Fresh Takes

Election 2021 – The Economy and the Environment: How to Juggle These Two Priorities

The economy and the environment are two major concerns for Canadians in the current election. A number of irreconcilable objectives are driving public debate surrounding these matters, but two nonpartisan considerations deserve some attention.

The first has to do with efforts to reduce GHGs. Even though GHGs are emitted locally, their footprint remains global. The globalization of economies and the resulting mobility of companies undermines the efforts of certain countries to the benefit of others. For instance, a high carbon tax in Canada, if adopted alone, will merely transfer a non-negligible portion of GHG emissions to another point of origin, like the United States or overseas, with the same consequences in terms of global warming. International cooperation, in the form of treaties with efficient mechanisms, is thus an essential condition in the fight against climate change. Hopefully, the next government takes the initiative of concluding international agreements that are more concrete.

The second consideration is the establishment of an environmental framework that is clear and predictable for companies that want to invest in Canada. As important as it is to adopt rigorous environmental standards, it is harmful to obscure the rules of the game and make compliance more expensive. The environment does not explicitly fall either under federal or provincial jurisdiction. The result: overlapping and contradictory agencies and standards, which make compliance difficult. For example, the Frontier oil sands project, whose social acceptability had been demonstrated, came to nothing after 10 years and $1.13 billion spent to satisfy regulatory requirements, all because of arbitrary political considerations. Conciliatory and coordinated efforts under the leadership of the next federal government would help avoid such blunders.

Despite the persistent dilemma between the economy and the environment, we underestimate the possibilities of convergence for these two priorities. This is something the different parties should keep in mind when making their public policy proposals.

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