Usually when Canada is at the top of an international ranking, it’s cause for celebration.
Not this time.
A recent report by the International Energy Agency shows that Canada’s vehicles have the highest average fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions per kilometre driven. They are also the largest and the second heaviest in the world.
Many point to Canada’s vast land area — often connected with less-than-ideal roads and highways — and our cold climate as reasons for requiring more substantial vehicles. These arguments are not convincing.
More than 80 per cent of Canadians live in urban or suburban areas where a more modest vehicle suffices for most activities.
In terms of vast distances, that actually calls for better fuel efficiency, not worse. And if cold weather is the excuse for buying an SUV, similarly frigid countries — Sweden, Finland and Iceland — have all managed to survive with lower-emitting vehicles.
So what explains Canada’s preference for gas guzzlers?
Fuel economy standards
North American vehicle manufacturers produce larger cars than their European and Asian counterparts. This in part reflects consumer preferences, but it is also the result of marketing campaigns and economies of scale in production that push buyers towards SUVs.
Fuel economy standards in Canada and the United States act to reverse this pressure, pushing manufacturers to produce more fuel-efficient vehicles. In part they have worked: the average fuel consumption of cars and trucks has fallen substantially since 2005. Even so, Canada’s average fuel consumption trend has flatlined recently, with almost no improvement since 2013.
The slowdown in fuel economy improvements has a lot to do with the types of vehicles Canadians buy. The Toyota Camry and Honda Civic, once the mainstays of the average Canadian family, have given way to Ford F-150s and Dodge Rams.
The shift towards trucks, including SUVs, crossovers and minivans, in the past decade has been phenomenal. And before fingers point at places like Alberta, this is a trend seen across every province in Canada.
Is bigger better?
Canadians say they are now buying trucks in droves because they are safer.
When similar-sized vehicles collide, it makes little difference to safety outcomes whether it is large-on-large or small-on-small. However, when a large vehicle collides with a small one, the results are (unsurprisingly) far worse for the small vehicle’s passengers.
This introduces the notion of vehicle-size externalities: buying a larger car imposes safety costs on drivers of smaller cars. It also raises the prospect of a vehicle arms race, with drivers buying ever-larger cars in order to protect themselves, when safety would be just as effective if everyone drove similar, smaller vehicles.
It comes down to cost
Far and away the biggest reason for Canada’s fuel inefficient vehicles comes down to cost. Simply put, the cost to purchase and operate a gas guzzler in Canada (or the U.S.) is far less than the rest of the world.
This cost difference comes in two forms: upfront charges for vehicle registration and gas prices.
In Europe, vehicle registrations are often based on the vehicle’s fuel economy or emissions profile. In France, for example, car buyers face a sliding “bonus-malus” scale (or “feebate”). High-emitting vehicles incur a registration charge up to €10,000 while zero-emission vehicles receive €6,000 in rebates. And in Norway, where new vehicles are subject to a 25 per cent value-added tax and up to €10,000 in registration fees, electric vehicles are exempt from both charges. It is little wonder that Norway has highest share of new sales of electric passenger cars.
These upfront charges are often seen as alternatives to carbon taxes to shift consumers towards smaller, less emitting vehicles. And as Norway has shown, they can be effective.
However, other research has shown feebates are less cost effective than fuel or carbon taxes in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Carbon taxes are better at targeting high-mileage drivers, and penalizing a gas guzzler that is driven sparingly can be a very ineffective (and costly) way to reduce emissions.
Pain at the pump
But perhaps the most significant reason Canadians drive less-efficient vehicles is gas prices. There is a clear correlation between the price of gasoline and the average fuel consumption of vehicles. Where gas prices are low, as they are in Canada and the U.S., fuel consumption tends to be high.
While most people focus on the role of carbon taxes to reduce emissions by discouraging driving, higher gas prices can also affect the choice of which vehicle to buy.
In the aptly named article “Frugal cars or frugal drivers?,” economists Werner Antweiler and Sumeet Gulati from the University of British Columbia looked at driver response to the provincial carbon tax.
They found that people started purchasing and driving more fuel efficient vehicles. According to their calculations, without B.C.’s carbon tax fuel, demand per capita would be seven per cent higher and the average vehicle’s fuel efficiency would be four per cent lower.
Carbon taxes may be unpopular with many, but they play an important role in determining what vehicles are on the road now — and in the future.
The Government of Canada has declared a climate emergency. Every step should be taken to address that emergency — greenhouse gas emissions must be stopped, and all activities that lead to furthering the climate emergency must be halted. This includes stopping building of pipelines, for which the sole purpose is to transport fossil fuels that will be burned to create more greenhouse gases.
There are other issues which have been raised that make this particular pipeline troublesome: the funding of electricity to power the liquifaction of the gas (the costs of purchasing electricity from Quebec will be subsidized by the taxpayer, so that Gazoduq will actually receive more money to purchase that electricity than the electricity costs); that the destination for the LNG product is other countries, placing the blame on them for the actual burning of GHG emitting fossil fuels; that the entire operation of transport and liquifaction of gas will result in GHG emissions; and that the extraction of the gas is one of the dirtiest industries in the world, resulting in irreversible damage to the Canadian landscape where it is extracted.
But all that pales to the foremost issue: A pipeline is designed for a purpose that will result in worsening the climate emergency, not bettering it. For that reason alone this pipeline project must not be allowed.
October 21st, 2019 In spite of all this, the Liberals won the Election.
