Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Canada’s National Observer
Liberal MPs are pressuring their own party to publish long-promised regulations to crack down on oil and gas pollution before the month’s end.
“The longer that we delay, the harder it will be to bring this into force,” British Columbia MP Patrick Weiler told Canada’s National Observer in a phone interview.
Weiler is among 19 Liberal MPs who signed a letter last month urging the government to release draft regulations to cap planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions from the oil and gas sector. First promised by the Liberals in 2021, the regulations have been delayed time and time again.
“It’s getting to the point now where it could be frustrating,” said Weiler, who spearheaded the Oct. 4 letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault and Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson. It calls on the government to introduce strong, ambitious draft regulations before a critical international climate conference (COP28) kicks off on Nov. 30 in the United Arab Emirates.
Weiler said 19 MPs signed the letter, but no signatories are listed because caucus decided names “are not public at this time.” Individual MPs can connect with the media if they wish, according to Kevin Hemmat, Weiler’s director of communications.
Canada’s National Observer contacted over a dozen Liberal MPs late Thursday afternoon and confirmed Ontario MP Leah Taylor Roy signed the letter. Most MPs did not immediately respond to the query. This story will be updated if more signatories are identified.
Weiler said he is confident the cap will happen, adding simply that he is “impatient,” trying to apply public pressure and express the urgency of acting.
Generally, it takes time for regulations to come into force. There is also the ever-present possibility of an early election call.
When MPs from the governing party speak out, it can be “a very useful thing for ministers who need support to come from the public,” Weiler added.
Because of party discipline, it’s “a big deal” for MPs to take an argument outside of caucus and go public with it,” according to Kathryn Harrison, a political science professor at the University of British Columbia (UBC).
The Oct. 4 letter was publicly released in the midst of a countrywide debate over the carbon tax, another key Liberal policy recently altered to exempt home heating oil for three years. Many provinces have households that use oil to heat their homes, but Atlantic Canada has the highest rate of relying on the costly fuel. The change caused an uproar and cries of favouritism in other areas of the country where heat is mostly gas or electric.
Earlier this year, Atlantic Liberal MPs pushed hard behind the scenes for the heating oil exemption, rural rebate top-up, and funds to help families switch off oil. One of these MPs went so far as publicly criticizing the party for not doing enough for East Coast residents struggling with high energy prices. Ultimately, the Atlantic caucus’ collective efforts led to Trudeau giving them everything they requested.
Now, it appears some MPs, including Weiler, have also been working behind the scenes to advance the oil and gas emissions cap.
“The importance of the oil and gas emissions cap for Canada meeting its Paris Agreement 2030 target is hard to overestimate, it’s a really big deal,” said Harrison. Emissions from the oil and gas sector continue to rise and only six years remain for the industry to reduce its emissions in line with Canada’s 2030 emissions reduction plan.
The long-awaited regulations to address Canada’s most polluting sector — responsible for 28 per cent of emissions in 2021 — were first promised by the Liberals that same year, but have since been delayed repeatedly. Originally, the federal government said details about the form and timeline of the regulations would be communicated in early 2023. But in July, the environment minister extended the timing, saying Canadians can expect draft regulations before year’s end.
The oil and gas cap is being used as a wedge issue by conservative governments across the country, including Alberta Premier Danielle Smith’s United Conservative Party. Smith has repeatedly said she will “not permit” the implementation of the oil and gas emissions cap, despite polls showing a majority of Albertans support the proposed regulation.
The Oct. 4 letter urged the federal government to publish regulations before COP28 to “maintain credibility internationally” and ensure “investment and emissions reduction is not further delayed.” But the conference is less than a week away, and Canadians still haven’t seen draft regulations.
COP28 refers to the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference, set to begin on Nov. 30 in Dubai. World leaders gather at these conferences to assess global efforts to address climate change and chart a path forward through sometimes fraught negotiations. Fossil fuels — which are a primary driver of climate change — are at the heart of the most difficult discussions.
At a Nov. 23 press conference on Parliament Hill, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, and Kristina Michaud, the Bloc Québécois climate change critic, joined representatives from several environmental organizations to call on the federal government to release the oil and gas cap before COP28. The day before, federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh also asked the Liberals if they would release the oil and gas emissions cap before the international climate conference.
In question period earlier this month, NDP MP Laurel Collins again asked the Liberals when the draft regulations will be released, but twice, did not receive a straight answer.
“The oil and gas sector’s expansion has gone unchecked in Canada, and there have been no limits on how much pollution they are allowed to create,” Collins said in the House of Commons on Nov. 8. Despite accounting for about five per cent of Canada’s GDP, the oil and gas sector is responsible for more planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions than any other sector, she noted. “A strong cap on emissions would be that limit,” said Collins.
Weiler wouldn’t divulge details but said the response to his letter sent on Oct. 4 was “very positive,” and pointed to Guilbeault’s comments that draft regulations will be published by the end of this year. The Prime Minister’s Office passed Canada’s National Observer’s request for comment to Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC). When asked if the draft regulations will be published before COP28, an ECCC spokesperson said the draft regulations will be published before the year is up.
“Ideally, we want to do it even faster than that,” said Weiler.
On Nov. 23, the International Energy Agency released a report calling for a 60 per cent reduction in oil and gas emissions by 2030. Canada’s emissions reduction plan currently projects the oil and gas sector will reduce emissions 31 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. A recent report by Canada’s environment commissioner raised concerns about “overly optimistic assumptions,” including the projection that carbon capture and storage facilities would be built and eliminate 27 megatons of CO2-equivalent emissions annually by 2030.
“At the end of the day, the industry is going to have to invest in reducing emissions and we’ve provided a whole host of incentives for them to do that, including a carbon capture tax credit backdated to investments made at the beginning of 2022,” said Weiler. “But those investments simply are not coming, even though those companies are making record profits.”
According to the new IEA report, less than one per cent of global clean energy investment comes from oil and gas companies. It also found current global investment in fossil fuels, worth US$800 billion, needs to be slashed in half to match declining demand in a 1.5 C-aligned world.
Recent polls also indicate broad public support for regulations to cap oil and gas sector emissions. Even in Alberta, where the premier is waging war on all federal climate policies, six in 10 Albertans support capping oil and gas sector emissions. The Alberta polls were conducted in late August by Leger and Research Co., and commissioned by the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE).