Four’s Company: Where NDP Leadership Candidates Stand on Energy and Climate Policy

It feels like an eternity since federal NDP leader Thomas Mulcair received the boot from delegates at the party convention in April 2016.

The lengthy leadership race hasn’t exactly helped that feeling.

Most candidates launched their campaigns in February. Nine debates were held between March and September. But we’re almost at the end of the tunnel. Voting for the first ballot, via both mail-in ballots and online, commenced on Sept. 18 and concludes on Oct. 1. If needed, second and third ballots will be collected by Oct. 8 and Oct. 15.

While there are only four candidates left in the race — Guy Caron, Jagmeet Singh, Charlie Angus and Niki Ashton — there are an enormous number of combined proposals related to energy, climate and environmental policies (especially compared to what was discussed during the federal Conservative leadership race).

Let’s take a look at what’s on offer from the NDP candidates.

Moving Past the Pipeline Debate

A central theme throughout the race has been the need to “move past” the pipeline debate.

Sounds easy!

In June, Ontario MP Charlie Angus — previously dubbed “the most pipeline-friendly candidate” by the Hill Times — said that “the only discussion we’ve had on the environment is ‘this pipeline versus that pipeline.’”

Similarly, Ontario MPP and deputy leader Jagmeet Singh states in his platform that “it’s no secret that there are people who would like to narrow our discussions on climate change to a debate about pipelines alone in an attempt to divide Canadians.”

It’s probably a fair point. But the pressure has, at the very least, required candidates to quickly clarify their position on the subject.

Both Manitoba MP Niki Ashton and Quebec MP Guy Caron have indicated that they’re against the country’s major projects: Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain and TransCanada’s Energy East. Enbridge’s controversial Line 3, which received federal approval alongside Trans Mountain, is left unaddressed.

Singh was late to the pipeline party — something Ashton publicly noted.

During a debate in St. John’s in June, Singh stated a desire to communicate with NDP leaders in Alberta and B.C. before declaring a firm decision on the matter.

Surprisingly, Singh’s climate plan dropped only a week later, fully opposing Trans Mountain and Energy East due to conflicts with emissions targets and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP).

Angus arguably left the most room open for future projects, often deploying the Alberta government’s language of “social license” and threat of oil-by-rail.

In addition, he suggested that “industry understands that they need social license on the ground” and that government hasn’t sufficiently been “at the table.”

Emissions Targets and Carbon Pricing

Every candidate but Angus has specifically committed to accelerating Canada’s reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in order to meet international climate targets.

Specifically, the trio of Caron, Singh and Ashton have all committed to cutting the country’s emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2025. That’s a full five years earlier than the Liberal government’s current plan — which seeks to hit that number by 2030 — and only six years after an NDP government could conceivably attain power.

That won’t be easy.

To achieve that both Ashton and Angus stated that he will create a five-year “national carbon budget.”

Emissions targets help but the country needs actual mechanisms, like regulations or carbon pricing, to get there.

So far Caron is the sole candidate to propose adjusting the national price on carbon. Currently, the Liberal government requires every province to institute a price on carbon — either via a carbon tax or cap-and-trade framework — that will reach $50/tonne by 2022.

Caron proposed upping that requirement to $50/tonne by 2020, to $100/tonne by 2025 and $150/tonne by 2030.

That’s still below what Mark Jaccard and his research team at Simon Fraser University have calculated would be required if carbon pricing was exclusively relied on to hit Paris Agreement targets: $200/tonne by 2030.

It’s still significantly more specific than anything being offered by any other candidate.

Ushering in a Green Future

Aston, Angus and Singh have each proposed the creation of new government positions or agencies to help Canada usher in a new sustainable economy.

For Ashton, that includes the co-creation of a Crown corporation called Green Canada and a public investment bank. Together, the two institutions would help fund green housing projects, public transit, renewable tech, upskilling jobs in “sunset” industries, national retrofit program and a “young green job guarantee.”

Ashton’s plan for a publicly funded infrastructure bank is a big departure from the Liberal government’s controversial support of private investment in Canada’s $35-billion Infrastructure Bank.

Ashton noted there is a potential for 700,000 clean jobs in the construction and operation of renewable energy by 2050. To foster that potential, Ashton proposed the creation of four new Green Canada Advisory Boards to focus on forestry, agriculture, fishing and energy.

