Next November, freshly re-elected Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will represent Canada at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change, also known as COP26, which will take place in Glasgow, Scotland. Let’s remember that since the creation of this conference, Canada has so far failed to meet a single target fixed in the agreements signed at these events—even during Mr. Trudeau's terms in office.
Looking at the number of seats earned by each party, it would be easy to say that the latest federal election will not change anything to policy making in the next few years, including in the fight against climate change. That said, upon a closer look at the parties’ platforms during this election, one will realize that they are very different from the ones presented in 2019.
In 2019, several climate experts criticized the Liberal Party for the lack of ambition of its platform regarding the fight against climate change. In 2021, probably as part of an operation to seduce progressive voters who might be tempted to vote NDP or Green, the Liberals delivered a platform that was much more ambitious on climate issues. During the campaign, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau told journalists that he “took it personal” when climate experts, back in 2019, said that the climate plans of both New Democrats and Greens were better than his. He said that him and his team did their homework and consulted with experts to come up with a better plan. Seeing the reaction of several climate experts to the 2021 Liberal climate plan, this seems to have worked.
New Democratic Party
The NDP ran a very different campaign than the one it ran in 2019. In 2015, the NDP, then-led by Thomas Mulcair, tried to take a more moderate approach, hoping that this would help them win some seats that usually go to the Liberals. Even with Thomas Mulcair gone, this was still the approach taken in 2019, which was arguably not successful, as the Liberals took the opportunity to shift to the left and present their plan as bolder than the NDP’s. Seeing that this approach didn’t bring the expected results, New Democrats decided, prior to the 2021 election, to go back to a more left-leaning approach on a lot of issues, including climate change. In a Parliament led by a Liberal minority, the NDP can play a role in ensuring that the Liberals’ policies are more ambitious.
The Bloc Québécois’ credibility on climate change was tinted when its leader Yves-François Blanchet tacitly endorsed the controversial third tunnel project between Quebec City and Lévis (also known as the “third link”) that has been fiercely endorsed by the CAQ government. However, a closer look at the Bloc’s platform revealed interesting policy pledges centred on the fight against climate change. For example, it is proposing to support provinces whose economy will be harder hit by an energetic transition, like Alberta. This very regionalist approach that is a trademark of the Bloc could be useful to ease tensions between provinces… provided that they embrace it, which is unlikely.
The Conservatives seem to have found a way to integrate the fight against climate change to their overall strategy to win over voters. While their climate plan was not readily embraced by experts, it is still a huge step up from their last campaign. In 2019, who would have thought that a Conservative leader would endorse a carbon tax? If Erin O’Toole remains at the helm of the party, it is likely that the Official Opposition could offer constructive insights to the newly elected government. The Conservatives are also the ones holding the most seats in Alberta, which is the province that has the most to lose in an energy transition. They are therefore essential to the government to maintain a dialogue with this part of Canada, so that no one is left behind in the fight against climate change.
In short, it seems like this election has forced several political parties to change their approach to the fight against climate change, as more and more Canadians are experiencing its consequences with either droughts and forest fires in British Columbia or heatwaves in Quebec and Ontario.
In this political context, Canada has the opportunity to appear as a strong leader against climate change at the COP26 in November. However, it is still too early to know if the approach taken by parties in Parliament will mirror the ones they had during the campaign.