Critiquing the Houston government’s climate action plan during this summer of climate chaos is like fiddling while Rome burns. But the other PC Tim, Environment and Climate Change Minister Tim Halman put an entire string section to work producing last week’s portentously-titled “Urgent Times, Urgent Action: The Annual Progress Report on the Environmental Goals and Climate Change Reduction Act and Nova Scotia’s Climate Plan,” henceforth to be known as UTUA. The opus received a fair bit of media attention, so a review is in order.

Like much of the literature on climate change and related matters provincial governments have produced over the years the document contains ample verbiage and a lot of nice pictures, including at least five featuring the minister. But it is scant on details, most notably in the realm of greenhouse gases from the province’s second largest source of such emissions, transportation. 

The document reports that 36 per cent of Nova Scotia’s GhG emissions in 2021 came from the transportation sector, almost as bad as the much discussed and debated electricity sector, accounting for 42 per cent. And transportation’s contribution to the problem was up from 32 per cent in 2020, a combination of a slight reduction in emissions from electricity and a 6.25 per cent increase in pollution from transportation from 2020 to 2021. 

Despite this jump, there’s nary a mention of progress – or its lack – toward reducing pollution from transportation nor any reference to the possible impact of the dreaded carbon tax on cutting emissions from transportation.Those omissions may look like good politics for the Houston government, but they leave a large gap in climate policy. 

That climate policy, originally set out in the melodramatically-titled “Our Climate, Our Future,” released last December, has a four-pronged approach to reducing emissions:

  • creating a clean electricity system that reduces emissions by electrifying transportation systems;
  • reducing demand for energy;
  • reducing emissions by helping Nova Scotians “get off home heating oil”;
  • developing more sustainable transportation options to “keep our air clean”.

It seems a no-brainer to suggest that the carbon tax, by raising the price of fossil fuels, will play some role in achieving all of those objectives, particularly in road  transportation where, unlike the rest of the country,  emission reductions have been modest since 2005. 

The table below compares emissions per capita from overall road transportation and emissions from passenger cars and light trucks (including SUVs) for Nova Scotia, Canada as a whole and British Columbia, which has had a carbon tax since 2008.

Decrease in per-capita emissions 2005-2021

2005 pc2021 pcChange 05-21
NS Road3.94T3.68T-6.6%
NS Cars ,LT2.80T2.69T-3.9%
Canada Road3.82T3.04T-20.4%
Canada Cars,LT2.58T1.97T-23.6%
BC Road3.36T2.82T-16.1%
BC Cars, LT2.33T1.79T-23.2%

 Source: Environment and Climate Change Canada, National Inventory Report

As the table shows, between 2005 and 2021 emissions per capita from road transportation fell by less than seven per cent in Nova Scotia, compared with more than 20.4 per cent for Canada as a whole and 16.1 per cent for B.C. The disparity for passenger cars and light trucks was even greater – a reduction of less than four per cent for Nova Scotia compared with reductions nationally and in British Columbia of around 23 per cent.

The difference between Nova Scotia, British Columbia and the Canadian average may be primarily because of a different rural/urban population mix, with our relatively larger rural population needing to drive more to acquire the goods and services they need. However, that factor was in play in 2005, and would explain why, at 2.80 tons per capita, emissions from passenger cars and light trucks in Nova Scotia were 20.2 per cent higher than the 2.33 tons per capita in B.C. and 8.5 per cent higher than the Canadian average. 

But the gap widened significantly after 2005. By 2021, at 2.69 tons per capita, Nova Scotia was 50.3 per cent higher than B.C., and 36.5 per cent higher than the Canadian average. 

N.S. emissions as percentage of Canada, B.C. (cars and light trucks)


Although much of Canada’s increase in population over the last 15 years has been concentrated in urban areas, attributing the increased gap to that alone would ignore the possibility that the elephant in the room – the carbon tax – was a factor. While Nova Scotia was dodging the bullet, much of the rest of the country was subject to a carbon levy on transportation fuels. 

Electric Vehicles

A potential outcome from a carbon levy is to move new vehicle buyers to battery electric from vehicles powered by fossil fuels. That movement has been slow, but picked up after the federal government introduced subsidies of up to $5,000 on electric vehicles in 2019. By 2021, the most recent year reported by Statistics Canada, there were 153,349 battery electric vehicles (BEVs) registered in Canada, 0.58 per cent of all registrations. In British Columbia, battery electric vehicles totalled 48,263, 1.37 per cent of registrations. In Nova Scotia there were just 633 BEVs registered. That was more than double the number registered in 2020, but accounted for only 0.09 per cent of registered vehicles, one-sixth the Canadian average.  

Although there are several factors at play – such as a lack of inventory and charging infrastructure – movement away from gasoline and diesel to BEVs has been far slower in Nova Scotia than in the rest of Canada. And Nova Scotia has been far  behind British Columbia where carbon pricing has been affecting the price at the pumps for years.

The Houston government has paid lip service to wanting more electric cars, aiming for 30 per cent of new car sales by 2030. However, neither the Climate Plan or last week’s UTUA progress report provide much insight into how they plan to achieve the goal, aside from subsidizing more charging stations and continuing a questionable policy inherited from the previous Liberal government of providing rebates up to $3,000 for BEV purchases.  

From the limited data available, it doesn’t appear that inherited policy is having much effect. Statistics Canada released its quarterly report on new vehicle registrations last week showing that in the first three months of 2023, 15 per cent of new vehicles registered in Canada were either battery electric or hybrids. British Columbia, where the carbon tax has been in place since 2007, reported 15 per cent of all cars registered between January and April of this year were battery electric.

For what StatsCan describes as “contractual limitations of the existing data sharing agreement,” Nova Scotia’s data are not broken out in the quarterly reports. It will likely be December before we know how many more BEVs were registered in Nova Scotia in 2022 than the 633 reported for 2021. In the meantime it is possible to take stab at it, based on a variety of sources. 

Since 2021, StatsCanada’s quarterly new vehicle registration reports – the ones that don’t break out the Nova Scotia data – show that BEV registrations in Canada totalled 122,363 between January 2022 and April 2023, 6.55 per cent of all registrations. In British Columbia, the BEV registration percentage was 13.8. But figuring out where Nova Scotia stands is a mug’s game. 

The aforementioned appendix to UTUA claims that 3 per cent of vehicles sold in 2022-23 were BEVs (that would be about 1,200 vehicles), and there are “currently over 3,200 EVs in Nova Scotia.”

Perhaps some of those vehicles were just passing through because other sources provide smaller numbers.  According to the Nova Scotia Power website there were about 1,900 BEVs as of Jan. 1 of this year. And a link to Electric Vehicle Registration Data posted last February through the province’s open data portal shows a pie chart with only 904 registered vehicles – with most of those recorded in 2022. But even giving the government the benefit of the doubt, there’s still a long way to go to reach the goal of 30 per cent of new vehicle sales by 2030.

So the carrot – in the form of up to $8,000 in combined federal and provincial rebates – has not worked very well so far. Perhaps it’s time to engage the elephant in the room. Maybe the stick of carbon pricing will convince more drivers to make the switch – even if that’s definitely not part of the Houston government’s invisible plan for cutting GhG emissions from the transportation sector.