NDP unveils parts of climate plan in motion as the Green Party edges closer

OTTAWA — NDP leader Jagmeet Singh intends to cut Canada’s greenhouse-gas emissions almost in half over the next decade as he stakes out a claim to being a climate-change champion in the looming federal election.

Singh presented a motion in the House of Commons Monday, laying out eight broad strokes of the party's climate-change platform. The motion asks for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to declare “an environment and climate emergency” as well as pledge to cut emissions more deeply, eliminate government aid to the fossil-fuel industry and cancel the planned expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline.

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“We want to reflect the urgency people are feeling,” Singh said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

That urgency for him means a slow end to the Canadian oil sector, which Singh says is on its way out whether Canadians like the idea or not.

“This is the direction the world is headed,” he said.

The motion comes a week after the Green Party earned a resounding victory in a Vancouver Island byelection that most political observers ­— Singh included — believe was a message from voters to politicians to start taking climate change more seriously.

Singh, however, insisted Monday's motion is not an attempt to beat back Green support, which would affect both NDP and Liberal fortunes in the fall.

In fact, he said whatever message voters were sending last week in Nanaimo-Ladysmith, it was to the governing Liberals, not the NDP, even though the NDP had won the seat in 2015.

“When voters want to send a message it’s to people making the decisions,” he said. “It’s encouraging to see people sending a message on climate change.”

In question period Monday Singh said the Liberals are duking it out with the Conservatives over the carbon tax but the two parties are cut from the same cloth on climate change. The Liberals' existing targets for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, Singh noted, are the same ones the former Conservative government proposed six months before the 2015 election.

Liberal Sean Fraser, the parliamentary secretary to the minister of the environment, said the NDP motion to declare a climate emergency is well timed since the Liberals already have a plan to hold a debate on the "rising climate emergency" in Canada this week. The Nova Scotia MP wouldn't say whether the Liberals would support the motion because he didn't know all the details of it.

"I expect, given that this motion was tabled just a few days after we had our own announcement that there would be a debate about climate change as an emergency, I expect that this is more political gamesmanship than it is actually an attempt at substantive policy debate," he said.

Last October, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned drastic cuts to emissions are needed in the next decade to prevent global warming from becoming catastrophic. That report suggested the Liberals' target under the Paris climate-change agreement, which would mean cutting annual greenhouse-gas emissions by about 28 per cent compared to what they are now, is nowhere near enough.

Singh won't put a specific number on his targets yet but he agreed the motion is “subtly suggesting” the NDP would aim for the UN targets, which would mean Canada has to cut emissions almost in half by 2030.

The Liberal government’s climate plan, including its carbon tax in four provinces, getting rid of coal as a source of electricity and subsidizing the purchase of electric cars, still leaves Canada nearly 90 million tonnes shy of hitting the existing goal.

To slash more deeply would require more drastic action in Canada’s energy sector. Producing and refining oil and gas accounts for about one-quarter of all Canada’s emissions, but also more than six per cent of the country's economic activity and more than half a million direct and indirect jobs.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has warned of the separatist angst growing in Alberta as the energy sector has struggled in recent years, but Singh said the NDP would ensure there is a plan to transition Alberta workers to the new-age economy.

“We need thousands and thousands of people to work to fight climate change,” he said.

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