5.7 Takeaways


This chapter covered the main policies put forward by the federal government and its counterparts in the provinces and territories. Two main takeaways emerge from this overview.

Recognition that efforts put in place so far have been grossly insufficient to meet GHG emissions reduction targets has been slow and uneven. Most provinces have put forward action plans and strategies focused on energy-related climate objectives and a majority have adopted medium-term targets for GHG emissions reductions. However, despite the policies implemented over the past decade, not one province has met a 2020 GHG emissions reduction target and those that promised or established targets for the coming decades are clearly unable to deliver. As a result, substantial policy adjustments are needed. 

In fact, recognition of the need to change and intensify strategies to meet GHG targets has led to notable modifications in a few provinces. The British Columbia government used the limited impact of the province’s carbon tax on emissions as a rationale to put forward several other policies; Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island have both revised their medium-term GHG targets (2030) upward and have announced new actions to match these targets; and Quebec’s approach has also been under revision at least since the passage of the zero-emission vehicle mandate as the first step in the transformation of the governance of GHG-related efforts. Faced with this challenge, Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta have moved in the opposite direction, instead emphasizing the high cost of meeting existing targets and lowering expectations and actions. At the federal level, Justin Trudeau’s minority Liberal government expanded its commitment to intensify these strategies by presenting its new climate plan in the 2021 budget, raising its 2030 GHG reduction target to 40%-45% of 2005 levels, and releasing a schedule to increase the carbon tax rate to $170/tonne by 2030.

This has resulted in significant changes to provincial energy and climate policies, as well as new targets for GHG emissions since our last report. Most importantly, these problems in moving forward to reach GHG targets highlights the need for strategic coherence among the various policies, as well as for ensuring that the policies are delivering the expected changes. Even though the variations among provincial energy and GHG profiles have to be dealt with by tailored policies, these policies also fall within the national efforts to meet the Paris Agreement targets, which in turn leads us to the second main takeaway. 

The Supreme Court’s decision in 2021 to uphold the federal carbon pricing system eliminated some of the uncertainty respecting the management of GHG-related efforts. It is however too soon to fully appreciate its impact. Even with the support of opposition parties on climate legislation, the current government remains in a minority position. Moreover, the Supreme Court decision does not resolve all federal-provincial tensions over climate policies. Despite its court victory, the federal government remains dependent on the provinces to achieve its most ambitious climate targets. 

However, as the systematic failure of previous GHG reduction plans across Canada to achieve their stated targets shows, policy changes are not sufficient. Evidence from other countries that have managed to reduce their emissions much more significantly demonstrates that governance structures need to be put in place to ensure a continuous evaluation of the progress made towards the objectives and a swift response to this evaluation. At the moment, however, most of the focus across Canada has been on policies, which largely follows the approaches that have failed for the last three decades. The federal government has slowly started to build such a governance structure, resulting in the establishment of the following two organizations to help the government in this task: the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices, an independent research body tasked with helping to inform climate policy development; and the Net-Zero-Advisory Body, an independent group of experts mandated to engage with Canadians and provide advice to the Minister on pathways to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, which is part of Bill C-12, currently under review. 

The challenge of designing the right governance structure is made more difficult since the responsibility for delivering the reductions in line with Canada’s 2030 and 2050 objectives, which remain out of reach with the measures announced so far, rests largely in the constitutional realm of the provinces. A successful approach to accommodate provincial variations on the net-zero pathway is still needed.