What’s next for the Green Economy?

February 22, 2022

Since first elected in 2015, the Federal Liberals have made a practice of publicly releasing the mandate letters of its Cabinet Ministers. These letters are as much a public relations exercise as anything else, but they do provide a glimpse into the Government’s thinking. Climate and Green Energy platforms were huge points of differentiation in last Fall’s election. Given that the election resulted in yet another minority government for the Liberals, there will be intense pressure to navigate between producing the tangible results that Canadians want and controlling for the angst and dissatisfaction that often accompanies great change.

As has become standard, the Trudeau Liberals nearly always present their biggest policy goals as “whole of government” efforts, meaning that while a specific minister may be tagged with primary responsibility, the “big jobs” of public policy require everyone to be on the same page. It is significant therefore that each mandate letter includes the following paragraph:

“The science is clear. Canadians have been clear. We must not only continue taking real climate action, we must also move faster and go further. As Canadians are increasingly experiencing across the country, climate change is an existential threat. Building a cleaner, greener future will require a sustained and collaborative effort from all of us. As Minister, I expect you to seek opportunities within your portfolio to support our whole-of-government effort to reduce emissions, create clean jobs and address the climate-related challenges communities are already facing.”

At the same time, each minister is also responsible for ensuring a Just Transition, “…so that equity-deserving groups — such as women, Indigenous Peoples, racialized individuals, people with disabilities and youth — are able to benefit from new jobs and opportunities.”

Move faster and further. Reduce emissions, create clean jobs and address the climate-related challenges communities are already facing.

While all Ministers are implicated, it is the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, the Minister of Natural Resources, and the Minister of Environment and Climate Change who appear to be bearing the bulk of the responsibility for steering the country in these directions.

Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry.

Currently, the post of Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry is occupied by The Hon. François-Philippe Champagne (MP, Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC). This Minister is charged with the strategic delivery of the Net Zero Accelerator, with the goal of driving “…industrial transition and significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions on a scale consistent with achieving Canada’s climate goals and meaningfully transform Canadian industry to lead and compete in a net-zero emissions future.”

Included within this Minister’s mandate is:

  • Focusing on critical minerals and the development of a sustainable battery innovation and industrial ecosystem, to establish Canada as a global leader in battery manufacturing, recycling and reuse.
  • Completing the strategic review of large-scale investments targeting key industrial sectors across all regions, to support a clear, long-term investment strategy.
  • Strengthening Canada’s manufacturing base to support green energy innovation and transformation.
  • Supporting a handful of cross-governmental strategies to more quickly enable Canadian clean energy innovators to bring their products and technologies to market. For example, a new infrastructure and innovation fund that will scale up and commercialize made-in-Canada technologies and create solutions for the reuse and recycling of plastics. This is also intended to include the creation of a “global centre for excellence on methane detection and elimination”.
  • Modernizing the federal research funding ecosystem to encourage high-risk/high-reward transformative research and development.
  • And, working with the Minister of Environment and Climate Change to implement ‘right to repair’ legislative amendments.

Minister of Natural Resources

The Hon. Jonathan Wilkinson (MP, North Vancouver, BC) has assumed the role of Minister of Natural Resources. In his ministry’s mandate letter, Wilkinson, in concert with the Minister of Labour has been given responsibility for the “Just Transition.” In other words, this administration aspires to see Canada’s natural resources tightly aligned to the evolution of Green Economy job creation, employment equity and inclusion initiatives.

This Minister’s mandate letter expressly states that these efforts are “to be guided by consultations with workers, unions, Indigenous Peoples, employers, communities and provinces and territories”, and the areas of greatest focus appear to be:

  • Launching a Critical Minerals Strategy in support of (but not limited to) a sustainable battery ecosystem.
  • Supporting the introduction of the Clean Electricity Standard.
  • Pursuing the decarbonization of regional electricity systems through the establishment of Pan-Canadian Grid infrastructure.
  • Contributing to growing the market for clean fuels.
  • Launching, supporting and/or promoting “new build” and retrofit programs and standards for both the construction and trucking industries, as well as contributing support and incentives for community and homeowner level transitions away from fossil fuels.
  • Overseeing various investments in community and homeowner resilience to the impacts of climate change, and increasing forest resilience to wildfire, including training 1,000 new community-based firefighters, particularly in Indigenous communities.
  • And continuing to develop a new national benefits-sharing framework to ensure that First Nations and Métis Nation communities directly benefit from major resource projects in their territories, and that Inuit communities benefit from major resource projects in Inuit Nunangat.

Minister of Environment and Climate Change. 

The Hon. Steven Guilbeault (MP, Laurier-Sainte-Marie, QC) was appointed to the key Environment and Climate Change job following the 2021 election, with pundits speculating this is the Liberals’ signal they are prepared to step up the pace of their efforts with an acknowledged climate action advocate in the pilot’s seat.

There are “40 distinct tasks in [the Minister of Environment and Climate Change’s] mandate letter… [making it]… perhaps the longest one sent to any minister in the federal cabinet.”  

While Guilbeault has the environmental advocacy chops to legitimize his occupation of the role, his path forward will require compromise and collaboration making the “further and faster” part of his mandate a steep challenge. By March of this year, this Ministry is tasked with delivering the Government’s plan to meet Canada’s legislated 2030 climate goals, putting us on a more predictable track to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

  • This will include new measures related to capping and cutting oil and gas sector emissions, further reducing methane emissions across the economy, eliminating fossil fuel subsidies, mandating the sale of zero-emission vehicles, and setting us on a path to achieve an electricity grid with net-zero emissions by 2035.
  • As a part of this, the Minister has the support of the Minister of Natural Resources to introduce a Clean Electricity Standard to achieve a net-zero clean electricity grid by 2035 and achieve a 100 percent net-zero emitting electricity future.
  • Along a similar path, the Minister is expected to support efforts to advance the Atlantic Loop initiative and to finalize Canada’s first National Adaptation Strategy in 2022, setting clear goals and indicators to measure progress and strengthen the business case for adaptation, and to finalize the Government’s Zero Plastic Waste strategy by 2030.

Landing this particular plane was always going to be tricky.

If this Minority government follows the established pattern to date, we can assume there is approximately a year and a half of runway in which to sufficiently demonstrate the Liberals can move the country “faster and further” toward a greener future. The gusty winds of the Covid-19 pandemic, increasing inflation, ongoing public unrest, and the usual choppy currents of negotiation that accompanies national policy-making should, at a minimum, make for an interesting trip.

Buckle Up!