Climate Change and what it means in October

July 15, 2019

This week I was joined for our weekly election show by colleague Devin McCarthy, our Vice President of Federal and Energy practices, to discuss climate change and the role the issue will play in the upcoming election.

It will be profound. We focused on it because even if it is not the ballot box question for voters across the country, one’s views on the issue and the actions or proposed actions by each party may tilt the scales between parties come October.

The country is torn between general agreement that more must be done to address climate change and improve the future health of our environment and those that agree, but don’t want to see our natural resources sector crippled at the same time.

The Green Party has been quite clear and the NDP almost equally so – no more development of our oil sands and no more pipelines.  A transition to new technologies and fuel sources as quickly as possible.  The Conservative Party under Andrew Scheer has been clear on the other side – responsible development of the oil sands, approvals of TMX and other pipelines, and the removal of the tanker ban which prevents the export of Canada’s oil through the waters along BC’s west coast, all while investing in technologies that can be used domestically and marketed globally to help decrease carbon emissions.

The Liberals are blessed with the power to make change and the credibility on the environment through their actions to appeal to left-leaning voters in the crowded left-of-centre space on the environment.  They have tried to walk that fine line in maintaining that credibility but still being seen to support pipelines and growth.  It hasn’t helped them in the West, which feels left in the cold.  As the economic driver of a big portion of Canada’s economy, Alberta and to a lesser extent Saskatchewan feel they are being sacrificed for votes in central Canada. And to a degree, they are right.  For the path to election for the Trudeau Liberals does not count on votes in those provinces.  It relies on holding onto as meany seats as possible in the East, gaining in Quebec as the NDP craters and winning in the seat-rich 905 and southwestern Ontario.

Quebec Premier Legault has been resolute against an oil pipeline through his province. Quebeckers simply do not support bitumen pipelines. However, as Devin points out in our discussion, the situation in Ontario is quite different.  Angus Reid in January polled that 61% of Ontarians were concerned that the lack of pipeline capacity was a crisis. That same 61% expressed in June that they supported the government’s approval of the TMX pipeline. Ontarians are also strongly supportive of action on the environment. Hence, battleground Ontario is where the fine line between resource development and strong action on the environment will play out electorally and make the difference between a Conservative win or Liberal, a minority or majority for the victor.

For Trudeau’s Liberals, can they defend a tanker ban in the West that does not apply to the East, where oil continues to be imported from Saudi Arabia and Russia for refining in Canada.  Can they sell a start on the taxpayer-acquired TMX to show they are serious about supporting pipelines, while not losing credibility on their signature issue of climate change?

Will climate change even be the deciding factor in the election?  It is the preferred ballot question for Trudeau.  His government is heavily invested in the issue and has doubled down as we lead into the Fall.  Can Scheer force the defining factor for voters, particularly in Ontario, to be something else?  Notably the pocketbook issue of affordability of goods services and utilities in the face of the carbon tax, perhaps combined with ethics issues in the wake of SNC-Lavalin and the issues with Jody Wilson Raybould and Jane Philpott?  Is that strong enough to overcome current voter concern in Ontario around Premier Ford and his government’s performance to-date?

If the average voter in Ontario believes we can take strong action on the environment while also developing and selling our own resources, who will be seen as having the most credible suite of policies to achieve both difficult goals?  It could well make the difference on October 24th.