EGL in Conversation: What happens to climate policy post elections?

To watch the EGL video event, click here



As part of the ongoing Environmental Governance Lab in Conversation Series, the Environmental Governance Lab hosted an insightful conversation in November of 2019 regarding what role the newly elected Liberal-minority government plays in the ongoing climate policies, energy policies and overall carbon market. The conversation included four esteemed panelists, moderated by Steven Bernstein, co-Director of EGL and Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto and hosted by Matthew Hoffmann, co-Director of EGL and Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto.

A light introduction to each panelist:


Catherine Abreu is an Executive Director of Climate Action Network Canada, whose primary focus includes the transformative actions on climate change today.

Christopher Cochrane is an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto who provided information regarding Canadian politics and party competition.

Andrew Leach is an Associate Professor at the University of Alberta who provided information regarding environmental economics.

Finally, Heather Miller is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Ottawa, and an expert on Canadian provincial energy and climate politics.


Post-federal election takeaways


The floor opens up for discussion with Catherine stating how this was the first climate election due to the significance given to climate policy. Specifically, she elaborates that the  social movement for climate change has increased in comparison to the previous one in Quebec in 2015, which consisted of 25,000 people. In contrast, Andrew states that the elections can be understood depending on how they are framed, and that approaching climate policies will be risky, specifically concerning the shut down of large projects that benefit Canadian workers. However, Catherine expresses that there was still a significant growth in the social movement and that the new government should expand beyond policies in carbon pricing and shift towards just transition, which focuses on developing an environmental policy through the labour movement and therefore causing less damage to workers. 

Furthermore, Heather adds that Canada has accomplished 3 of the 6 stages that must be passed in order to combat carbon levels. The three stages Canada has already overcome are adoption, implementation and transition test. The next three need more effort to push through. Christopher issues that climate policy is a deeply polarizing issue and that climate politics are difficult because of the regional divisions related to climate politics. However he feels that the nature of having a minority government will be good because it requires a collaborative effort from both aisles. Another crucial factor is how the narrative regarding climate justice is presented because there is little evidence that people vote based on the logistics of the issue alone. Generally, if a narrative is pitched well, it has greater influence among the public.  Therefore, it will be challenging to narrate issues going forward since each party’s perspectives must be taken into account. All panellists express concerns regarding how proper leadership, planning and good narratives can lead to proper implementations of climate policy. 


Climate policy and politics in Alberta and Ontario


When looking at the Alberta tar sands, Andrew asserts that we must find proper “cushioning” against the drastic changes, and that finding that will be difficult. Catherine discusses that we should aim to shift away from the oil sands, rather than shutting it down. Additionally stating that if political parties were to clarify situations and discuss how to bridge affordability and climate action plan for policy, it would be better understood, as seen within the Green New Deal proposals. 

Heather states how the climate factor was not a significant voting decision-maker, and that a very small percentage of people from the prairies feel that we should break free from fossil fuels, among the 44% of Canadians that agree to do so. As a result of the Darlington Reactors, Ford is not looking into deepening electricity prices and that climate factors were not a significance in voter choice. 


Hopes and Fears 


Overall, the panelists looked at two frameworks, a loss framework and a scarcity framework. Statements were made regarding how climate change impacts are fatal and harmful, how we should focus on mechanisms to improve climate action, and economic diversification possibilities that may be missed. As mentioned previously, the idea of focusing on a just transition would implement a smooth conversion for energy sectors. As a result of the public’s concern over job losses, this is particularly important for providing clear coverage for the labour movement. It will be interesting to see this unfold over the course of the new Liberal government’s time.