09/23/2020 18:23 EDT

Canada's Pandemic Recovery Hinges On Climate Action, Liberals Say In Throne Speech

In a throne speech, the Liberals reaffirmed their climate change commitments.

Justin Tang/The Canadian Press
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau heads back to his seat before the delivery of the throne speech at the Senate of Canada Building in Ottawa, on Sept. 23, 2020.

The Liberal government is proposing climate change initiatives it promises will spur the creation of one million jobs to help Canada recover from the COVID-19 crisis.

Climate change was emphasized as a central pillar of the Liberals’ goals for the upcoming session of parliament, when legislation integral to putting Canada back on track will be tabled. Details of the plan to meet emission goals while mitigating the effects of the pandemic were outlined during the throne speech, which Governor General Julie Payette read Wednesday.

“The world came into this pandemic facing the risks and consequences of climate change. A lesson that COVID-19 has taught us is that we need to match challenges with decisiveness and determination,” Payette said. 

“Climate action will be a cornerstone of our plan to support and create a million jobs across the country. This is where the world is going. Global consumers and investors are demanding and rewarding climate action.”

Watch: Execution matters more than throne speech promises, Jagmeet Singh says. Story continues below.

The speech didn’t reflect a transformative vision, instead recycling the Liberals’ campaign promises they have yet to act on, said Environmental Defence program manager Julia Levin. 

However, the advocacy group was pleased the party reaffirmed its environmental commitments and vowed to immediately table plans to exceed Canada’s 2030 greenhouse gas target and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. The timeline for that legislation had been unclear leading up to the speech, despite the accelerating rate of climate change, Levin said. 

“We were glad to see the recognition that we can’t go back to business as usual,” Levin told HuffPost Canada. “What we need to see as a country experiencing climate change is a plan to get off fossil fuels.”

The throne speech said the federal government will make Canada a world leader in clean technology by launching a fund to attract new investments in zero-emissions products and cutting corporate taxes in half for those companies. 

Canada already has the natural resources needed for zero-emissions vehicles and batteries, such as nickel and copper, said Payette. 

“This — combined with Canadian expertise — is Canada’s competitive edge,” she said. 

The Governor General reiterated the Liberals’ promise to spur retrofitting of homes and buildings, help build public transit and make electric vehicles more affordable. The feds will also move forward with the Clean Power Fund, including connecting surplus clean energy to regions that are transitioning away from coal, Payette said.

The government is still planning to uphold campaign promises to ban single-use plastics by 2021, protect a quarter of Canada’s land and oceans in five years and plant two billion trees by 2029. 

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press
Governor General Julie Payette delivers the throne speech in Ottawa on Sept. 23, 2020.

In a departure from past throne speeches, Payette mentioned the energy sector only twice. The government said it will support energy, manufacturing and natural resource industries to transition to “a net-zero future.” 

“Canada cannot reach net zero without the know-how of the energy sector, and the innovative ideas of all Canadians, including people in places like British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador,” Payette said. 

The speech’s lack of focus on the fossil fuel industry was “a huge shift” from previous years, said Levin.  

“It shows the power of people mobilizing the last six months, saying you can’t bail out these polluters.”