How Will Canada’s Election Impact EHS Regulations?

October 21, 2015 By
If you’re a fan of the Back To The Future movie trilogy, you will recognize October 21, 2015 as the date when Marty McFly visits us from 1985. Unfortunately we could not get Marty McFly to contribute a guest blog post today about his time travel from 1985 to 2015. But there is a small “blast from the past” theme in this post. Canada’s federal election took place on Monday, and the Liberal Party won a majority of seats. Justin Trudeau will form the next government of Canada, succeeding Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party. In case you’re wondering where the “blast from the past” theme fits in, Justin Trudeau is the son of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, who served as Canada’s Prime Minister from 1968 to 1979, and again from 1980 to 1984. With a change of government in Canada, the first since 2006, it’s good to look at potential impacts on EHS regulations in the country.

Let’s begin with a word of caution. There is not necessarily a 100% correlation between what politicians say during an election campaign and what they do once in office due to various reasons (new local or global developments, revised priorities, new economic data, etc.). But party platforms do at least give some idea of what to expect. For the purposes of this post, we used two sources to anticipate potential impacts on EHS regulations: The CBC’s comparison of federal party platforms and election promises and the platform of the Liberal Party.

A price on carbon in collaboration with the provinces

Expect a big shift with regards to the regulatory landscape related to carbon emissions and climate change. Whereas the previous government was opposed to a price on carbon or a cap-and-trade scheme, the Liberals promise a carbon pricing scheme where the federal government sets national emissions-reduction targets and enforce its principles, but allows individual provinces to design their own systems. Québec, the second largest province, already has a cap-and-trade carbon market that is linked to California’s cap-and-trade carbon market since 2014. Earlier this year, Ontario, the largest province, announced it would join the cap-and-trade market set up by Québec and California. Together, Ontario and Québec account for over 60% of the total population of Canada, and include a big part of Canada manufacturing base.

The Liberal Party also promises to develop a climate change strategy with the provincial premiers, in anticipation of the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris in December. Therefore expect a more active Canadian participation at the COP21 conference.

Possibly more environmental regulations

The Liberal Party platform includes a number of environmental commitments that could translate into more environmental regulations for businesses. For example, the Liberals want to work with the provinces to set stronger air quality standards, monitor emissions and provide incentives for investments that lead to cleaner air. The Liberal Party also wants to improve energy efficiency standards for consumer and commercial products.

More robust environmental assessments

In their platform, the Liberals talk about restoring “robust oversight and thorough environmental assessments of areas under federal jurisdiction”. They also would like to require project advocates to “choose the best technologies available to reduce environmental impacts”. In addition, the Liberal Party wants environmental assessments to include an analysis of upstream impacts, impacts on freshwater and oceans, and greenhouse gas emissions resulting from projects under review. It will be interesting to see what all of this means in terms of environmental regulations that companies need to comply with.

Impacts for the Oil and Gas industry

The outgoing Conservative government’s political base was in the province of Alberta, home to Canada’s Oil and Gas industry. The government supported Canada’s Oil and Gas sector, which has had a strong impact on Canada’s economic health and performance, until the price of oil dropped. Thus the government approved a number of pipeline projects, such as Enbridge Northern Gateway, Keystone XL, Kinder Morgan Expansion, and Energy East. It has also supported Canada’s Oil Sands industry.

The Liberals are either opposed or so far have refused to clearly support most of the pipeline projects, except Keystone XL. However, they have expressed a desire to work closely with the U.S. to overcome environmental objections over Keystone XL. In general, they also want to make the federal pipeline review process stricter. The Liberals are not as “friendly” to the Oil and Gas industry as the outgoing Conservative government was, but they are not as hostile to it as some would think. They seek to adopt a middle ground.

It is worth noting that earlier this year, Alberta voted for an NDP government at the provincial level, after having been governed by the provincial Conservatives since 1971. The New Democratic Party (NDP) is Canada’s social-democratic party occupying the Centre-Left and Left of the political spectrum, and thus more in favor of business regulations. With new governments at the provincial and federal levels, expect a noticeable change in the regulatory landscape for Canada’s Oil and Gas industry.

In conclusion, maybe we don’t have Marty McFly’s DeLorean time machine to travel forward in time, but at least we can imagine what the EHS future will look like in Canada under the new government. The upcoming months and years will give us a better idea of the extent of the changes in EHS regulations. Don’t hesitate to submit a comment below if you want to add anything.

Categories: EHS

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