It’s time to abandon reckless oil propagandists

A response to Dan McTeague’s Financial Post opinion piece “It’s time to abandon reckless EV mandates” published July 03, 2024.

With his head firmly buried in the Athabasca oil sands, fossil fuel advocate Dan McTeague brought his anti-progress bullhorn to the Financial Post today, rehashing anti-EV arguments as outdated and divorced from reality as the industry he plays mouthpiece for.

By McTeague’s reckoning, the Canadian taxpayer will be “on the hook for generations to come” for the “Electric Vehicle Availability Standard” that mandates all new vehicles sold in Canada must be electric by 2035.

Never mind that Canada is joining the EU in this effort and that global car manufacturers are following suit; were we to believe McTeague’s description of reality, a transition to EVs in Canada would “disproportionately harm Canadian workers and families” and “do serious damage to our economy.”

Good news then that his arguments fall flat when exposed to the most basic scrutiny.

Let’s look at them one by one:

Claim number one: “the technology is simply not there for electric vehicles to be a reliable source of transportation in Canada’s climate.” 

Reality check: While it’s true battery electric vehicles lose some of their charge and performance in colder climates, this concern is blown out of proportion for anything except long-haul driving. EV adoption in countries with comparable climates to Canada including Norway and Finland shows that battery EVs are a viable alternative even in colder climates. The main challenge here isn’t lack of reliable EV technology; it’s lack of sufficient charging infrastructure. We’ll get to that later.

Claim number two: “the EV market relies heavily on government subsidies.”

Reality check: This is true, and for good reason: Subsidies work, as proven by the estimated $4.8 billion Canada spends on fossil fuel subsidies every year. To bring forward a just energy transition, the government should invest at least as much on subsidies for technology that weans us off fossil fuels as it does propping up the fossil fuel industry. The good news here is unlike fossil fuel subsidies, EV subsidies are a temporary measure. EV incentives in Norway have been so successful the country has started the process of phasing them out, and we can expect the same to happen in Canada over time. Meanwhile, the fossil fuel industry remains dependent not only on subsidies, but on outright bailouts from taxpayers. If McTeague is concerned about the cost of subsidies, I have a glass house to sell him.

Claim number three: “EVs are prohibitively expensive.” 

Reality check: Battery electric vehicles are a relatively new technology, and with new technology comes higher cost at the onset. That said, the average price of an EV in Canada is going steadily down, and new cheaper models and brands are coming to market on a monthly basis.
EV technology is also in its infancy where ICE technology is mature. We have a long way to go with EVs, and new better technologies will bring prices down and quality up for a long time.

There’s another mechanism at play here too that puts an additional kink in McTeague’s argument: He says, “at a fundamental level the government’s push for electric vehicles encroaches on the operation of the free market,” suggesting that subsidies are keeping EV prices artificially low. In reality, the Canadian government is actively working to suppress that free market in the opposite way; by leveling heavy tariffs on new cheaper EVs from Asia. This move is meant to protect the North American car industry, but European car manufacturers say such tariffs will harm them and their American counterparts. If McTeague truly wants to protect the free market and lower the cost of EVs, his beef isn’t with the subsidies; it’s with the tariffs.

Claim number four: “the costs of maintaining an EV are high.”

Reality check: According to a comprehensive breakdown by Forbes UK, while the maintenance cost of an EV is higher than an ICE, the need for maintenance is much lower. And because EVs have fewer moving parts, don’t need oil changes, etc, servicing costs of these cars is significantly lower than comparable ICEs. McTeague’s specific example of battery replacement is a red herring since such replacements typically fall under warranty or insurance.

Claim number five: “our electrical grid isn’t ready for the excess demand that would come with widespread EV adoption.”

Reality check: This is absolutely true, and it has nothing to do with EVs and everything to do with aging infrastructure. The world is in an energy crisis brought on by the disparity between our ever-increasing demand for electricity and our aging energy production and transmission infrastructure. We have a major challenge on our hands to drastically build out energy production and transmission over the next decade to support everything from EVs to AI, and demand for high-efficiency EV chargers may be the boost we need to get that process started. Alongside our transition to EV’s, both federal and provincial governments are investing in bringing energy production home via solar panels and power walls. And realizing you can charge your EV for free from home with solar panels is a major incentive in itself. Rather than point at our aging infrastructure as a reason to stall the EV transition, McTeague should join the calls for new building codes that require solar panels on every roof, neighborhood energy storage, and upgrades of our electrical grid including transitioning from 120V to 240V as a standard.

Claim number six: “The sheer number of new charging stations required by wholesale adoption of EVs will strain our distribution networks.”

Reality check: Our society spent the past century building elaborate distribution networks to power ICEs. No matter what road you are on in Canada, you are a reasonably short drive away from a gas station. Meanwhile, the buildout of EV charging networks in Canada has only just begun and those networks are already extensive. Here it’s important to look at the much wider picture. Unlike gas stations, EV chargers have minimal environmental impact, are cheap and easy to install, and can be installed anywhere. There are already networks in place where homeowners can rent out their EV chargers to anyone at a rate they set themselves, and combined with other green energy initiatives like solar panels on every roof, we are moving towards a future where we can create a new viable industry of small scale charging providers without the long-term environmental remediation efforts associated with gas stations.

Claim number seven: “the federal government is operating under the assumption that if you somehow create a supply, that will inspire a demand. This hasn’t worked in any of the countries where it’s been attempted, which is why nations around the world have started to tap the brakes on EV mandates.”

Reality check: This claim is taken straight out of the fossil fuel lobby playbook, and is demonstrably false. In Norway, 82% of new vehicle sales are EVs. Germany, the USA, and most other markets are seeing a steady and rapid rise in EV sales. When Republican lawmakers put this claim to United States Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigeg he spent a solid 3 minutes debunking it with stats. I encourage McTeague to listen to what he had to say.

A final reality check: We are all suffering the festering sores of the bed the oil sector has made for us. McTeague is right in one respect: Canadians can’t afford to keep buying new expensive cars; not because the cars are expensive but because our society can’t sustain our dependency on cars. What we need is a drastic rethink of how we get to where we live, work, and play and how we make our communities and our societies more sustainable. While Europe and Asia built elaborate public transit systems and high-speed intercity rail, the North American oil industry spent the past 100 years ensuring we built our communities around the personal car. The result is congested roads, endless commutes, and nighttime streets that look like industrial parking lots. 

It is time we abandon the reckless oil propaganda that wrought us the climate crisis, dysfunctional transportation infrastructure, and our dependence on the personal car. EVs play a part in that transition but the main job we need our elected officials to do is stop propping up a destructive industry and stop listening to their apologists. 

Oil companies had their century and made a killing on the back of our climate. Now their chokehold on our economy is slipping, so they lash out at anything that doesn’t drip hydrocarbons. It’s time for them to clean up the mess they made and step aside so we can all get the just energy transition we deserve.

By Morten Rand-Hendriksen

Morten Rand-Hendriksen is a Senior Staff Instructor at LinkedIn Learning (formerly specializing in AI, bleeding edge web technologies, and the intersection between technology and humanity. He also occasionally teaches at Emily Carr University of Art and Design. He is a popular conference and workshop speaker on all things tech ethics, AI, web technologies, and open source.