Has the Government Passed on Greenhouse Gas Action?

08/24/2013 11:16 EDT | Updated 10/24/2013 05:12 EDT

The Government is not acting on Greenhouse Gases.

Sometimes it's worth reviewing what the Government said a long time ago, to see whether it has carried through on its promises. Case in point is the government's promise to do something about Greenhouse Gases (GHGs).

The Conservatives have repeatedly stated that they will have nothing to do with carbon taxes. Indeed, they have aggressively attacked opposition parties on that very matter. Instead they chose to pursue a "regulatory approach" in sectors where GHGs are produced. The unstated message of course, and this is very important, is that the Conservative approach is better because it will achieve substantial GHG reductions without forcing Canadians to pay for this approach since no specific mention is made of carbon taxes. This is, of course, not true.

The document that spelt out the conservative plan was called: "Turning the Corner, a Regulatory Framework for Industrial Greenhouse Gas Emissions". It was announced with great fanfare in March 2008, over five years ago and contained the following statement: "the final regulatory framework will contribute significantly to the commitment in the 2007 Speech from the Throne to implement a national strategy to reduce Canada's total greenhouse gas emissions by 20% below 2006 levels by 2020."

The document went on to say: "Final Regulations are expected to be approved and published in the Canada Gazette Part II in Fall 2009."

Despite the fact that the Government's regulatory framework has so far only addressed two of the defined sectors (automobile fuel efficiency standards and electricity generation emissions), the Government has actually tried to convince Canadians through a mathematical sleight of hand that it is halfway to reaching its target. This is completely untrue since it has not in fact halved the amount of GHGs it said it would eliminate by 2020. The Government also glosses over the fact that both a recession induced slowdown as well as a number of provincial initiatives aimed at reducing GHGs have also been responsible for what progress has been achieved. The sad reality is that the federal Government has accomplished very little in the past five years.

Without a doubt, the "make-or break" sector that will determine whether the Conservatives are able to keep their 2020 GHG reduction promise is the Oil and Gas sector. No other sector remotely approaches this sector in terms of expected growth, including growth in GHGs. As we know, we are still waiting to see those long overdue regulations.

Apart from the government's failure to stick to the implementation schedule it promised Canadians more than five years ago and apart from the misleading claim that it is already halfway to reaching its 2020 target, there is one other important point that needs to be made about the 2008 government document "Turning the Corner" and it deals with the economic impacts of industrial GHG regulations. Indeed, chapter 7 of the document deals with precisely this matter.

Excerpts from this chapter:

"Canadians can therefore expect to bear costs under the regulatory framework that are not trivial."

"For the majority of individual Canadians and for businesses outside the regulated sectors, these costs will be most evident in the form of higher energy prices, particularly with respect to electricity and natural gas."

"Overall, the analysis indicates that the regulatory framework will have a measurable, negative impact on Canada's real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) level."

"The assessment indicates that this impact will not exceed 0.5% of forecasted real GDP levels in any given year between 2010 and 2020."

To get a sense of the costs referred to above, 0.5% of GDP in December 2012 is over $9 billion.

The reason for quoting from the Government's document is to point out the obvious: even the Conservative government admits very clearly that mitigation measures to reduce GHGs and pollutants will impose a considerable cost on taxpayers. It's the price of taking responsibility for our emissions. Unfortunately, Mr. Harper is completely silent with Canadians when it comes to discussing this cost impact.

In conclusion, if Mr. Harper intends to achieve his GHG target, he needs to:

1. Get on with his 2008 promise to Canadians to promptly address GHGs

2. Stop pretending we are already half way to the target. We are not; and

3. Level with Canadians and tell them his regulatory approach is also going to cost them.

Marc Garneau is the Member of Parliament for Westmount--Ville-Marie and Liberal critic for Foreign Affairs, International Trade and la Francophonie.