Why the type of car our leaders drive makes a difference

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau leaves his vehicle before hosting a meeting at the APEC Summit in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, on Nov. 17, 2018.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

When it comes to beating climate change, could one car make a difference?

If that car ferries Joe Biden, Justin Trudeau or Boris Johnson, it might.

“There’s a small number of leaders and a small number of vehicles, so if they change to EVs, it’s a very small change in emissions, but it’s much more than that,” said Tom Green, climate-solutions policy analyst with the David Suzuki Foundation. “We’re in a severe climate emergency[1], and what you drive as a leader is a symbol.”

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At a virtual climate summit with world leaders last month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to cut Canada’s greenhouse-gas emissions[2] by 40 to 45 per cent of 2005 levels by 2030. U.S. President Joe Biden promised a cut of 40 to 55 per cent by then (which won’t involve banning burgers[3]).

Unlike New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who reportedly switched from a diesel BMW to an Audi e-Tron EV for official government business last year[4], Biden and Trudeau get driven around in gas-guzzling SUVs.

For instance, Biden’s Cadillac One[5] emits 341 g/km of greenhouse-gas emissions – 123 per cent more than a Ford Explorer, according to a comparison done[6] by Uswitch, a U.K.-based financial site.

“It’s my understanding that these decisions aren’t necessarily made by the political leaders themselves; there are other factors, such as security details, that play a role,” said Sarah Petrevan, policy director for Clean Energy Canada.

But there are bigger battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) and plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) on the market or soon to hit the market that would work as armoured vehicles.

“It’s fair to say that it is time to walk the walk, or, rather, drive the drive, on EVs,” Petrevan said.

Plus, switching to EVs may make fiscal sense, Green said.

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“Just looking at it from a taxpayer perspective, we know EVs are cheaper over their lifecycle because maintenance and operating costs are lower,” Green said.

So have any Canadian leaders chosen to drive green? Here’s a look.

Federal leaders

The RCMP chooses the vehicles driven by the prime minister and his family. They’re designed for protection.

“One of the many vehicles used currently is a Chevrolet Suburban,” RCMP spokeswoman Catherine Fortin said in an email.

The fleet includes hybrids. It doesn’t include EVs or PHEVs yet, but the RCMP is looking into adding them if they “are deemed capable of fulfilling security requirements.”

The RCMP said it doesn’t permanently assign armoured vehicles to the other party leaders, but they can request them if there’s a threat.

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Federal Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole[7]’s office didn’t respond to questions on what he drives professionally or personally.

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh “requested a hybrid” from the House of Commons, his office said.

Green Party leader Annamie Paul said she hasn’t owned a car since 2018.

“I use public transportation for most of my travel,” Paul said in an e-mail. “If I am driven somewhere these days, it is in a Prius or a Toyota hybrid.”

Bloc Québécois leader Yves-François Blanchet drives a Prius Prime PHEV.

“My dream would be a Tesla,” Blanchet said. “But I’m living too far from Parliament, and I’m on the road far too much, so the range is not sufficient.” When it comes to EVs, politicians should practise what they preach, Blanchet said.

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“I would not expect Mr. O’Toole to drive an electric car – it wouldn’t be logical,” Blanchet said. “But for me, Quebec is the heaven of electric cars in Canada, and I’m promoting this very strongly, so I couldn’t be driving a big thirsty truck.”

Premiers and mayors

What cars do Canada’s premiers drive?

Only a few responded to questions for this story.

In Quebec and Ontario, the premier’s vehicle is chosen by provincial police.

Ontario Provincial Police, citing security concerns, wouldn’t say whether Premier Doug Ford is driven in an EV, PHEV or hybrid.

Quebec Premier François Legault isn’t driven in an EV or hybrid yet, although “plans are to go green as long as the vehicle does not compromise any notion of safety,” a Sûreté du Québec spokesman said in an email.

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Of the other premiers who answered, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe drives a Chevy Silverado and Northwest Territories Premier Caroline Cochrane drives a Ford Edge.

“When I require a vehicle for work purposes, I do use one of the three hybrid vehicles available to all members of our Legislative Assembly,” Cochrane said in an email.

Cochrane said there are still challenges to the practicality of EVs in the North, including lower range when its cold and the lack of chargers between communities.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s office didn’t respond, but before Kenney became premier in 2019, he toured the province[8] in a Dodge Ram 1500.

So what do mayors drive? Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Halifax answered.

Vancouver’s mayor Kennedy Stewart “almost exclusively walks or takes transit,” his office said in an email. “On the rare occasions he needs to drive, he has a 2012 Ford Focus (glamorous!).”

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Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi has driven a hybrid – the city won’t reveal the make and model for security reasons – since he was elected in 2010.

Toronto Mayor John Tory’s personal vehicle is a 2009 non-hybrid SUV. For official business, he takes transit or rides in a non-hybrid SUV provided by Toronto Police, Tory’s office said.

Since that SUV gets replaced “periodically,” the city hopes the next one will be a hybrid.

Other mayors’ government-supplied cars include a 2015 Honda Accord hybrid in Ottawa and a 2018 Toyota Highlander hybrid in Montreal.

Halifax’s mayor, Mike Savage, doesn’t get a car or car allowance from the city, his office said. He drives a Chevy Equinox.

“Mayor Savage says he previously drove a hybrid, and he would most definitely be interested in an EV,” his office said in an email.

References

  1. ^ climate emergency (www.scc-csc.ca)
  2. ^ promised to cut Canada’s greenhouse-gas emissions (www.theglobeandmail.com)
  3. ^ banning burgers (www.vox.com)
  4. ^ Audi e-Tron EV for official government business last year (thedriven.io)
  5. ^ Cadillac One (www.autoweek.com)
  6. ^ comparison done (www.uswitch.com)
  7. ^ Erin O’Toole (www.theglobeandmail.com)
  8. ^ toured the province (edmontonjournal.com)