Clean Energy Canada | National zero-emission vehicle standard must be a top climate priority: analysis
October 1, 2021

OTTAWA — In the run up to the recent federal election, the Liberal Party of Canada announced plans for a mandatory target requiring that half of all passenger vehicles sold in 2030 be zero-emissions, en route to 100% by 2035. With the election behind us, the new government needs to accelerate efforts to get electric vehicles on the road if it’s going to meet that goal.

Canada’s currently implemented clean car policies are not going to cut it, according to new modelling from Clean Energy Canada and Dr Jonn Axsen from the Sustainable Transportation Action Research Team at Simon Fraser University. 

The U.S.’s tailpipe emission regulations—which are automatically applied in Canada and were recently strengthened by the Biden administration—are currently the only policies in place to both cut emissions from passenger vehicles and push more EVs into the market. 

While the updated measures are stronger than the ones in place under former President Trump, they won’t be enough to meet Canada’s EV commitments. Our modelling shows that Canada could achieve 24% EV sales by 2030 at best under Biden’s new rules with no additional measures.

Not only that, Biden’s new measures won’t be enough to ensure that Canada meets its 2030 transportation emissions target either.

The good news is that a proven policy solution exists. We need only look to B.C., Quebec and California, the places with the highest EV uptake in North America. All have zero-emission vehicle standards, a policy requiring automakers to sell increasing proportions of EVs. In fact, electric vehicle sales in B.C. made up 8.4% of all car sales last year, while in Quebec they made up 6.8%—significantly higher than the 1.8% sales share in Ontario or the 3.5% across Canada. 

The vast majority of the EVs available for sale in Canada are found in Quebec and B.C, leaving little inventory for other provinces. A national approach would help ensure that EVs are available to all Canadians no matter where in the country they live. 

With automakers indicating they’re moving in this direction and a rare level of cross-partisan support for this policy emerging in the recent federal election, now is the time for Canada to enact a national zero-emission vehicle standard to achieve its EV goals.


  • In June, the federal government set a mandatory target for 100% of all new light-duty car and passenger truck sales to be zero-emissions by 2035. The Liberals followed this up with a campaign platform commitment to achieve at least 50% zero-emission vehicle sales by 2030.
  • All major political parties (the Liberals, Conservatives, NDP, and Greens) included zero-emission vehicle sales commitments in their 2021 federal election campaign platforms.
  • Canada has linked its passenger vehicle emission standards with the U.S. since 2012.  
    • President Obama first introduced clean car standards during his presidency, which required 5% annual reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from new cars. 
    • President Trump later relaxed the requirement to 1.5% annual increases in fuel economy and blocked California from setting tougher tailpipe emissions rules.
    • In the interim, California struck a deal with five major auto companies—Ford, Honda, BMW, Volkswagen, and Volvo—requiring 3.7% annual reductions in emissions from new cars. 
  • In August 2021, the Biden administration announced new rules that would require passenger vehicles sold in the U.S. and Canada to meet more stringent fuel-efficiency standards from 2023 to 2026. While the new standards are more stringent than California’s standards during the Trump era, they are weaker than the original standards put in place during the Obama administration. 
  • President Biden also signed an Executive Order setting an aspirational goal of reaching 50% electric vehicle sales by 2030. The new standards are expectedto increase the percentage of EV sales in the U.S. to only 8% by 2026, up from 2% in 2019. 
  • In addition to Quebec and B.C. and countries such as China and South Korea, 14 American states have adopted a zero-emission vehicle standard accounting for nearly 40% of new U.S. car sales: California, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Colorado, Washington, Virginia, and Minnesota. 
  • 60% of Canadians say they are certain or inclined to buy an electric vehicle as their next car, according to a Clean Energy Canada / Abacus Data poll from December 2020.
  • Nearly 70% of dealerships in Canada do not have a single EV available to purchase or test drive, found a February 2020 study commissioned by Transport Canada. Wait times of three to six months were common.


Media release | Canada cannot wait on Washington to meet its electric vehicle target

Media release | Canada’s updated 100% zero-emission vehicle sales target points to a clear solution

Media brief | What is a ‘zero-emission vehicle standard’ and why does Canada need one?

Report | Taking the Wheel

Poll | Electric vehicles are picking up speed in public support