Deep energy retrofits and tougher building code standards emerged as winners, while fossil fuel pipelines received no attention at all, as policy analysts dug more deeply into the ministerial mandate letters released in mid-December by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Early coverage of the letters issued to each cabinet minister focused on the 39-point mandate the Prime Minister’s Office assembled for Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault, beginning with a fossil fuel emission cap, a 75% methane reduction this decade, a net-zero electricity grid by 2035, and a mandated 50% target for electric vehicle sales by 2030.
But the letters also include “important changes to building codes and a net-zero emissions building strategy,” Efficiency Canada writes, although “low-income energy efficiency remains a gap”.
The PM’s instructions to Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson and Innovation Minister François-Philippe Champagne “now clearly include a mandate regarding the ‘development of model building codes…that align with national climate objectives and provide a standard for climate-resilient buildings’,” wrote Policy Director Brendan Haley. They also call for a net-zero emissions building code and model retrofit code by the end of 2024.
Those provisions are an improvement over a system that has relied on a committee of provincial and territorial volunteers to drive building code development, with no clear federal leadership for net-zero buildings, Haley explains. The new reference to emissions goals, plus the relatively fast push for a retrofit code, reflect “a recognition that accelerating building code adoption, enforcement, and compliance will require federal action to spur market readiness activities in provinces and municipalities,” he says.
Wilkinson’s mandate letter also contains language on EnerGuide labelling for homes at time of sale, a transition away from fossil-fuelled home heating, and launch of a “community-level net-zero homes initiative”, which Haley mapped back to the successful Energiesprong model documented in his organization’s national retrofit mission report last year.
Haley gives Ottawa a thumbs-up for including the electric vehicle mandate in Guilbeault’s marching orders, but points energy poverty and low-income energy efficiency as an important missing piece.
“This policy gap is not only an injustice, but a significant political liability for the net-zero emissions agenda, especially as living costs rise and we encounter more extreme weather events that impact lower-income households the most,” he writes. Ultimately, “we will not bring all buildings to net-zero emissions without a specific strategy for low- to moderate-income homes.”
By contrast, Yahoo! Finance noted that Wilkinson’s 2,700-word missive had nothing to say about pipelines. “Absent are direct references to the nation’s oil and gas sector, beyond instructions to cap emissions and phase out public financing,” the news service writes. “The scant mention of the oil and gas sector also comes as the industry faces persistent challenges related to pipelines and exports to foreign markets.”
That’s a change from the mandate letter Trudeau sent to Wilkinson’s predecessor, Seamus O’Regan, on December 13, 2019, Yahoo! points out. At the time, the PM instructed O’Regan to “identify opportunities to support workers and businesses in the natural resource sectors that are seeking to export their goods to global markets,” a task that included “working to construct and complete the twinning of the Trans Mountain Pipeline.”
In the hours after the mandate letters appeared in mid-December [but after The Energy Mix had published its last edition for 2021—Ed.], national climate groups praised a “whole-of-government” approach to the climate emergency that had produced a heavy work load for the ministers of environment, natural resources, and fisheries. Caroline Brouillette, national climate policy manager at Climate Action Network-Canada, dug into the details in a Twitter thread.