Canada Takes Lead on Electric Vehicle Policy

In recent weeks, the city of Vancouver and the province of Ontario have taken bold steps toward the electrification of Canadian automobiles. Ontario agreed to provide subsidies of up to $10,000 toward the purchase of electric vehicles, while Vancouver passed an ordinance mandating that 10 percent of parking spots in new condominiums be outfitted with electric vehicle charging stations.

Though neither law will ensure the success of plug-in cars in Canada, they show a genuine determination on the part of a coalition of city planners, lawmakers, businesses, and green car activists to lead the world in electric vehicle adoption. So far, at least from a policy standpoint, they’re getting results.

Five Percent By 2020

McGuinty Announces EV Incentive

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty.

When Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty chose a Chevrolet factory as the site for the announcement that his province would be offering subsidies that could reduce the cost of a Chevy Volt by 25 percent, critics cried foul. Ontario owns approximately 3.9 percent of General Motors, and the incentives are timed to roughly coincide with the release of the Volt, so many accused McGuinty of “picking winners and losers” with green car technology.

The incentives provide $4,000 to $10,000 (depending on battery size) toward all electrics and plug-in hybrids purchased in Ontario, and though the Volt may be the primary early beneficiary, it will not be the last. Ontario officials would like the program to help make 5 percent of the vehicles on its roads electric by 2020. The vast majority of those vehicles will be purchased years after the first Chevy Volts arrive in dealerships.

“There is wide interest in electric plug-in vehicles by the Canadian population,” said Al Cormier, executive director of Electric Mobility Canada, in an interview with Electric Mobility has done market research on the issue and sees Ontario’s goals as reachable—provided that the government does its part. “Canadians are prepared to pay roughly 10 percent more than the conventional car for the advantages they will obtain from electrification,” said Cormier. But there are issues other than affordability standing in the way of electric cars.

If You Build it, They Will Come

For two and a half years, city planners in Vancouver have been working with green car advocates to find the right mix of policies to foster electric car use. Don Chandler, director of the Vancouver Electric Vehicle Association, was part of that discussion. “We looked at the need and said where do you need to charge? For those of us who drive electric vehicles already and have for some time, we charge at home.” Though many cities have toyed with pilot programs to provide public charging stations, Vancouver is focused on issues of basic home access.

“Public charging can begin to address a perception of range anxiety, but to be honest we think the focus in our city needs to be on creating charging for homes overnight,” wrote Brian Beck, project manager for the city’s Sustainability Group, in an email to “That’s why last year we were the first North American city to require EV charging infrastructure for new single family homes, and that’s why we followed this year to be the first to begin to change our local building codes for multi-family homes. Over half of the residents in Vancouver live in these multi-family homes.”


Without the capacity to charge at home, it would be difficult for a consumer to justify purchasing an electric vehicle. Chandler said that government subsidies to encourage the retrofitting of existing homes and condominiums is next on the agenda.

EV Home Charging
EV Wall Charging Unit
EV Plug

Home fast-charging stations will be vital to the widespread adoption of electric vehicles. Left photo via Jurvetson.

The Roadmap

Meanwhile, the federal government has been silent on electric vehicles while it waits for the results of a study it commissioned in partnership with Electric Mobility Canada and several businesses and universities. The Electric Vehicle Technology Roadmap, which is expected to be turned over to the government soon, will be a series of recommendations for Canada’s national EV policy.

The recommendations will cover everything from manufacturing and technological development incentives to infrastructure and training mechanics. “It’s coming along quite well,” said Cormier. “We’re quite hopeful that the government will get moving very quickly and announce major incentives, major research programs, and financial support for the industry.”

Working with utilities to upgrade the grid for high-voltage, fast-charging stations will be a central component of the Roadmap. These stations could be the difference between electric cars becoming a high-priced curiosity or a full-fledged transportation solution. “It’s not just copper wiring you have to pull,” said Chandler. “It’s the new transformer you have to install, the new panel, the new distribution center, it goes all the way back to the utility.”

