Trudeau admits high oil prices could throw a wrench in net-zero target

By Palak Mangat September 9, 2021

Federal party leaders’ debate styles were on full display last night at the French event, where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s record on the environment was put to the test.

During the two-hour affair, Trudeau touted his party’s recent pledge to put a cap on greenhouse gas emissions from the oil and gas sector, which he has vowed to work toward freezing at current levels. He sidestepped moderators’ questions on details like the projected timeline for a cap.

Pressed on the file — for which there has been few details — during a scrum with reporters, the PM said emissions from the sector have hovered around the 190 megatonne mark per year “over the past few years.”

With oil prices on the rise as the pandemic subsides, he said there has been “ambition” from the sector to “start turning on the taps and go even faster,” a move he acknowledged is “completely incompatible” with hitting a net-zero target by 2050.

Though some companies have expressed a willingness to cut their carbon footprints and hit that target, Trudeau’s response appeared to suggest the downturn brought on by the pandemic has hampered those plans.

He acknowledged his promise to ensure emissions do not increase is a “start” and vowed the Liberals’ net-zero advisory panel will be consulted to set up “clear benchmarks every five years for where and how they need to decrease in a manner consistent with attaining net-zero by 2050.”

Trudeau has taken sustained heat for his environmental bonafides over the years and during the election campaign in particular.

Last night, he repeatedly touted his party’s efforts as the most ambitious for the country. The blueprint has earned an endorsement from former B.C. Green Party leader Andrew Weaver, who’s called it bold and ambitious — and one that deserves to see Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson re-elected.

Speaking to reporters after her first formal leaders’ debate, Green Leader Annamie Paul threw cold water on the PM’s claim that the Liberals have the most ambitious plan.

She noted Canada has not hit any of its emissions targets and has not heeded warnings from the United Nations and International Energy Agency that it cannot continue oil exploration if it wants to tackle climate change.

“Saying something like that, I understand in the heat of an election [things get said], but that is simply not correct,” she said, adding it shows the PM “simply doesn’t have ideas.”

Identity quibbles, health-care dollars also topics
Trudeau also duked it out with Bloc Leader Yves-François Blanchet as the two engaged in a testy exchange about who had the best interest of Quebeckers at heart.

A heated interaction saw Trudeau quip that Blanchet, whose party relies on the province for all of its seats, does not “have a monopoly” in the region and does not speak for all residents.

Blanchet later clarified he was trying to add that Trudeau should not go against the wishes of the region’s National Assembly, which he regarded as the “institution that speaks on behalf of Quebeckers.”

The PM, whose own seat is from the province, pushed back on that notion, noting many around his cabinet table hail from la belle province and while there is not always agreement between his and Quebec Premier François Legault’s government (think the controversial Bill 21), the two regimes have been able to find common ground on files like child care.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, meanwhile, said his promise to increase health-care transfers to the provinces to six per cent annually will have a “compounding effect” — but denied such vows were disingenuous, given much of the $60 billion in funding he’s pledged would be backdated toward the latter half of the decade.

Given majority mandates are typically a maximum of four years, that means Canadians would have to elect a Tory regime multiple times to get the full funds. O’Toole sidestepped such questions, saying the move is an effort to offer “predictable, stable funding without conditions.”