Election 44: The Beginning of All-Party Alignment on Climate Change in Canada?

While no single issue is currently defining how Election #44 will be won or lost, as record heat waves roll across the country causing devastating forest fires, each party leader is fully aware that COVID-19 is not the only crisis on the minds of Canadians.

Though the Liberals and Greens have yet to release their full platforms, themes around climate policy have emerged. We will hear from all parties, not just about slowing climate change through emissions reductions, but also on taking action to confront the effects of climate change through adaptation and mitigation. Such measures exist in the Conservative and NDP platforms and have also been mentioned by the Liberals through an announcement in BC on training more people to fight wildfires.

While only months ago O’Toole grappled with delegates at the Conservative policy convention who voted down a resolution which included the line “climate change is real,” there are now many similarities between the Liberal and Conservative policies regarding climate change. These include massive investments in carbon capture, utilization and storage, a low carbon fuel standard, a carbon border tax, and the party’s own spin on carbon pricing.

It is a sign of recognition by the Conservative leader and his team that the path to government goes far beyond the party’s rock-solid base in the prairies and Alberta. Yes, there are platform commitments to support LNG exports and promote ESG in Canada’s oil and gas industry, but O’Toole and the CPC know they must also convince voters, including women and the 18-34 age bracket, and in BC and east of Manitoba that they are serious about climate change. These voters want to know the party is serious about ambitious climate action according to polling from the University of Ottawa.

On the left, Trudeau is contending with charges from the NDP that he has failed to meaningfully tackle the climate crisis, a strategy that may very well resonate with progressive voters disappointed by Canada’s progress so far on meeting its climate targets. NDP Leader, Jagmeet Singh, is working to strongly differentiate himself from Trudeau and this includes taking aim at federally funded Crown Corporations and private business in Canada to ensure alignment with ambitious net-zero goals. Speaking to his traditional base as well as progressive voters who cast a ballot for the Liberals in the last election, Singh is emphasizing the highly charged issue of subsidies for the oil and gas industry and the disproportionate effects of climate change on vulnerable people and communities.

In Quebec, the environment is featured prominently in the Bloc’s platform with a specific call-out to Quebec nationalism and the introduction of a “green equalization” program to reward provinces that fight effectively against climate change. Meanwhile, the Greens struggle to find national resonance for their messages on renewable energy production, industrial emissions-reductions, and cancelling pipeline projects. Green Leader Annamie Paul has campaigned mostly in her downtown Toronto riding for the campaign, trying to win her own seat in a tight campaign in Toronto Centre against Liberal incumbent and former television personality, Marci Ien. The lack of a Green Party voice on a national level presents a gap on the green progressive side that the Liberals and the NDP will seek to fill.

As the campaign continues, we can expect to see Trudeau make one or more significant climate policy announcements, while touting his record on putting a price on carbon in a bid to shore up support from younger voters in critical ridings he already holds in Atlantic Canada, the GTA, Montreal, and suburban areas. He will also attempt to eat into Bloc support in Quebec with ambitious climate change announcements since support in Quebec is key to his bid for a majority government.

It will be up to Singh to distinguish himself enough with progressive voters to lead them away from supporting the Liberals and Greens. While O’Toole will need to explain the party’s shift to the centre on climate policy in ridings he already overwhelmingly wins, while convincing voters in ridings he must win that the Conservative plan is credible and here to stay.