Vancouver is leading the charge as Canada switches to electric vehicles by 2035

Photo by: Jimmy Jeong

If you live in Vancouver, you are used to seeing a few things you don’t see in other big Canadian cities. Over 1,000 millimetres of rainfall per year is one thing. Teslas everywhere is another.

The former won’t surprise anyone, resident or not, but many Vancouverites might not realize that the latter is fairly unique to this watery city.

B.C. has the highest uptake of electric vehicles in North America, and in the Vancouver region, EV adoption is even higher. In 2020, 11 per cent of new cars in Metro Vancouver were zero-emission, compared to only 2.4 per cent in Toronto and 3.5 per cent across the country. In the City of Vancouver, the figure is thought to be even higher: between 12 and 17 per cent. In fact, there were more new EVs registered in Metro Vancouver alone last year than the whole province of Ontario.

Why does this matter? Because the rest of Canada now needs to follow in Vancouver’s tire tracks.

Last month, the federal government announced that all new car sales in Canada will be zero-emission vehicles by 2035. It’s the right move, and we will be in good company. California, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Quebec have similar commitments, while the U.K. has an even more ambitious deadline of 2030.

In B.C., there is no sign of an abating EV appetite. A recent poll from B.C. Hydro found that about two-thirds of British Columbians are considering buying an EV over the next five years, with 60 per cent saying they would go with an EV if they can get one sooner.

So why is Vancouver so much further ahead, and what can the rest of Canada learn from its precocious EV ways? After all, commute times are similar across most large cities. The difference is that Vancouver benefits from a trifecta of EV policy solutions at the federal, provincial, and municipal government levels.

In other words, Vancouver is proof that when every level of government works toward a common goal, real and rapid change is possible.

Like all Canadians, Vancouverites can access the federal electric vehicle rebate, which knocks $5,000 off the sticker price of a new EV. The $3,000 provincial government rebate brings that total to $8,000. And then there are the various incentives to install EV chargers. Alongside those favourable economics, the provincial government was the first jurisdiction in the world to make its commitment to phasing out gas cars legally binding. The rules, which require automakers to sell an increasing proportion of electric cars in the province, help ensure that British Columbians can actually find and buy the cleaner cars they want—something that isn’t the case everywhere in Canada

But municipal governments also have a big role to play, particularly when it comes to charging infrastructure. The City of Vancouver has utilized its building code to assure the installation of 60,000 residential charging connections in new buildings since 2014, and is aiming to put all Vancouver residents within a 10-minute drive of a fast-charging station by the end of this year.

What’s more, earlier this week, city council approved amendments to its parking bylaws requiring 45 per cent of parking stalls in most types of new non-residential buildings and 100 per cent of parking stalls in new hotels and B&Bs to include EV charging. The move will create 18,000 additional electrified parking stalls, supporting residents that don’t have home charging. The new regulations will also see to it that car-sharing that goes into these buildings is also electrified. All these moves complement the estimated 9,000 to 10,000 charging circuits being added each year in new residential buildings to keep up with growing demand.

But with nearly 40 per cent of emissions in Vancouver coming from burning gas and diesel in our vehicles, the shift to EVs is about more than just policy—they also improve air quality while cutting carbon pollution. And if there is one thing the recent climate-change-induced, record-shattering heatwave should impart, it’s that action on climate change cannot wait.

This post was co-authored by Ian Neville, a senior sustainability specialist at the City of Vancouver, and originally appeared in the Vancouver Sun.

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