OTTAWA — Environment Minister Catherine McKenna is hinting that the upcoming Liberal election platform will promise deeper cuts to greenhouse-gas emissions, including the possibility of legislating targets.
McKenna says her focus for now remains on Canada’s current targets — to cut emissions so they are no more than 70 per cent what they were in 2005 by 2030 — and implementing the policies the Liberal government has already put forward, including carbon pricing, phasing out coal and a standard for clean fuel.
But she noted there is a federal election coming up and an entire platform from the Liberals to come.
“We all know we need to get to a better place,” she said. “We need to do more like the whole world needs to do more.”
Some parts of the world are doing more.
New Zealand introduced legislation in early May to get emissions by 2050 to “net zero” — where emissions produced are offset entirely by greenhouse gases consumed by plants and trees or captured and stored using technology. Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May is making “net zero by 2050” legislation one of her final acts as her country’s leader, introducing a bill on June 12 to set legally binding targets. France is working on similar legislation.
Putting such targets into law might have little practical effect but it can be a symbol of how seriously a government takes a problem. Such a law can also require periodic reports from ministers and departments on what they’re doing to achieve particular goals and how much difference it’s making.
Canada’s plans are less clear.
Last fall, the government acknowledged projections that its existing policies will get Canada only a little more than halfway to its emissions target.
Emissions in 2017, the most recent year for which they are available, were 716 million tonnes. To hit the current targets, Canada needs to get to 513 million tonnes. Last fall Canada said the current policies leave us about 80 million tonnes shy of the goal.
McKenna believes Canada will get there all the same, as Canadians adopt technology like electric cars and once investments in public transit and other innovative solutions are taken into account.
But next week the Liberals are to decide whether to approve the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion for a second time. An expanded pipeline carrying more Alberta bitumen to the West Coast could see emissions from the oilsands go up another 10 million tonnes. Meeting the national emissions target would require even more cuts to come from other sectors.
The Liberals are under immense pressure to finally prove their long-standing claim that the environment can be protected while still developing Canada’s natural resources, a claim their opponents on both sides of the spectrum argue is bogus.
Six right-leaning premiers this week accused the Liberals of threatening national unity by pushing through a new environmental-assessment regime for major construction projects. Among other things, it requires climate-change impacts to be taken into account when deciding whether to approve new major projects like pipelines and hydro lines.
Finance Minister Bill Morneau wrote the premiers back on Friday to accuse them of being the ones threatening national unity as well as risking Canadians’ health and jobs, infringing Indigenous people’s rights and harming endangered species.
Green leader Elizabeth May, whose party is polling better on the national stage than ever before, said Friday that a law requiring Canada’s emissions to be “net zero” by mid-century is the least the country can aim for.
NDP leader Jagmeet Singh wants to cut Canada’s emissions in half by 2030, a more ambitious goal than the Liberals have set.
Conservative leader Andrew Scheer — who is to unveil his much-anticipated climate plan June 19 — hasn’t yet said how he will meet Canada’s existing emissions targets, and has been somewhat coy about whether he intends to meet them at all.
But pressure on McKenna to toughen the emissions target isn’t just coming from outside her party.
Toronto Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith introduced a private-members bill on June 5 that would enshrine in legislation a goal to get Canada to zero net emissions by 2050.
Erskine-Smith knows his bill will never see the light of debate, introduced as it was in the waning days of this Parliament, but he’s hoping to draw attention to the need for Canada to do a lot more than it’s doing to keep the planet from warming catastrophically.
“We have made some meaningful progress but to meet our international, generational and moral obligations to tackle climate change we need greater ambition,” he said. “I hope to see this in our platform going forward. In the end I hope to see it in all parties’ platforms.”
Last fall, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that if the nations of the world do not seriously step up action within the next decade, the planet will pass a point of no return on climate change.
The Paris climate-change agreement has every country in the world pledged to cut its emissions to help keep the planet from warming up much more than 1.5 C, compared to preindustrial times. By 2016, the world had already warmed up by 1 C, and it will hit 1.5 C by 2040 without drastic action. For countries such as Canada, the report said, emissions need to be cut 45 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030, and to zero by 2050.
Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press
Lawsuit says illegal to force gas stations to paste carbon-price stickers
TORONTO — An Ontario law forcing gas stations to display stickers showing the cost of federal carbon pricing is illegal and should be thrown out, a new lawsuit asserts.
The unproven lawsuit from the Canadian Civil Liberties Association says the Federal Carbon Tax Transparency Act — dubbed the Sticker Act — violates free speech provisions of the Constitution.
“The sticker imposed by the Sticker Act constitutes compelled political speech,” the lawsuit asserts. “Under threat of significant fines, it legislatively requires gas station owners to express the (government’s) position.”
The liberties group says in its filing it was unable to find a gas station owner willing to fight the law despite its “diligent attempts.”
The Progressive Conservative government of Premier Doug Ford brought in the legislation as part of its failed legal battle with Ottawa over carbon pricing ahead of next month’s federal election. The federal scheme imposes a charge in those provinces that don’t have a carbon-pricing system of their own — currently 4.4 cents a litre in Ontario.
Ford has consistently denounced the federal legislation as a “tax grab” and has said it wants consumers to know what the federal charge will cost Ontario drivers.
“We’re going to stick it to the Liberals and remind the people of Ontario how much this job-killing, regressive carbon tax costs,” Energy Minister Greg Rickford, who is named in the suit, told the legislature in April.
The association, however, says the stickers are part of Ontario’s political campaign against Ottawa and there’s no good reason to force anyone to display them.
