Has Canada’s positioning on climate change become a threat to our competitiveness?
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Canadian Gas Association.
Since the beginning of 2020 we have seen some significant debate across the country on whether our government’s position on climate change has become a threat to competitiveness. The current government’s view is driven by their commitment to carbon pricing as a key vehicle to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and change behavior. Equally they are committed to Canada having net-zero emissions, through a variety of means, by 2050.
Many Conservative political leaders see the federal government’s policies as a major hinderance to economic advancement, particularly in the resource sector. They – often led by Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and echoed by different business groups – say while addressing climate change policy is important it should not be done in such a way that cuts deep into the Canadian economy and subsequent investment climate. Kenney also argues that national unity is at stake by ignoring the voice of resource-producing provinces like Alberta that are suffering economically in part because of regulatory change.
Kenney’s argument most certainly has supporters. It also though is part of an embedded polarized political rhetoric that makes it hard for pragmatic forward-looking business decision-making. Canadian climate policy is also interconnected on the resource-development front with Indigenous-Crown relations. As recent rail blockades in Canada demonstrated, there is no easy path to advancing resource development policy.
Teck Resources’ decision in February not to proceed with its $20-billion oil sands project in Fort Hills, Alberta (known as Frontier) provided an instructive moment on the challenges of Canadian competitiveness. After nearly a decade of review, agreement with 14 Indigenous First Nations and approval by a federal review panel, the company decided to pull its application for final approval off the federal Cabinet table. Why?
The wise words of Teck CEO Don Lindsay should be heeded by all governments in Canada. In his letter to the federal government explaining why his company was withdrawing its application, he wrote, “…global capital markets are changing rapidly, and investors and customers are increasingly looking for jurisdictions to have a framework in place that reconciles resource development and climate change, in order to produce the cleanest possible products. This does not yet exist here today and, unfortunately, the growing debate around this issue has placed Frontier and our company squarely at the nexus of much broader issues that need to be resolved.”
To paraphrase Mr. Lindsay regardless of where you sit in the climate change debate, if a variety of governments and other actors can’t find some safe space to forge a reasonable agreement on how to develop resources in this global environment, then nothing will happen. Arguably the threat to competitiveness is the dated political intransigence from multiple political actors – not Canada’s climate position alone.
Tim Powers, is the Vice-Chairman of Summa Strategies Canada and the managing director of Abacus Data, both headquarters are in Ottawa. Mr. Powers appears regularly on CBC’s Power and Politics program as well as on VOCM in his home province of Newfoundland and Labrador.
The country is in the midst of one of the most challenging and necessary conversations in our history: how does Canada effectively reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change while providing our abundant natural resources to a global market with growing demand for energy products? This is a critical conversation on the green transition that governments, business and individual Canadians are currently grappling. While this discussion has polarized positions on all sides, what is clear is that turning our backs to climate change is not an option and Canada must effectively balance environmental and economic policies to ensure future prosperity.
Climate change is a threat to our economy if ignored and left unchecked. In advance of the forthcoming United Nations COP26 gathering in the United Kingdom, Special Envoy for Climate Action and Finance, former Bank of Canada Governor, Mark Carney, has noted that every company, insurer and bank will need to adjust their business models to account for climate change in decision-making. The Canadian government must continue to advance policies that take climate change seriously in order to not only compete against others in the G7 and G20 but also to safeguard our infrastructure and energy systems from crippling extreme weather events.
Economic policy that addresses climate change is an opportunity for the Canadian economy. The Business Council of Canada’s President and CEO Goldy Hyder reiterated his call for policy certainty from all levels of government that supported pricing carbon but cautioned against further politicization of climate change in a recent interview with the CBC’s Chris Hall. This means not only do we need to move forward with a price on carbon across the country but also accept that we need to come together to ensure major natural resource projects in Canada can be built. These projects, when done right, benefit local community partners, advance Reconciliation with Indigenous peoples through economic empowerment, and ensure wider prosperity that will fuel the clean transition to a lower carbon future. The Liberal government has committed to investing future proceeds of the Trans Mountain pipeline into low carbon and cleantech initiatives, while also seeking financial inclusion from Indigenous partners. This model should be seen as one we can all be proud of.
