If you want to be disillusioned with the state of Canadian politics, all you need to do is spend a few minutes watching the debate from federal leaders. The format of the recent debate in English, which seemed unnecessarily chaotic and conflicting, did not help. At times, it felt like a combination of a five-car collision, a poorly planned dinner, and an infomercial for the next Jody Wilson-Raybould book. But amid all the talking points, twists, and bluster, there was one topic that managed to rise above the fray: climate change.
This, at least in part, reflects the fact that this is the issue with the most visible distance between the main parties. But it is also because climate change is the issue that will define this choice when we look back in the future. Disagreements over senior benefits, foreign policy, and how best to balance the budget will fade into the noise of history. What will remain is the government we elect and what they ultimately decided to do about climate change.
So how should climate-focused voters decide? As Thursday’s debate showed, they can’t do it by listening to party leaders, who spent more time smashing each other’s plans and records than building their own. And few will have the time or experience to go through the respective platforms and evaluate them on their merits. That’s where the experts should come in, and where many have already done so.
Last week, SFU professor and economist Mark Jaccard published a scorekeeper assess the “climatic sincerity” of competing plans. Jaccard, who is a lead author for the International Panel on Climate Change, rated the five plans based on their stated ambitions and how they intend to get there. And while the Green Party and the NDP have the most ambitious targets, with planned greenhouse gas reductions of 60% and 50% from 2005 levels by 2030, Jaccard made it clear that he was not scoring them strictly on that basis. . “We need to know if the party has policies that will achieve its goal, and we need to know if it is being honest about the cost.”
As Merran Smith and Sarah Petevan of Clean Energy Canada wrote, “Goals are just benchmarks, and it is the plan to achieve them that ultimately matters most.” In the end, Jaccard gave the liberal plan a score of eight out of 10, noting its combination of a rising carbon price and new regulations as a zero-emission vehicle mandate of 50 percent of new sales by 2030 and a Decreasing cap on Oil and gas emissions should help Canada meet its stated goal of a 40 percent reduction from 2005 levels. That would have an expected cost of a 2.5 percent reduction in GDP. from Canada by 2030.
Conservatives, perhaps surprisingly, came second in Jaccard’s ranking. While his plan is less ambitious than any of the other major parties, his stated policies would help Canada achieve them. Where the conservatives fall, in their opinion, is in their sincerity and trustworthiness in this file. “Previous conservative federal and provincial governments have not been candid about reducing GHG emissions,” he wrote. “You expect the 2021 federal conservatives to be different, but the Canadian voter must be cautious.”
But it is the scores received by the NDP and the Green Party that have attracted the most attention and anger. After all, despite having more ambitious emission reduction targets, Jaccard only gave the Greens a score of 4 out of 10, while the NDP came in last with a score of 2. Why? Because, in his view, his plans do not stand up to the scrutiny of an economist’s analysis, or the real-world tradeoffs that it necessarily incorporates. “Beware of politicians who promise that someone else – heavy industry, fossil fuel companies, foreign corporations, car companies – will pay to decarbonize our economy,” he writes. “We all have to pay.”
He is not the only expert who has had a low opinion of the NDP and the green plans. in a part by CBC, University of Calgary economist Jennifer Winter noted that Jagmeet Singh’s climate plan looks a lot like the one he released in 2019, right down to the photo of him in a canoe on the cover. But it’s what isn’t there that really catches your eye. Notable is the absence of any mention of oil sands or how to address their emissions, and the plan is strikingly vague about the alleged “loopholes” given to big polluters that it could reverse. If the NDP refers to the Performance-Based Pricing System, that’s actually something their colleagues in Alberta developed and introduced in 2017. And if they do remove it, Winters asks, what would they replace it with? “To raise the bar for debate and present a credible alternative on climate, the NDP must do better to describe how and why it will engage in policy change.”
The Green Party is not much better on this front. Andrew Leach, an economist at the University of Alberta, who chaired the NDP government’s Climate Change Advisory Panel in 2016, tweeted that “this platform is so fundamentally unserious that it should be an affront to those with real concerns about the climate. As soon as I would assume a magic wand is to assume that it can be 100% renewable in 8 years in some regions. “Jaccard also notes that the green plan has some unrealistic expectations built in.” The 60 percent target requires that the price of gasoline is rising so fast that not only does it convince all new car buyers to get zero-emission vehicles, but it also convinces people who recently bought gasoline cars to dispose of them prematurely (with zero second-hand value). “
Canadians have a clear choice on September 20. They can vote for a party that wants to aim lower on climate change than we already do, at a time when the rest of the world is trying to raise the bar. They can choose between two parties with aggressive emissions targets but no serious plan to meet them. Or they can support one that has the backing of economists, central bankers, and even the former leader of the British Columbia Green Party, who happens to be a climate scientist. It can be tempting to dump this baby out with all the bath water that has accumulated in the tub over the past six years. But this time, we may want to hear from the experts.