Canada's new Liberal government - an environmental renaissance?

| 21st October 2015
Can you imagine Stephen Harper here? Justin Trudeau at the 2015 Pride Toronto parade. Photo: Alex Guibord via Flickr (CC BY-ND).
Can you imagine Stephen Harper here? Justin Trudeau at the 2015 Pride Toronto parade. Photo: Alex Guibord via Flickr (CC BY-ND).
It's all change in Canada with the dramatic ousting of anti-environment Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, writes Carol Linnitt. Under the new Liberal PM Justin Trudeau things are looking a lot better for climate, science, environment, transparency and First Nations. But Canada is still set to go into the Paris climate talks with the same weak level of commitment.
The Liberals' climate plan will include investment in climate resilience, clean technology and low-carbon infrastructure. And the party will set aside $2 billion for emissions-reducing projects through a new Low Carbon Economy Trust.

Holy smokes! Canada, you have a new Prime Minister. I would say 'go home, you're drunk!' But don't, because you're not. This is actually happening.

But wait, what is actually happening? We have a new majority Liberal government.

Before the fun gets away with us, let's do a quick reality check for what the Liberal Party and incoming Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have been promising all y'all on some of our top DeSmog Canada topics: climate, environment, science and transparency.

On the issue of Canada's climate commitments for the UN climate summit this fall in Paris, the Liberal platform is underdeveloped. On the campaign trail last week party leader Justin Trudeau told the CBC he would not commit to specific emissions targets.

"Everybody has thrown out numbers and different targets, and what they're going to do and what is going to happen", Trudeau said. "What we need is not ambitious political targets. What we need is an ambitious plan to reduce our emissions in the country."

The former Conservative government promised to reduce emissions by 30% from 2005 levels by 2050, a target that has been roundly criticized as weak. Others have pointed out that ex-PM Stephen Harper's plan made no mention of the Alberta oilsands, the fastest growing source of emissions in Canada.

Although the Liberals don't have a specific plan yet, the party has promised to establish a new climate change framework by February 2016 that includes an eventual phase out of fossil fuel subsidies.

The plan will also include investment in climate resilience, clean technology and low-carbon infrastructure. And the party will set aside $2 billion for emissions-reducing projects through a new Low Carbon Economy Trust.

Trudeau has also promised to attend climate negotiations in Paris with all of the premiers and to work with the provinces on emissions reduction plans that are location specific.

Importantly the Liberals have also promised to work with other countries like Mexico and the US in developing shared clean energy plans.

Liberals on environment

The Liberal party is promising to undo some of the damage done to Canada's environmental laws and environmental assessment process for projects like pipelines.

The party promises to establish new, credible reviews for proposed development that are comprehensive, consider full and cumulative impacts, including upstream impacts like development in the oilsands, as well as greenhouse gas emissions. Their revamped review process promises to be evidence-based and allow for more meaningful participation by the public.

The Liberals' climate plan will include investment in climate resilience, clean technology and low-carbon infrastructure. And the party will set aside $2 billion for emissions-reducing projects through a new Low Carbon Economy Trust.

Liberal party candidate Jonathan Wilkinson, who took the North Vancouver riding with 56% of the vote, has also promised to scrap the current Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline review in favour of a revitalized process.

Trudeau has voiced his support for pipelines, including the controversial Kinder Morgan and Keystone XL pipelines, but has also acknowledged "even though [it is] governments that grant permits, ultimately it's only communities that grant permission."

In that light, the party is also promising to engage more respectfully with First Nations during the consultation process. Considering cumulative impacts around the oilsands has been a major issue for local First Nations.

On this note the Liberals have also promised to immediately implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples - something that will alter the manner in which First Nations are approached and consulted on major energy projects.

Since 2012 the Conservative party has weakened and eliminated many of Canada's strongest environmental laws, including the Fisheries Act and the Navigable Waters Act. The Liberals have promised to review changes to both of these Acts, re-instate what was removed from them and possibly up protections where warranted.

Significantly for BC the Liberal party has promised a moratorium on crude oil tanker traffic on the province's north coast.

Liberals on science

The Liberal party has taken a strong stance on the 'war on science' in Canada, promising to free scientists to speak publicly about their work.

Trudeau has also promised to instate a Parliamentary Science Officer to ensure transparency, expertise and independence of federal scientists. This position will mirror that of the Parliamentary Budget Officer.

In addition to unmuzzling scientists, the party also wants to work collaboratively with the provinces, First Nations and other stakeholders when it comes to ocean management.

This is significant in light of the Conservative government's de-funding of numerous marine science programs, including the only research being conducted into the effects of industrial pollutants on marine mammals. The Liberal party has promised to reinstate $40 million of funding for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

The Liberals plan on incorporating more science into federal environmental assessments including the consideration of climate change and environmental impacts of oilsands development on pipeline projects. Under the Conservatives both emissions and environmental impacts of the oilsands were considered 'outside the relevant scope' of pipeline reviews.

The federal Conservatives also fought against First Nations and conservation groups regarding the Species at Risk Act and its implication for major projects like oilsands mines or pipelines.

The Liberal party has promised to respond more quickly and more scientifically to the issue of at risk species. This means species will be listed faster and mandatory timelines will be put in place for species once they are listed as at risk. A new version of the Species at Risk Act is already on the Liberal's environmental plan.

Liberals on transparency

When it comes to dealing with media, Trudeau has promised to have a much more open and transparent relationship with journalists. Through its Transparency Act, the party has promised to make access to information much easier for Canadians, including making all government documents freely available online.

The Access to Information Act will be amended to make information 'Open by Default', that is, more easily available to the public, on quicker timelines and for less money. Current requests under the act cost $5 per request but may be subject to additional fees if the request is large or requires a lot of time. The amended act will limit the possible fee to the initial $5 charge.

In addition the Act will be reviewed every five years and expanded to include the Prime Minister's Office, which is usually exempt from disclosure rules.

Trudeau has also promised to repeal certain elements of the Conservative's controversial anti-terrorism legislation Bill C-51. Former prime ministers, national editorial boards, tech experts, legal scholars, civil society organizations, democracy watchdogs and droves of citizens opposed the bill, saying it undermined the democratic rights of Canadians. Many were outraged at the Liberals' decision to support it.

Trudeau has promised to "take a constructive approach to improving the bill" including instituting greater oversight of Canada's national security agencies and establishing an "all-party committee of Parliamentarians, to provide oversight of various agencies, including CSIS, CSE, the RCMP and DND."

No matter what, Canadians are in for a real mix up under this new leadership. Reuters is reporting Justin Trudeau will bring "glamour, youth and charisma" to Ottawa in the dawning of this new age.

I'll reserve that kind of cheer for another moment. For now, I'll just say the Liberal party certainly has their work cut out for them.



Carol Linnitt is Managing Editor and Director of Research for DeSmog Canada, and lead author of DeSmog's report Fracking the Future: How Unconventional Gas Threatens Our Water, Health & Climate. Her work also led to the DeSmog micro-documentary CRYWOLF: An Unethical Oil Story and the Cry Wolf investigative series. She tweets @carollinitt.

This article was originally published on

More from this author


The Ecologist has a formidable reputation built on fifty years of investigative journalism and compelling commentary from writers across the world. Now, as we face the compound crises of climate breakdown, biodiversity collapse and social injustice, the need for rigorous, trusted and ethical journalism has never been greater. This is the moment to consolidate, connect and rise to meet the challenges of our changing world. The Ecologist is owned and published by the Resurgence Trust. Support The Resurgence Trust from as little as £1. Thank you. Donate now.