“The Sticker Act requirements do not relate to any technical standards or any concerns about safety,” the lawsuit states. “Comments Ontario has made about the Sticker Act in the Ontario legislature and to the public demonstrate that the content of the stickers are political in nature.”
Rickford, who said the province was reviewing the lawsuit and planned to respond, defended the act.
“Ontario’s government is standing up for the people by implementing transparency measures that reveal the hidden cost of the federal carbon tax on the price of gasoline,” Rickford said in a statement.
Critics have complained the taxpayer-funded stickers are misleading because they fail, among other things, to reflect a federal rebate the Liberal government says will put more money into consumer pockets than they are paying at the pump for the carbon levy. It also fails to mention other taxes or gasoline costs.
The act forcing gas stations to put up the stickers took effect on Aug. 30. Failure to do so can carry a fine of $5,000 a day for a first offence, rising to $10,000 a day for subsequent offences. The government has said it would initially issue only warnings rather than fines.
Late last month, the Ontario government asked the Supreme Court of Canada to weigh in on its carbon-pricing battle with Ottawa. The province argues that Ontario’s Court of Appeal was wrong to find the carbon price constitutional and within the federal government’s right to impose.
Ford has said voters will have the ultimate say on the issue when they cast ballots federally next month.
Greenpeace Canada welcomed the challenge, saying the stickers are misleading, partisan and unconstitutional.
“A government forcing businesses to mislead the public about climate change is a worrying development,” the organization’s Keith Stewart said.
Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press
Court allows six Trans Mountain appeals focusing on Indigenous consultation
VANCOUVER — The Federal Court of Appeal says it will hear six challenges of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion focusing on Indigenous consultation, while dismissing several claims centred on environmental concerns.
The decision calls for narrowly focused, expedited court proceedings that will only examine the calibre of the federal government’s consultation with Indigenous communities between August 2018 and June 2019.
“Many of the Indigenous and First Nation applicants now allege that the poor quality and hurried nature of this further consultation rendered it inadequate,” says Justice David Stratas in the decision released Wednesday.
The government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has twice approved a plan to triple the capacity of an existing pipeline from Alberta’s oilpatch to a terminal in Burnaby, B.C.
The Federal Court of Appeal tore up the original approval last year, citing both an insufficient environmental review and inadequate Indigenous consultations. The Liberals said they fixed both problems and approved the expansion a second time in June.
Three environmental groups, eight First Nations and the City of Vancouver sought leave to appeal. Conservation groups argued there were inadequate protections for endangered species affected by increased tanker traffic, while several First Nations said the government came into the most recent discussions having predetermined the outcome.
The court has allowed requests to appeal by the Coldwater Indian Band, Squamish Nation, Tsleil-Waututh Nation, Upper Nicola Band, the Stk’emlupsemc Te Secwepemc and a coalition of First Nations in B.C.’s Fraser Valley.
Stratas explains in his ruling that decisions to grant leave to appeal are based on whether arguments are “fairly arguable,” meaning any claims with fatal legal errors must be dismissed.
Two sets of arguments advanced by First Nations didn’t meet that standard, including any assertions of a right to veto as well as issues already decided by the court’s first ruling last August, Stratas says.
However, the federal government engaged in additional consultations after the ruling and the court should decide whether those talks were adequate, he says.
At the same time, Stratas says applicants’ arguments on environmental issues aren’t fairly arguable. Many were already dealt with or could have been raised during the court’s first hearing on the project, he says.
In its first ruling, the court called for a new National Energy Board review focusing on marine impacts and the review was completed in February. The board submitted a “comprehensive, detail-laden, 678-page report” to the government, Stratas notes.
Though many applicants say the new report is deeply flawed, this argument “cannot possibly succeed” based on the degree of examination and study of marine shipping and related environmental issues in the document, he says.
The federal government bought the existing pipeline and the unfinished expansion work for $4.5 billion last year, promising to get it past the political opposition that had scared off Kinder Morgan Canada from proceeding.
Stratas rejected arguments that alleged the government made a biased decision to approve the project because it is the owner.
He says the governor-in-council, which represents the Crown and acts on the advice of cabinet, is actually the decision-maker, not the federal government. Furthermore, he says the governor-in-council is required to make decisions regardless of who owns a project.
Stratas says short and strict deadlines for litigation will be set. He directed the parties to file their notices of application for judicial review within seven days.
The Tsleil-Waututh Nation said in a statement that it felt confident the government’s approval will once again be quashed.
“Canada continued to do the legal minimum (in consultations) and in our view, fell well below the mark again,” said Chief Leah George-Wilson. “They approached it with a closed mind, and were in a conflict of interest.”
Ecojustice, which had brought a case on behalf of Raincoast Conservation Foundation and Living Oceans Society, said it will not rule out taking its fight to the Supreme Court of Canada.
“Going to the country’s highest court may seem like a drastic measure, but — in the midst of a climate emergency and biodiversity crisis — these are drastic times,” it said.
The City of Vancouver also said it’s considering its next steps.
Alexandre Deslongchamps, a spokesman for Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi, said the federal government is confident it took the necessary steps to get the approval right and is prepared to defend its decision in court.
“We fulfilled our duty to consult with Indigenous communities by engaging in meaningful, two-way dialogue, which allowed us to co-develop eight new accommodation measures that are responsive to the concerns raised,” he said.
Conservative MP Michelle Rempel criticized the government for not submitting a defence against 11 of the 12 motions seeking leave to appeal. The court decision says the government did so because it considered the threshold for leave to be quite low.
“Today we found out Justin Trudeau rolled over and refused to stand up for the Trans Mountain pipeline in court,” Rempel said.
— Follow @ellekane on Twitter.
Laura Kane, The Canadian Press
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