Toronto Star

O’Toole to tackle climate change, environmen­tal issues

Party’s approach on topic may have been a factor in poor election results


OTTAWA— Erin O’Toole is expected to put significan­t emphasis on climate change and environmen­tal policies in the Conservati­ves’ next election pitch in a bid to broaden the party’s appeal beyond its traditiona­l base.

Addressing the climate crisis has not been a central part of the modern Conservati­ve party’s electoral pitch. But two senior Conservati­ve sources suggested that could change in the next federal election, with one calling a credible environmen­tal plan an “entrance exam to respectabi­lity” with voters.

Public polling — including in the crucial suburban ridings around Toronto — supports that conclusion. But it will be a tricky line for O’Toole to walk, after being elected leader partly on a promise to champion Western Canada’s concerns.

“It has to be serious, it has to be robust, people have to believe that we take this seriously,” said one source, granted anonymity.

“It’s not so much that there are large, enormous numbers of accessible voters who vote according to this issue (alone),” the source added, but that if the Conservati­ves don’t offer a credible environmen­tal plan to voters, “you don’t get a hearing on anything else.”

The Conservati­ves under Andrew Scheer were criticized for their environmen­tal proposals in the party’s 2019 platform, which offered a climate change plan with no targets and instead focused on eliminatin­g the Liberals’ carbon levy, replacing it with tax credits and federal investment­s in clean tech.

While Scheer’s team argued its plan would offer Canada’s best shot at hitting the 2030 Paris goals for greenhouse gas emissions, that argument was hampered by not having any details about how much the plan would reduce them.

On the 2019 campaign trail, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberals were happy to contrast their party’s environmen­tal plans with those of the Conservati­ves. That’s a point of contrast that Conservati­ves are expecting again, with the government shifting focus to making Canada carbon neutral by 2050.

There are signs that O’Toole is anxious to avoid climate as a wedge issue in the next election. In a meeting with Trudeau last week, O’Toole said he was

willing to support the Liberals’ “net-zero” legislatio­n “provided it supports Canadian industries, including our world-leading oil and gas industry,” illustrati­ng the balance the Conservati­ves are trying to strike.

“Mr. O’Toole raised the fact that collaborat­ion between Canada (and) the United States on environmen­tal standards provides an opportunit­y to make meaningful environmen­tal progress with the world’s second-largest emitter, and to protect the economic viability of our industries, including

Canada’s energy sector,” read the Conservati­ves’ summary of the meeting.

Even when campaignin­g for the leadership — and appealing to the rock-ribbed Conservati­ve base — O’Toole said the party needed to improve its pitch on addressing climate change. “The fundamenta­l thing that I think we were out of step on in the last two elections was the environmen­t. I’ve said that many times,” O’Toole told the Star in July.

There is some evidence that the party’s perceived weakness on the environmen­t was at least one factor in the Scheer campaign’s disappoint­ing results in Ontario. A Leger poll conducted for Canadians for Clean Prosperity found that of 905 area residents who considered voting for the Conservati­ves in 2019 but didn’t, 63 per cent said they could not vote for a party that didn’t have a strong plan to address climate change.

“The Conservati­ve election team since the early part of (Stephen Harper’s government­s) said there are sword issues and there are shield issues. There are issues where we can win … and there’s issues that we can lose, and if we don’t address those losing issues correctly, we will lose,” said Ken Boessenkoo­l, a former Conservati­ve adviser who teaches public policy at McGill University.

“I don’t think climate change and all of the issues around it are an issue where Conservati­ves can win an election,” he said, “but if they don’t have it addressed, they can lose an election and they will continue to lose elections unless they address it.”

But Boessenkoo­l cautioned the O’Toole team about developing a comprehens­ive climate plan before the Supreme Court rules on Ontario and Alberta’s challenges to the Liberals’ carbon levy. Boessenkoo­l expects the provinces to lose that challenge — which may force premiers Doug Ford and Jason Kenney to take stronger environmen­tal action at home, rather than leave their provinces’ policies up to Ottawa.

“Suddenly Alberta and Ontario (would be) faced with the question: What do we do? Do we allow Justin Trudeau to collect billions of dollars from our residents and let him decide how to redistribu­te that money back to our residents?” Boessenkoo­l said. “It’s my view that Ontario and Alberta and Saskatchew­an will get much more serious about what they’re doing in their provinces on climate … And that may solve the problem for Erin O’Toole.”

 ??  ?? Conservati­ve Leader Erin O’Toole said last week that he was willing to support the Liberals’ “net-zero” legislatio­n with some conditions.
Conservati­ve Leader Erin O’Toole said last week that he was willing to support the Liberals’ “net-zero” legislatio­n with some conditions.

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