Canada’s positioning on climate change is a necessity for future competitiveness – not a threat. To provide a long-term clean transition roadmap, the Liberal government has signalled its commitment to surpassing the 2030 Paris climate targets and moving Canada toward an ambitious net-zero by 2050 economy. This positions Canada to reap the rewards of a clean future for our economy and opens the door for Canadians to unleash our collective potential to deliver innovative new solutions and technologies to drive down emissions. Far from a threat, positioning Canada’s economy to prosper from taking action on climate change will be our competitive advantage well into the future.
Jason Clark is a Senior Consultant with Crestview Strategies. He has worked in public policy development and advocacy and engagement campaigns – most recently for Engineers Without Borders Canada. Clark has also worked with a wide range of Canadian Non-profit organizations on international development and trade issues in Ottawa; and has previously managed one of the largest public engagement campaigns on climate change, energy and sustainability in Great Britain.
Climate change poses an existential threat to our planet. Failing to act will not only have catastrophic consequences for our environment, it would also put us out of step with the current thinking in business and investment communities.
Last summer, the Business Roundtable, a group of CEOs from the top two hundred American companies, including Apple’s Tim Cook, Boeing’s Dennis Muilenburg, and GM’s Mary Barra, all signed a letter articulating a new vision of the purpose of a corporation. No longer would profit and shareholder value be the sole focus. Instead, the CEOs agreed to set goals to focus on “investing in employees, delivering value to customers, dealing ethically with suppliers and supporting outside communities.” In the statement, the CEOs commit to “protect the environment by embracing sustainable practices across our businesses.”
Five months later, in January 2020, Larry Fink, the CEO of the giant investment firm BlackRock, wrote in his annual letter to chief executives that his firm will now put environmental sustainability at the core of investment decisions. Quoted in the New York Times, Fink said the “evidence on climate risk is compelling investors to reassess core assumptions about modern finance.” The fact that people like Fink, who have been criticized for years for not talking about climate or carbon footprints seriously – but now are – is a clarion call; screaming out that Canadian competitiveness is very much at risk if we do not get our act together and collaborate to improve our country’s positioning on the issue.
So, has Canada’s positioning on climate change become a threat to our competitiveness? To answer that question, you need first consider who you trust more: Larry Fink or Alberta Premier Jason Kenney?
Premier Jason Kenney’s tough talk — and $30 million propaganda ‘war room’ — has and will do nothing to encourage and attract more investment to Canada. Instead, Kenney has hurt investment in Canadian businesses and produced uncertainty by turning his back on policies the previous NDP government implemented. Rachel Notley’s government, with its robust climate change policies, was implementing policies to reduce the carbon footprint of Canadian resource extraction and helping Alberta’s businesses succeed in a changing world.
Climate change presents a crisis for our planet, and a clear threat to our economy. It should never have been a partisan issue, but some politicians decided that playing for political advantage was just too tempting. As a result, we see some politicians continue to engage in short-sighted political games – and stand idly by as the rest of the world, big business and major investment firms included, address the real and present danger of climate change.
Without clear policies backed by concrete actions we are condemning our businesses to play catch up with the rest of the world. In fact, our lack of action is threatening not only the competitiveness of Canadian businesses, but also our country’s international standing.
And no Orwellian propaganda from multi-million-dollar ‘war rooms’ can change this reality.
Kathleen Monk is a Principal at Earnscliffe, where she is trusted by Canadian leaders to navigate complex public strategy issues, design strategy and bring together diverse stakeholders to tell authentic stories that deliver results. She appears regularly on CBC The National’s pre-eminent political panel, The Insiders, and provides analysis for CBC News Network’s Power and Politics.