This week the federal Conservative government fell and Canadians voted in a majority Liberal government under Justin Trudeau. I would like to offer my prognostications on what the Prime Minister-elect should prioritize regarding climate and energy policy.
Trudeau will want to take a step back from the hyperbolic and incendiary rhetoric that has shrouded climate and energy policy for the past decade in Canada and re-think what the role of the federal government is in shaping Canada’s future. He campaigned on “real change now.” But, given the size of the climate challenge and the potential economic opportunities that come with climate action, he will need to have more than piecemeal policies sprinkled across a few departments.
I will be looking for coherence and integration of federal climate and energy policy through the hundreds of departments and agencies in the federal government. Ottawa may want to look to Berlin and the German Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy for inspiration. Will climate change and clean energy become a priority in Canada’s foreign policy? Norway has done, in my opinion, an outstanding job on helping resource other countries wanting to develop in a less polluting manner.
Consultation will be another bellwether for the new Trudeau government. Will they consult and consider the views of indigenous communities and environmental groups that have been vilified by the previous government? Restoring federal funding to the Canadian Environmental Network (RCEN) would be a small step in the right direction. RCEN is an organization that was funded by the federal government to bring together environmental groups and provide an efficient and effective way for government policymakers to consult environmental stakeholders. Federal funding for RCEN which began in 1977—during the government of Justin Trudeau’s father—was completely removed in 2011.
What to do with the provinces? This relationship will likely be harder to fix than the relationship with environmental groups. In the absence of federal leadership on energy policy, Canadian provinces and territories have been busy at work. They convened meetings to help develop a Canadian energy strategy and even agreed on a plan at this year’s meeting. But without the federal government providing critical funding and policy support, fragmented efforts by financially-squeezed provinces will likely result in less-than-ideal outcomes. Given that morass, I’m glad that Trudeau has agreed to “meet the provinces within 90 days of the UN Climate Change Conference this December to develop a carbon pricing platform.” Like many energy policy-watchers, I still have many questions with how exactly that will work on an operational level. How much of the cost will be passed to consumers and what will happen with the revenue? If I find solace in anything, it is that I will not have to listen to government MPs drone on about a job-killing carbon tax. If implemented wisely, a price on carbon will have quite the opposite effect!
In the meantime, I am collecting bets on who will be the next Environment Minister. Unlike the previous government, odds are Trudeau will not appoint a climate change skeptic to the portfolio.