would be accomplished. The NDP plan for decarbonization is outlined in one of the five pages dedicated to climate in their platform, and the Green Party outlines their entire climate policy in a 6 page PDF document. Also lacking is any dollar commitment to achieving these goals. Both offer some details on where new revenue can be found, but neither indicate where or how that revenue will be allocated.
Contrast this with Bernie Sanders’ Green New Deal plan which, clocking in at over 13,000 words, provides a $16 trillion blueprint for reaching 100% renewable energy for electricity and transportation by 2030 and complete decarbonization of the economy by 2050. Sanders’ plan also goes into detail on how this transition will be funded (taxes and fees on big polluters and the rich), what will happen to people who lose their jobs in the fossil fuel industry, and how ordinary people will benefit in specific ways.
It’s not just Sanders who is proposing aggressive climate action. Every single Democratic nominee for President has produced at least one multi-page policy document outlining their plan to move the country to renewable energy and reach net-zero emissions by 2050 at the latest. Even centrist candidates like Joe Biden have committed hard dollar amounts — $1.3 trillion in Biden’s case — to this project.
This is a significant evolution from 2016, when Hillary Clinton’s climate plan was derided by environmental scientists as “silly” and promised to increase the share of renewables in the energy mix by only 8% over President Obama’s plan.
Since Clinton’s defeat, a vibrant movement of young people demanding aggressive climate action has spread across the United States. The Sunrise Movement — one of the more prominent voices in this cause — successfully turned bold climate action into something of a litmus test for Democratic candidates this cycle, pressing them to commit to a Green New Deal, refuse money from the fossil fuel industry, and participate in a climate debate (which happened this week, with CNN dedicating 7 hours to a series of climate town halls with each candidate).
Canada’s climate politics, on the other hand, appears frozen in time circa 2015. Pollution pricing has turned into the singular flashpoint for debate on the climate issue, obscuring the fact that on its own such pricing is the smallest of steps that needs to be taken.
If the Conservatives win the next election, we are of course in for 4 years of total inaction — and likely regression — on climate. If any other party forms government, however, they must be pushed to commit to action similar to that being embraced by the current crop of Democratic candidates. We should demand a plan resembling the Green New Deal that goes well beyond pollution pricing, and commits significant resources transitioning to 100% renewable energy in a way that improves people’s quality of life.
There is some reason to be hopeful that it will be possible for Canada to catch up to and surpass American climate politics. Polling done by North99 with Abacus Data in the spring showed a Green New Deal would be overwhelmingly popular with voters. And the sort of young climate activists who shifted the debate in the Democratic Party are beginning to flex their muscle here too, with groups like Our Time and Climate Strike demanding policies that meet the scale of the climate crisis.
While our politicians dawdle responding to the greatest emergency of our time, Canadians understand the need for aggressive and immediate action. Now we need leaders with the courage to meet the challenge head on.