I try not to write columns entirely about something that’s happening on Twitter. Twitter is not real life. But it does provide an interesting view into how the federal political parties are preparing to fight this fall’s campaign. Take Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, who represents Beaches-East York, a riding in Toronto.
I confess to liking Erskine-Smith — he’s shown a bit more backbone than we’re used to seeing from our elected representatives when it comes to disagreeing with his own party. I suspect we’re pretty far apart on policy matters but I admire his willingness to occasionally stand apart from the rest of the Liberal pack. But that maverick streak was not much in evidence late last week, when Erskine-Smith was tweeting about climate change, and what he considers to be a lacklustre Conservative policy to combat it.
“To conservative minded voters who care about science and climate change,” Erskine-Smith wrote, with a link to a recent Globe and Mail editorial critical of the Conservative climate plan, “a friendly reminder that the Conservative Party under Andrew Scheer does not share your concerns.”
One could note that liberal-minded voters who care about electoral reform, balanced budgets or Indigenous reconciliation might have a few friendly reminders of their own for Erskine-Smith’s party. But setting that aside, Erskine-Smith is almost certainly right — if a voter’s top issue is climate change, they’re probably not going to vote for Scheer’s Conservatives.
But I’m not convinced they’ll vote Liberal, either.
For all the backlash against the federal Liberals’ emission-reduction efforts, including heated rhetoric and court challenges from several provinces, something that’s oft overlooked in the discussion is that the Liberal plan is already failing. The Liberals’ own numbers tell us this.
Actually, they’re not exactly the Liberals’ own numbers. Before the 2015 election, the Liberals had declined to commit to a specific reduction target. But in November of that year, in their first days in office, Catherine McKenna, the Liberal Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, made it very clear she was unimpressed by what the previous government had committed to. The Harper Tories had said that Canada would cut its carbon emissions to 30 per cent below the 2005 level by 2030. That target would be the “floor,” McKenna said, “but certainly we want to try to do better.”
That didn’t last. The next year, the Liberals decided that the Conservatives had been right all along, at least in terms of the target. The Liberals declared that the Tory target — 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 — was their target, too. McKenna told CTV that the difference was that the Tories didn’t mean it. It was a “fake” target, she said. The Liberals, unlike the Tories, would actually hit the 2030 goal. “We will at least meet that target,” she pledged to Evan Solomon — a target she’d once found unambitious, but hey. They’d achieve the inherited mediocrity.
But they won’t. Right now, in fact, they aren’t even that close.
The Liberal plan is already failing. The Liberals’ own numbers tell us this
In order to reach the target that the Liberals have adopted and pledged to actually hit, Canada’s carbon emissions in 2030 would have to be 513 megatons of carbon (at most). But Environment Canada reported late last year that, based on current policies and trends, in 2030, Canada would actually release 592 megatons of carbon — a delta of 79 megatons. To put these numbers into more more tangible terms, in 2016, the entire province of Quebec released approximately 77 megatons of carbon. Saskatchewan released about 76. That’s a big deal. Canada is on track to miss our 2030 target by an entire Quebec. Hurling Saskatchewan into a blackhole — I’m not saying we should do this, to be clear — wouldn’t be enough to make good our projected 2030 shortfall. These aren’t rounding errors. We’re missing by entire provinces — big ones!
Worse, the 2018 Environment Canada report found that emissions were getting worse, not better — putting us further behind than previously thought.
The easy answer for the Liberals would simply be to increase the floor for the national carbon price. The carbon tax will be set at $50 a ton by 2022, but the Parliamentary Budget Officer reported last month that if all the current carbon-reduction or mitigation plans were adhered to, we could hit the 2030 target by increasing the carbon tax to $102 a ton by 2030. That would be a more gradual increase in the carbon tax than the Liberals are already committed to through to 2022 — but the Liberals have ruled it out. McKenna said last month that the Liberals had taken carbon-tax increases after 2022 off the table.
To recap: the Liberals first said the 2030 targets adopted by Stephen Harper was the bare minimum and they’d do better. Then they changed their minds and said, no, we won’t do better, but we’ll do by 2030 what Harper agreed to. Then their own government agencies told the Liberals that they weren’t on track to hit their targets, but that there was an easy way to get there — just ramp up the carbon tax. And the Liberals said … no.
Like I said above, Erskine-Smith is right about one thing — if fighting climate change is your number one goal, you’re probably not voting Conservative in the fall. But considering the Liberal record on climate change — a threat they declared a “national emergency” just weeks ago — it’s far from clear that such a voter would find the Liberals much more impressive. The Liberals would be on much firmer ground when they criticize the Conservatives if their own “emergency” plan to stop what they claim to consider a threat to human civilization wasn’t literally failing, by a wide margin, at this very moment.