Angus also proposed an alternative to Canada’s Infrastructure Bank in the form of a new Crown corporation designed to facilitate “sustainable development” in energy, transit and “municipal redesigns.”

Meanwhile, Singh pledged to establish a climate change advisory group as well as a climate change action officer to keep track of progress on emissions.

Big Spenders

Only Ashton and Caron mention specific figures when it comes to funding of green programs.

Ashton dedicated a massive $10 billion per year to build 40,000 units of green public housing, amounting to over 150,000 houses in her first mandate.

She noted that she would pay for that and other programs with increased taxation on high-income earners and corporations, as well as deficit spending given low interest rates.

Caron also threw out a $10 billion figure to spur investment into electric high-speed rail in the revered Calgary-Edmonton and Quebec City-Windsor corridors over a 10-year period.

The amount won’t be enough to cover all the expected costs of such a project, however. Estimates for the corridors come in at $6 to $10 billion and $20 billion, respectively.

Caron would also dedicate $18 billion to public transit expenditures over a decade, $4.7 billion to clean drinking water in Indigenous communities and $32 billion in renewable investments (it’s unclear if the latter would be direct investments or grants/subsidies).

Possibly the most extravagant of all, Caron pledged to rebate up to $8,000 per electric vehicle up to a value of $40,000, and a huge $50,000 when purchasing medium- and heavy-duty electric buses or trucks.

Both Angus and Singh were significantly lighter on the details.

Singh has pitched ideas like a national public transit strategy to provide “long-term and predictable funding” and providing tax rebates for zero-emission vehicle purchases. But no particular dollar figures have been assigned to these ideas.

Same goes for his proposal to implement nationwide energy efficiency measures, kick off a renewable heating program and construct a much-needed east-west supergrid to share excess low-carbon electricity to neighbouring provinces.

Meanwhile, Angus provided a mere four bullet points in his climate platform, but one, notably, aims at eliminating Canada’s estimated $3.3 billion in annual subsidies for the oil and gas industry.

The other three priorities are develop a national carbon budget, a carbon budget council and, as mentioned above, a new Crown corporation to spurn sustainable development.

Driving the Electric Car Market

There’s also a fairly consistent support of a transition to electric vehicles among all four candidates.

Ashton stated that her government will phase-out gasoline- and diesel-fueled vehicles by 2040.

That’s exactly in line with recent commitments by the U.K. and France, and well behind Norway’s pledge to phase out by 2025. Her platform also indicated support for low-income households with interest-free loans to buy electric vehicles in the push to 2040.

Singh announced he will introduce a zero-emission vehicle agenda for Canada, including a levy on high-emitting vehicles and a tax rebate for electric vehicle purchases.

Zero-emission regulations were also promised by Caron in order to help facilitate a push for half of all vehicles on roads to be electric by 2041. His platform added that a regulatory regime would be implemented two years after he reaches office, combined with investments into R&D for ensuring that rare earth minerals and lithium are secured for manufacturing the vehicles.

None of the candidates have yet mentioned a zero-emission vehicle mandate as successfully deployed in jurisdictions like California or Quebec.

Broader, More Specific Policies Needed

Once all the ballots have been counted, there will be another two years for the new leader to refine their platform and mobilize support for the next federal election.

Giving an idea of what’s to come, most candidates have a few extra policies worth mentioning.

Singh shouted out the need to accelerate methane regulations, emphasize carbon price rebates for low-income families and protect Canadian pensions, savings and RRSPs by requiring fossil fuel companies to disclose climate risk.

Ashton advocated the need to “green” data storage and invest more in the international Green Climate Fund in the form of grants rather than loans.

Caron brought up the need to address climate justice, suggesting Canada ease migration barriers for those leaving their homes due to climate impacts. In addition, Caron plans to implement a carbon tariff on imports from other countries that have lower carbon prices, diverting revenue to companies that are impacted because of lower prices.

There are certainly broader questions to be answered around the influence of the oil and gas industry, recognizing the rights of indigenous peoples, especially when it comes to the assessment and approval of major projects and Canada’s larger transition to a sustainable, renewable energy economy.

Ballot results will be announced between October 1 and 15.


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