OTTAWA—The federal government says it will drive ahead with its plan to get more zero-emission vehicles on the road, as Queen’s Park lambasts the strategy after a desired consensus failed to materialize at a meeting of Canada’s transportation ministers in Montreal on Monday.
While federal Transportation Minister Marc Garneau left the meeting touting Ottawa’s goal of seeing zero-emission vehicles account for 100 per cent of new cars sold in 2040, his counterpart from Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government slammed the target as a “reckless” threat to jobs in the province.
In a statement, Ontario Transportation Minister Jeff Yurek said the province is focused on removing barriers to low-carbon vehicles that use propane or hydrogen, for example, instead of forcing the auto industry to sell more vehicles with zero emissions.
“Our government cannot accept the arbitrary insistence on zero-emission vehicles,” Yurek said.
“It is clear that the federal government’s insistence on zero-emission vehicles is reckless and a threat to Ontario jobs and job creators.”
Almost two years ago, Ottawa said it would work with provinces, territories and auto industry players to develop a national zero-emissions vehicle strategy by 2018. The strategy is meant to be a key part of Canada’s effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change, which also includes the Liberal government’s carbon price.
After Monday’s meeting, Garneau’s office said Ottawa will now consider next steps to craft the already-delayed strategy without national buy-in to encourage a shift to cleaner cars in the coming years. Garneau’s office said Ottawa wants to increase the number of zero-emission vehicles sold in Canada to 10 per cent of new cars sold in 2025, 30 per cent in 2030 and 100 per cent in 2040.
“Yesterday’s discussion was a constructive, honest conversation but we were unfortunately unable to collectively reach such a definitive strategy,” said Emilie Samard, Garneau’s director of communications, in an emailed statement.
“While some raised concerns that the distinct regional characteristics of their respective provinces and territories make it difficult to commit to our robust goals, something that we are taking very seriously, others have reduced their ambitions for concrete action in this domain altogether.”
Dan Woynillowicz, policy director with Clean Energy Canada, said Ottawa’s targets are “ambitious but achievable,” given evidence that major automakers are preparing for a consumer shift toward electric vehicles in the coming years. An analysis of 29 global automakers by Reuters this month found the companies have invested at least $300 billion in electric vehicles.
Woynillowicz said he is looking to this year’s pre-election budget for signs the Liberal government will take meaningful action to achieve its targets for zero-emission vehicles. He said Ottawa could ramp up spending on charging stations—it has already earmarked $182.5 million for green infrastructure—and create consumer education programs to spread word about the performance and affordability of electric vehicles.
But the biggest thing the federal government could do is create a nationwide rebate program to encourage people to buy these cars, he said. Quebec already has an electric car rebate, as well as regulations to ensure dealers sell more zero-emission vehicles. And British Columbia has promised legislation this spring to move toward the federal goal of zero emission vehicles accounting for 100 per cent of new sales in 2040.
Ontario, too, issued rebates of up to $14,000 for the sale of electric cars until the new Doug Ford government scrapped the initiative last year.
Like Ontario, Saskatchewan is not on board with Garneau’s targets. The province is calling for more research before committing to a specific sales threshold because of its “unique climate, geographic, economic and social conditions,” said government spokesperson Dale Hunter in an email Tuesday.
“It’s unfortunate that we’re now in this situation, but that said … there is benefit to having it apply nationally so that Canadians across the country have that equal opportunity to looking to getting an electric car,” Woynillowicz said.
Huw Williams, spokesperson for the Canadian Automobile Dealers Association, said discussions about the national strategy have slowed down in recent months, and that his organization was unaware the federal government had announced targets for clean-vehicle sales.
“What you don’t want to see governments do is come up with programs and set targets that can’t be reached,” he said. “We’ll be considering what this means.”
Twenty-four per cent of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions came from transportation in 2015, making the sector the second largest emitter after oil and gas that year, according to the federal government. Under the international Paris Agreement to fight climate change, Canada has committed to cut emissions to 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.
Alex Ballingall is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow him on Twitter: @aballinga