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Competition heats up between Ontario and Quebec on climate change

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can’t remember what grade I was in at school when I read Hugh MacLennan’s 1945 novel Two Solitudes.   

Nonetheless, the book made an impression and provided a greater appreciation of the Canadian psyche and the distinctions between English and French cultures, along with the wariness and competitiveness that can sometimes exist between the two.   

But what relevance does this 1945 novel have anything remotely to do with the automotive industry in Canada?

I think one answer to that question lies in the way both Ontario and Québec have approached climate change. Objectively, there appears to be a great deal of collaboration on climate change between Ontario and Quebec. 

Premiers Couillard and Wynne by all accounts get along well and are of the same mindset with respect to this file, while Environment Ministers Heurtel and Murray by all appearances are best friends and are of the same “full on” approach when it comes to climate change. 

Each province has taken leadership over the course of the last year or so organizing climate change summits for the remainder of their provincial colleagues. Both were instrumental in driving the new Liberal government federally to implement a First Ministers meeting within the first 100 days in office. 

Despite all of the cooperation on climate change, there is also an undercurrent of wariness and competition between the two provinces — and usually British Columbia as well — to see which can be the greenest of them all.   

For example, last year prior to heading to the global Paris Climate Change negotiations in December, Ontario set a new 2030 target for emissions reductions of 37 per cent below 1990 levels.   

Not to be a cynic, but given that these emissions reduction targets are likely to be missed, the Quebec government may have seen little downside in “one upping” Ontario by setting the most stringent target in Canada of 37.5 per cent below 1990 levels by 2030.

In 2010, Ontario introduced an incentive program worth up to $8,500 to help stimulate EV sales in the province.

Once again, Quebec followed shortly thereafter by introducing its own incentive program with a maximum incentive of $8,000.

However, Quebec also incentivized the purchase of conventional hybrid electric vehicles, attempting to demonstrate that they were more committed to the cause than Ontario. Conventional hybrids typically emit 40 per cent fewer greenhouse gas emissions. 

Quebec also mobilized Hydro Quebec to ramp up the installation of public EV charging stations and instituted a number of other measures to facilitate electric vehicles.

Quebec stepped it up a notch again, last October, with the introduction of its Transportation Electrification Action Plan. It set out a vision to comprehensively reduce greenhouse gas emissions from all forms of transportation, not just the light duty vehicle sector.   

With respect to the light duty vehicle sector, the action plan announced the audacious target of having more than 100,000 electric vehicles registered in Quebec by 2020. That seems to be a real stretch goal considering there have been about 10,000 EVs sold in Quebec since 2011 through July of this year.

After the COP 21 climate change negotiations in Paris last December where more than 190 nations agreed on a path forward to reduce GHG emissions to contain the growth in global temperatures to 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels, both Ontario and Quebec came back from the negotiations energized with a new commitment to tackle climate change at home.    

As an aside, and for some perspective, Canada is responsible for roughly two per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. However, Canada is amongst the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases on a per capita basis, ranking about eighth in the world.   

That said, transportation seemed to be firmly in the crosshairs of both governments upon their return from Paris. 

In Quebec, transportation represents about 43 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions, and the light duty vehicle sector itself represents about 22 per cent of all emissions. 

In Ontario, transportation comprises about 36 per cent of all GHG emissions, with the light duty vehicle sector making up about 19 per cent of all emissions.   

With transportation being such a significant source of emissions in both provinces it was to be anticipated that action would be taken to mitigate emissions.   

June proved to be a popular month for action from both provinces in this regard. On June 2, Minister Heurtel introduced Bill 104 — An Act to increase the number of zero-emission motor vehicles in Québec in order to reduce greenhouse gas and other pollutant emissions.

It essentially copied California’s zero emission vehicle legislation that would, if passed, require manufacturers to earn a set percentage of zero emission vehicle credits by placing  battery electric, plug-in hybrid electric, or fuel cell electric vehicles on the road in Quebec, with appropriate sanctions if the percentages were not met.    

By the time this article is published we should know the fate of Bill 104. But with a majority Liberal government in Quebec it seems likely that this Bill will pass.

A week after Bill 104 was introduced in Quebec, Ontario launched its long-awaited Climate Change Action Plan.

Part of a suite of provisions was to increase the incentive available to consumers to a whopping $14,000 maximum and to rapidly try to build up its inadequate charging infrastructure. 

It will be interesting to see which approach prevails as the means to attempt to significantly grow EV sales in the two solitudes of Canada.

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