On Tuesday — the day after the federal election — the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada invited the public, and specifically Indigenous groups, to provide feedback on a controversial 780-kilometre natural gas pipeline between northeastern Ontario and Quebec’s Saguenay region.
The Gazoduq pipeline is a key element of a $14-billion mega-project that intends to provide a permanent path for natural gas exploited in the West to be exported in the East.
Fracked Alberta “Natural Gas” brought east through the TC Energy Pipeline (formerly known as TransCanada), will be diverted into the brand new Five Billion Dollar Gazoduc Pipeline at Kirkland Lake, Ontario.
The Gazoduc Pipeline would carry 1.8 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day to its customer, the planned GNL Québec Nine Billion Dollar Énergie Saguenay facility which will liquify the fossil fuel. The resulting LNG will be loaded onto massive tankers that sail through the Saguenay Fjord to the St Lawrence River enroute to hypothetical overseas markets.
The proposed 780-kilometre underground pipeline would pass near or through Indigenous territories as it carries the fossil fuel across forests, ecologically sensitive wetlands and protected provincial areas.
The proposed Gazoduc Pipeline (purple) travels from Northern Ontario across Quebec. The Indigenous nations it will pass near or through are listed in green.
Which sounds good until you consider this is not a promise to do no harm. This project will introduce enormous tankers quadruple the size of the largest vessels currently using the Fjord (for whale watching).
LNG Tankers will ship out through the protected waters of the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park, putting the endangered Beluga whale population at increased risk.
The Gazoduq project promises to “set a new benchmark in the LNG industry for environmental performance.”
Which really only means it has to be less invasive than previous LNG projects. The idea here is that the Quebec hydro electricity they expect to use to liquify the fracked natural gas won’t be as nad as burning natural gas to liquify it.
Never mind that the LNG this project produces will be burnt. Just not here.
It doesn’t matter where in the world we are adding GHGs, they all go into the same atmosphere. And let’s not forget that shipping a cargoes of fracked LNG across the ocean itself generates GHGs.
The Gazoduq project promises it “will help reduce global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.”
Funny claim to make about an industry that exists to increase our use of fossil fuels. It seems to be based on the unproven assumption the fracked gas shipped to other parts of the world will displace coal and fuel oil.
Even if you believe these companies will try to do this, what happens when coal and fuel oil generated electricity has been eliminated? Pipelines are expected to last at least 50 years. Does anyone believe it will close its doors and go home? Especially if it’s only been operating for a decade or two.
The Gazoduq project promises it has “low potential for social and environmental impacts.”
Remarkably, the project will be eligible for Hydro-Quebec’s electricity rebate, amounting to an indirect subsidy of at least $43 million over six years. This is $7 million more than the $36 million that Gazoduq intends to donate, over the project lifespan, to communities in Quebec and Ontario affected by the pipeline.
Deputy GPC Leader Daniel Green (Outremont GPC candidate) , GPC MP Paul Manly, (Nanaimo-Ladysmith), John Kidder (Mission—Matsqui—Fraser Canyon GPC candidate), GPC MP Elizabeth May (Saanich—Gulf Islands),
GPC MP Jenica Atwin (Fredericton), and Interim GPC Leader Jo-Ann Roberts (Halifax GPC candidate).
“I’ve always kept my word and I’ve never lied, and I think that’s important.”
— Elizabeth May
Elizabeth May stepped down as leader of the Green Party of Canada, effective Monday November 4th, 2019. She will continue her important climate action work as an MP within Parliament.
Green Party of Canada Deputy Leader Jo-Ann Roberts has graciously accepted the appointment as the Interim GPC Leader who will oversee the Leadership process.
The GPC Leadership Convention will be held on October 2, 3 and 4th, 2019, at a convention in Charlottetown, P.E.I.
As my friend and fellow candidate, David Weber said, it’s been quite a ride.
From the time I was invited to submit my name for the nomination, to the last polls being counted on election night, I’ve been honoured to represent Brantford-Brant as your Green Party candidate.
It’s been wonderful working with the Brant Greens Campaign Team: Nora Fueten, my Campaign Manager; Dave Legere, Official Agent; Susan Norman, Sign Captain; Lin Geary, Communications Director; Laurel Russwurm, Social Media Manager; Kristen Ashley, Volunteer Coordinator; and Ken Burns, who oversaw the operations and logistics of the campaign, organized the canvassing routes, and provided me with valuable guidance on presenting policy at debates.
Ken Burns, Bob Jonkman and Mike Schreiner
Many thanks also to Mike Schreiner, the leader of the Green Party of Ontario, for taking an entire day of his Leader’s Tour, visiting Brantford-Brant’s political and business leaders, and launching our campaign with a Town Hall meeting.
We worked on the traditional campaign events that the Brant Greens are known for: our Green Screen booth at the Paris Fair, waste diversion at Canada Day and other events, and participating in other community events.
We also tried new and unusual things: Sign waving, which is standing at a busy intersection holding election signs, waving at passing motorists and pedestrians; canvassing on bicycles; and having a bike ride with the candidate!
And I’d like to thank my fellow candidates. While the media highlighted the rancour between some of the party leaders, in our own riding the relations between candidates was always respectful.
And finally, I’d like to thank my family, Laurel and Willem, for canvassing with me, coming to debates, and supporting me throughout the entire campaign.
These were my closing remarks to the audience at the Canadian Federation of University Women of Brantford’s All Candidates Meeting, held on Tuesday, 15 October 2019. I think they serve nicely as closing remarks to the entire campaign.