This article was first published in the October 2019 International edition of 
Accounting and Business magazine.

As Canadians go to the polls this month, the environment is high on the agenda and is a source of contention. On some fronts, Canada scores well, with low water pollution, low use of pesticides in agriculture and reasonably low species extinction rates – but that of course is to ignore the elephant in the room: oil and gas production and CO2 emissions. And this is where Canada’s record is not so golden. Carbon is a problem that simply can’t be ignored, but the oil and gas show goes on.

Upon signing the Paris climate accord back in 2015, Canada pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 30% between 2005 and 2030. Between 2005 and 2017, however, it had reduced CO2 output by just 2%, which on current measures means roughly a 4% reduction by 2030.

Compared with other wealthy nations, Canada’s carbon future looks bleak. The most recent study by the Canadian Fraser Institute concluded that of 33 high-income countries, Canada was among the worst three carbon emitters (CO2 per unit of GDP). The report ranked Canada 24th in terms of its ability to reduce carbon over the past 10 years.

Liberal prime minister Justin Trudeau has seemingly been trying to improve the country’s environmental record by imposing a nationwide carbon tax. But incomprehensibly to some, he has also given the go-ahead to the expansion of the trans mountain pipeline from Alberta to British Columbia – a project that involves laying some 980km of new pipeline across the Canadian Rockies to facilitate exports of crude and refined Alberta oil to Asia.   

These conflicting policies have fuelled a great deal of criticism on both the environmental and energy policy fronts. Trudeau has come under attack for talking out of both sides of his mouth (to add to his growing list of problems). The Liberals have provided their political opponents with plenty of whips to beat them with on the October election platforms.

The Conservatives’ retort has been: ‘The Liberals have done too little too late when it comes to supporting Alberta’s energy sector’, and ‘repeal the federal carbon tax’. And for the New Democratic Party (NDP) and the Green Party, it’s also easy pickings: ‘Friends of the environment don’t build pipelines,’ they say.  

I personally don’t disagree with either the expansion or the taxation. Canada needs the pipeline to ship oil to Asian markets – it’s both a political and economic move. Canada also needs to reduce carbon emissions and a carbon tax is one way of doing it – though perhaps the closure of the country’s remaining coal plants over the next decade will do it more effectively.  

Unfortunately, when it comes to the polls, this tax and burn platform is not likely to be a vote winner. The prime minister faces an uphill battle against a backdrop of scandal with an increasingly right-leaning electorate.

Ramona Dzinkowski is a Canadian economist and president of RND Research Group.