Where Could a Minority Parliament Find Common Ground?

October 23, 2019

With Canada’s federal election now complete, the focus is turning towards what the next government will look like. For the first time in more than a decade, no party won a majority of seats. There are many unanswered questions about what a new government will look like and how the different parties will (or won’t) work together.

The lack of a majority government in Canada will result in parties looking to gain political advantage in the short term, but it does not automatically mean paralysis on climate change. While much of the election campaign focused on carbon pricing, fossil fuel subsidies and the role of the federal government in energy policy, there is one area where we saw some common ground: resiliency.

Preparing Canada for the impacts of climate change is a critical component of ensuring our country is well-positioned to embrace a shift to a low-carbon economy. Enhancing the resiliency of our communities reduces the costs of disasters. It speeds up recovery time. It provides greater certainty for investors that their assets are better protected over the long-term.

The cost of mitigating our vulnerabilities to a future climate during construction is much cheaper than the cost of restoring infrastructure after it has been damaged, says a Simon Fraser University reportInvestments today will pay off in a big way: $6B in costs are avoided for every $1B invested in disaster mitigation, says the Canadian Federation of Municipalities.

Global low-carbon and resilient movement underway

Regardless of the politics in Canada, the global shift to a low-carbon and resilient economic system is underway. 477 investors managing more than $34 trillion US in assets signed an open letter this year calling on G20 leaders to price carbon, rapidly decarbonize and end support for thermal coal. DNV GL, an energy consultancy out of Norway, is forecasting that global demand for oil will peak in 2022, owing to a surge in electric-vehicle adoption. The International Energy Association – who have been consistently conservative in projecting the rise of renewables – just released a forecast showing renewable energy increasing 50 per cent by 2025.

These seismic shifts in global financial and energy markets are occurring regardless of what Canada’s governments do. We can either fight these trends, or embrace and prepare for them.

The previous Liberal government made infrastructure investments a priority, and implemented new measures for resiliency. Federal funding streams for both climate mitigation and adaptation/resiliency were introduced through the $9.2B, 10-year Green Infrastructure Fund.

This was a good first step but there is much, much more to do. By 2050, Canada could be looking at a potential annual cost from climate change of $43 billion. At the same time, our current infrastructure needs are significant. The 2019 Canadian Infrastructure Report Card from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities found that 40 per cent of roads and bridges and 30 per cent of water infrastructure is in fair, poor or very poor condition. Making a big investment in infrastructure that enhances resiliency across Canada is a tangible action that the next government can take immediate action on.

Cross-party support for resiliency

Why do we think resiliency is something that can be moved on quickly? Despite the differences in approaches to climate change, references to resiliency and adaptation were included in several of the parties’ election platforms.

The Liberals committed in their platform to investing an extra $1B to the Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund, as well as increasing flood mapping and a national action plan to help homeowners relocate from high-risk areas. They also committed to creating a permanent National Infrastructure Fund.

The NDP platform promised to work with provinces, municipalities and Indigenous government to make sure that Canadian communities have the resources they need to cope safely with extreme weather events. They also promised to expand federal funding to respond to disasters and support adapting infrastructure to withstand floods and forest fires.

The Green Party committed to directing the Canada Infrastructure Bank to invest in “climate-proofing” essential infrastructure, referencing the need to protect against flooding and droughts.

Canada’s Conservative Party also made a commitment on resiliency, promising to put a “mitigation and adaptation lens to infrastructure spending to improve Canada’s resilience to extreme weather events.”

These shared commitments on resilience outline an opportunity where a divided parliament could make a substantial impact in preparing for climate change. It also has the political benefit of not being specific to any one geographic area. While impacts will vary, no part of Canada will be immune to climate change. The Canada in a Changing Climate report from Environment and Climate Change Canada outlined how BC and Alberta can expect increased forest fires. Atlantic Canada will be forced to deal with sea level rise. The prairies could conceivably face severe droughts up to a decade long. The frequency of flooding in Quebec and Ontario will only increase.

Investing in resiliency won’t stop these events from occurring, or from getting worse over time – only the global mitigation of carbon pollution can protect our cities, provinces and country long term. Resiliency will ensure we mitigate the damage and save costs in the short and medium term.

In a divided parliament, investments in climate resiliency appear to be an opportunity where the next government could make significant headway on preparing Canada for a changing climate.