October 15, 2015
The 2015 Federal election campaign has been one in which environment was the issue that refused to go away, despite the absence of advocacy efforts on the part of NGOs (a function of CRA’s aggressive ‘audits’ of civil society organizations), and an apparent desire on the part of the mainstream media to ignore the issue, even when it came up in the leaders’ debates.
The platforms of the major parties offer a study in contrasts. NDP, Greens and Liberals offer a range of important initiatives, although often with subtle but important differences. The Conservatives, not surprisingly simply offer to continue their do virtually nothing approach on the environment, while promoting the interests of traditional resource industries – mining, forestry, non-renewable energy, and fisheries. What wildlife and conservation initiatives there are, are carefully targeted at rural hunting and fishing interests.
A full summary of the platform provisions is available here.
Issue Specific Commitments
- The Liberals, NDP and Greens all offer stronger national leadership, although both the Liberals and NDP stress their deference to existing provincial efforts. The NDP focuses on a cap and trade system, the Greens on a carbon “fee” (i.e. tax) while the Liberals are silent on their potential approach.
- The Greens highlight the need to remove subsidies for fossil fuels, while the NDP are the only party to mention the need, in the face of the growing evidence of the impacts of climate change, for strategies to adapt to these impacts.
- The NDP are categorical in the commitment to reverse the Conservative’s changes to the Fisheries Act and Navigable Waters Protection Act. The Greens imply such a direction but never state it directly. The Liberals, for their part, merely commit to “review” the Harper government’s changes.
Environmental Assessment and Approvals
- The Liberals and NDP outline slightly different but important and potentially complementary principles around future environmental assessment processes. The Liberals also make reference to “modernizing” the NEB, including strengthening its expertise and capacity around environmental and aboriginal issues. The Greens are surprisingly silent on these issues, while the Conservatives promise not to “interfere” in the review process.
Clean Technology Development
- The Liberals lay out a remarkably comprehensive strategy around the development “clean” technologies. The NDP’s commitments, in contrast, are focussed on renewable energy development in remote Northern communities. The Greens emphasize training in energy efficiency, renewables, and emerging technologies and infrastructure to support renewable energy development, including an enhanced East-West electricity grid. The Conservatives, for their part, offer nothing new, simply committing to continue to support Sustainable Development Technology Canada.
- The NDP is the only party to make any commitments with respect to toxic substances, proposing to adopt the principles of the European Union's REACH initiative.
- The Conservatives offer a series of commitments to support traditional resource industries, including the fisheries, forestry, mining and non-renewable energy sectors. The forest industry is specifically offered support to counter those who are conducting “misinformation” campaigns. The NDP’s approach is similar with respect to mining, offering $ 1billion in support for Ontario’s “Ring of Fire” mining plan and expanded exploration tax credits for mining industry. More creatively the NDP proposes to cut subsides for non-renewable energy and “end the federal bias towards non-renewable energy production.” The Greens, in contrast, are categorical in their opposition to raw bitumen exports from Canada’s coasts, on the need to curtail the growth of the oil sands and the need to halt thermal coal exports. The Liberals, for their part, are silent on the matter of resource development.
- The NDP offers an immediate public inquiry into the Lac-Megantic disaster. Both they and the Greens propose stricter safety standards. The Liberals and Conservatives are silent on the matter.
Nature (Parks, Protected Areas, Species at Risk)
- The NDP offers clear commitments to the completion of proposed parks and wilderness areas and to the centrality of the principle of ecological integrity in parks management. The Liberals propose to reverse cuts to Parks Canada and make new investments in the agency. The Conservatives would complete a number of proposed national parks.
- The Liberals are the only party to address species at risk at all, and all they offer is a vague reference to “do more.”
- The Greens are silent on issues related to national parks, protect areas, species at risk and other nature-related issues.
Science and Evidence-Based Decision-Making
- The Greens, Liberals and NDP all commit to reversing the Conservative’s practice of “muzzling” federal scientists, to a variety of mechanisms to ensure public access to the research conducted by federal scientists and with federal funding, and ensure that scientific evidence is considered in decision-making. These including the appointment of a Chief Science Officer (Liberal), Scientific Advisory Council to the Prime Minister (NDP) and a Public Access to Science Act (Green). The Conservatives, unsurprisingly, are silent on the matter.
Trade and the Environment
- The Greens offer categorical opposition to both the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA), particularly with respect to their provisions regarding investor-state disputes. The NDP and Liberals are far more vague in their commitments, although the NDP has come out in opposition to the TPP.
- The Conservatives propose to intensify their war on “red tape.” The other parties in contrast focus on Bill C-51 and its impact on dissent and democratic discourse The Greens and NDP propose its repeal, while the Liberals would only repeal its “problematic” elements. The Liberals, on the only hand, are the only party to address the Conservative’s policy of aggressive CRA audits of the “political” activities of charitable organizations, proposing to “modernize” the rules to recognize the contributions that charities can make to public debate and public policy.
- The Greens, NDP and Liberals propose significant changes to Access to Information Act. The NDP and Liberals offer comprehensive and complementary proposals, including giving the information commissioner the power to order to release records, and to expand the scope of coverage of the act.
- The NDP proposes a federal Environmental Bill of Rights, while the Greens would enshrine a right to a healthy environment in the constitution.
- The NDP also proposes to significantly strengthen the federal Sustainable Development Act,
Key areas of NDP/Liberal overlap
Given the strong likelihood at this point of a minority government lead by one of the NDP or Liberals and backed by the other, it is important to consider where there is significant overlap or complementarity between the NDP and Liberal Platforms. These would be areas where early action could be likely, or which could even feature as elements of a Liberal/NDP accord similar to that seen in Ontario in 1985. Three areas emerge in this category:
- Environmental assessment;
- Science and evidence in decision-making; and
- Access to information reform.
A number of other areas can be seen as offering some potential for agreement as well. These include:
- Climate Change;
- Reversal of the C-38, C-45 and earlier amendments to the Fisheries Act and Navigable Waters Protection Act;
- The CRA, charities and “political activities;” and
- C-51 provisions, although the Liberals would need to agree to very extensive changes to gain NDP support.
- Strengthening the federal Sustainable Development Act, an NDP commitment regarding legislation that was originally drafted and introduced by Liberal MP John Godfrey.
Whatever the outcome on October 19th, it looks like the environment will very much be back on the agenda.