Liberals unveil ambitious climate action plan with few details on how they would hit targets

by Kathleen Harris

Environmental proposals would push Canada to net-zero emissions by 2050, party says

The Liberals are promising to push Canada to net-zero emissions by 2050, joining the European Union and countries making the same pledge at the United Nations in New York City this week.

The Liberal Party’s plan is to set legally-binding, five-year milestones to reach net-zero emissions in 30 years. The party says the net-zero plan would be based on the advice of scientists, economists and other experts, as well as consultations with Canadians — but it’s offering scant details so far on exactly how the target would be met.

Net-zero means some sectors could still emit carbon pollution, but those emissions would be offset by other actions such as planting trees.

The Liberal plan also promises to exceed Canada’s 2030 emissions goal.

Ottawa Centre Liberal candidate Catherine McKenna, who has been serving as federal environment minister, said Canadians have a stark choice to make on climate policy in this election.

“Conservative politicians want to stop this progress. They want to follow (Ontario Premier) Doug Ford’s example, where it’s free to pollute, where we cancel programs that are helping businesses, schools, hospitals, people save money and do right by the environment,” she said during a campaign event at a local Ottawa company that transitions homes and businesses to solar power.

“That is exactly what [Conservative Leader] Andrew Scheer would do, too.”

‘Moral responsibility’ to act

Pressed by reporters on how the Liberals would achieve the ambitious targets, McKenna was light on specifics. She would not say if pursuing a net-zero target would require an increase in the carbon tax, or what penalties could be imposed for not meeting legislated emissions targets.

McKenna said the path forward would be charted by an expert panel, adding climate change represents both a moral responsibility and an economic opportunity for Canada.

“We may not know exactly how to get there, but that’s the same of all the countries that have committed to this and the businesses,” she said.

“But we will figure this out, and the way we will do this is by having a serious climate plan with credible and pragmatic action, by listening to the experts and, most of all, listening to young people in the streets who are saying, ‘Are you going to act for our future?'”

The climate change plan would include bringing in something called a “Just Transition Act” to give workers in affected sectors access to training, support and new opportunities to adapt to the transforming economy.

In August, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May offered a similar proposal to transition oil and gas sector workers to green energy jobs.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is holding a press conference of his own on the climate plan at 12:30 p.m. ET. in Burnaby, B.C. — the riding now held by NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh. will also stream that live.

Carbon tax battle

Key to the Liberal climate change action plan is the carbon tax, which set a minimum carbon price of $20 per tonne this year, increasing $10 a year to $50 by 2022. The federal government imposed the tax on businesses and individuals in provinces with no federally approved carbon pricing plan. In those provinces, the government is handing back carbon tax rebates to most residents. Several provinces have challenged the tax in court challenges without success.

The Conservatives are campaigning against the carbon tax, calling it a “Liberal tax grab” that hikes costs for consumers.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has said his first act in government would be to scrap the tax.

The NDP has said it would keep carbon pricing in place, double funding for disaster mitigation caused by climate change and create 300,000 new green jobs in infrastructure, transit, housing and renewable energy as part of its environmental plan.

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