Canadian flat with microphones in front

Canadians’ choice of party to lead the next government will say a lot about the rate of this country’s transition to clean transportation, as the Conservatives, Bloc Québécois, New Democratic Party and Liberals make varying commitments on zero-emission vehicle sales mandates, targets and related policies

Election 2021 is shaping up to be a potentially transformative moment in Canada’s race to meet its climate goals through reduction of greenhouse gases by cracking down on emissions from transportation.

Four of five parties in the federal race are now running running on platforms that include specific commitments — at varying levels — to supporting adoption of zero-emission vehicles and reaching ZEV sales targets. The Liberals climate plan, released on Sunday, was the latest pledge to include a ZEV mandate, a rule that requires automakers to sell a minimum threshold of EVs by a given date.

The Green Party hasn’t yet released its 2021 platform, so it is unclear what, if any, its ZEV commitments will be.

In a decade promising an evolution of revolutionary proportions in the transportation industry, it won’t escape voters’ notice that the ZEV movement is featuring prominently and across party lines in a clear indicator of the cleaner future all Canadian politicians are preparing for.

Who is promising what?

The party pledges from their 2021 platforms are:

Conservative Party of Canada — “Introducing a zero emission vehicle mandate based on British Columbia’s, requiring 30% of light duty vehicles sold to be zero emissions by 2030.”

New Democratic Party “As Canada moves towards 100% of all new car sales being zero-emissions by 2035, we will make sure that more of these vehicles are built here in Canada. A New Democrat government will extend federal incentives for ZEVs and provide a break for working families by waiving the federal sales tax on ZEV purchases, and grow these incentives up to $15,000 per family for made-in-Canada vehicles. We will expand the use of ZEVs in the public sector – including Crown Corporations – and by freight vehicles.”

Bloc Québécois “The Bloc Québécois will introduce a zero emissions law to force car dealerships to keep a suitable inventory of electric vehicles in order to that they are accessible to consumers.”

Liberal Party of Canada “Requiring that at least half of all passenger vehicles sold in Canada are zero emission by 2030, and all are zero emission by 2035.”

From its 2019 platform, the Green Party‘s commitment reads, “Offer rebates for purchasing energy efficient vehicles, and within 10 years ban the purchase of new internal combustion engine vehicles,” but a 2021 update has not yet been released.

Which is most aggressive?

In a partial nod to the Liberal’s commitment to “Work to align Canada’s Light-Duty Vehicle regulations with the most stringent performance standards in North America post-2025, whether at the United States federal or state level,” the party’s official platform confirms it will be following the Biden Administration in aiming to have 50 per cent of new car sales be ZEV by 2030 and a net-zero grid by 2035.

However, while the U.S. federal target is non-binding and voluntary, a 50 per cent ZEV mandate from the Liberals would, by definition, be binding. Likewise, for the Conservative’s 30 per cent sales mandate by 2030.

If enacted, the Liberal’s mandate would match the State of California’s binding target of 50 per cent ZEV sales by 2030, which is currently the most aggressive in North America.

The Bloc says its target would be “a law,” but doesn’t assign a percentage to its pledge.

The NDP, meanwhile, has opted to concentrate its efforts on making ZEVs more accessible to more Canadians, but is not proposing anything more aggressive than the Liberal’s 2035 100 per cent ZEV sales target.

Of note, this month, just prior to the election call, the Liberal government missed the deadline to respond to the Report of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, which called for a national ZEV mandate. Neither did it release any other policy updates on its climate plan to meet its new target of cutting carbon emissions by 40 to 45 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, announced in April, saving that for the campaign as well.

What does it all mean?

When Canadians head to the polls on September 20 they will be casting their ballots based on many considerations; backward-looking issues like COVID-19 and forward-looking goals like economic recovery.

But with two years of forest fires, floods, polar vortexes and unseasonal storms felt across Canada, protecting the country’s shared environment is a top concern on many people’s minds and an issue that crosses party lines.

The Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC), citing data from Catastrophe Indices and Quantification Inc., reported 2020 was the fourth most expensive year for natural disasters, costing Canadians $2.4 billion.

“Canadians continue to experience accelerating financial losses from climate change,” Craig Stewart, vice-president of federal affairs at the IBC, said in the release. “[T]oo little attention is being paid to the losses Canadians are facing today due to past inaction.”

Perhaps this will be the election where Canadians vote for aggressive and immediate action.