Speech from the Throne prioritizes pandemic response and signals forthcoming measures to advance the clean transportation economy

THE COUNTRY’S ELECTRIC VEHICLE COMMUNITY is feeling buoyant in the wake of Wednesday’s Speech from the Throne by the federal government.

“Canada is starting to align the economy, health and the environment when it comes to transportation,” said Daniel Breton, president and CEO of industry association Electric Mobility Canada.

In a statement, Breton highlighted three of the government’s commitments in particular:

  • To make zero-emission vehicles “more affordable”
  • To invest in more EV charging stations
  • To use tax cuts and proceeds from a new fund to attract and stimulate work by companies in the EV battery and vehicle production supply chain and who build zero-emission products

“Our members look forward to supporting Canada in its work to implement these important investments,” Breton said.

A “big” speech for ZEVs

Travis Allan, vice-president of public affairs and general counsel at national EV charging network operator FLO, described the Liberal government’s speech as “really positive” in a series of tweets posted Wednesday afternoon.

In an interview with Electric Autonomy, Sarah Petrevan, policy director at Clean Energy Canada, a think tank based at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, agreed, calling it a “big” Throne Speech for zero-emission vehicles.

“Certainly we heard mention not only of the need to shift to zero-emission vehicles, but to leverage Canada’s mining and mineral natural resources to providing the materials needed to build EV batteries,” said Petrevan.

“This is, of course, coming on the heels of an announcement earlier this week to secure [EV] manufacturing at Ford. And then, of course, there was the mention of building out EV charging infrastructure.”

Climate action a cornerstone

The speech, read by Governor General Julie Payette, addressed a vast range of topics and priorities, much of it focused on the pandemic and its ongoing economic and social aftershocks. The EV-related announcements were contained in a section called “Build Back Better.”

In framing that section, the speech stated: “Things should not go back to business as usual.” It then emphasized that climate action is “a cornerstone” of its plans and pledged to roll out a blueprint to surpass its current 2030 GHG emission reduction targets.

Economically, the government said its goal is “to ensure Canada is the most competitive jurisdiction in the world for clean technology companies.” This covers a wide range of businesses and subsets of the clean technology sector, but ZEVs are clearly a key focus.

“Emissions from transportation is the second biggest source of GHG emissions in the country and it is rising significantly, so that’s clearly an area where we’re going to need more,” said Nathan Lemphers, a post-doctoral fellow with the Smart Prosperity Institute in Ottawa. “The government is making significant investments in public transit, which will be key. But it will also require electrifying personal vehicles as well.”

ZEV mandate: yes or no?

Prior to the speech, there was a lot of anticipation as to the prospect of the government announcing plans for a national ZEV mandate, or ZEV standard — a supply-focused policy that mandates a gradual increase in the percentage of vehicles sold by automakers that have to be zero emission. Many observers say a national mandate is needed to increase the availability of EVs in parts of the country where few dealers stock them and to cut down on the long wait times for orders from dealers. But no mandate was mentioned.

Does that mean a ZEV standard isn’t in the cards? Those we spoke to said don’t be too hasty. Prioritizing the development of a clean technology marketplace in Canada, in which the ZEV supply chain is a major stakeholder, effectively prioritizes the same supply-side objectives. It might also just be a prelude to further specific policy announcements in the days and weeks to come.

“The government said that they wanted to make zero-emission vehicles more affordable. One of the ways you could do that is through a national zero-emission vehicle mandate,” Lemphers noted.

Further speculation on this point is also sure to stem from a discrepancy between the English and French versions of the Throne Speech text. In the English version, the government pledges to “make zero-emissions vehicles more affordable,” whereas the French version says it will make them more affordable and more accessible [“plus abordables et plus accessibles”].

Since accessibility is the key rationale for a ZEV standard, has the government already tipped its hand? Or is it just a typo?

“I don’t know what that means,” said Petrevan.

This article was originally published on Sept. 24, 2020, on the Electric Autonomy Canada website.