The Politics of Charge

Like many countries, Canada’s diverse geography and population distribution make phasing out a technology as entrenched as the internal combustion engine more complicated than simply passing a few incentives or putting up a few charging stations. Different regions demand different solutions, and for many, gasoline may be the only real option for some time to come. As a result, Canada’s action on the issue has so far been mostly relegated to a series of municipal and provincial actions.

“Constitutionally, the provinces have a great deal of authority in terms of what types of vehicles they will allow,” said Cormier. In the past, this has lead some provinces to ban neighborhood electric vehicles, while others passed incentives to encourage them. ZENN, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of neighborhood electric vehicles, is based in Toronto.

Stephen Harper

PM Stephen Harper.

Getting initiatives like Vancouver’s condo law passed required gaining confidence from city leaders and housing developers in the potential of electric vehicles as a long-term solution. “Creating infrastructure for vehicles that are not here yet in volume results in new building costs. In that respect there were some challenges to get their support,” said Beck. “It is helpful that our local government leaders understand our responsibility to build infrastructure for charging electric vehicles and we know we need to start to do that yesterday, because our buildings last for 80 years.”

At the national level, some doubt the willingness of the current government to take the necessary big steps. Though political necessity seems to have softened his stance, Prime Minister Stephen Harper once maintained that there was no link between climate change and carbon emissions. In 2002, Harper called the Kyoto Protocol a “socialist scheme” in a letter to supporters.

Though he questions the Prime Minister’s dedication to lowering emissions, Don Chandler credits the government with funding the Roadmap and seems generally hopeful about its prospects. “The existing government will probably follow along with it, but has not been a big initiator and not very supportive of environmental issues in general. The question is what they will do with the Roadmap. Do they sit on it, or do they actually take action?”

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  • Lost Prius to wife

    We see that some in Canada have looked into the crystal ball of the future and understand it. We also know the Japanese understand it also. Will our American leadership across the country wakeup and “smell the coffee”, look into that crystal ball also, and start doing things good for the future like Canada and Japan? Any bets, anyone?

  • Anonymous

    Why is Harper shown here, he doesn’t care about the Environment. This has absolutely nothing to do with him.

  • Samie

    Great article,

    Wonder what the shell oil industry thinks of this…

    Don’t know if Canada is fully committed yet to being a world leader in EV infrastructure & consumers purchases of EV’s. A clear federal plan needs to be in place to send a clear message that Canada is serous about revamping it’s energy needs.

    Here in the U.S. we will only complain when say we get to a peak oil situation & we pay $6-10 a gallon. I got slammed by wacko comment’s before but I will say it again the mix bag of say CNG, Biofuel, ethanol, & E85 lobby interests only slows us down & we become leaderless mostly due to Congress & doubt they could say land someone on the moon again or handle a WW2 situation where people had to sacrifice things for a greater cause w/o legislators pandering to those who line their pockets first. We can wait until a peak oil situation arises or start now by looking at local ordinances in large metro areas first, also commit to more initiatives & regulation to send a clear message to the auto industry that long term funding will be available along w/ 100 percent support in moving us beyond regular ICE vehicles or even standard hybrids.

    I’m sure I will get a wacko response to this but putting environmental questions aside what other technology right now can allow being charged up independent of a fueling station or that fact the grid w/ less worries about day-to-day ups & downs in future markets besides electric technology?

  • Baltimore Prius Owner

    Samie, you will not get a whacko response from me. You are right about the lobbyists and their efforts. You mentioned a few ideas that will work, only if “we” are willing to listen. I’m starting to doubt it. Anyway, what are your thoughts on a price floor for gasoline. Personally, I’d like to see it at or near $4.00/gallon. I thought $3.00/gallon would move a lot of folks to more efficient vehicles. However, I think that number is now closer to $4.00/gallon. This would force automakers into producing more efficient autos, we as Americans would need to “adjust” but i think we’ll survive.

  • DC

    Im afriad Canadians are not nearly as EV friendly as this article would like you to think. So far, i have heard that France, Britian, India, China, Japan “All aim to become world Leaders in the emerging EV Field”. And now now…Canada. And these are just the countries I know of that have made similar statements. But guess what, not one of them has or is, or indeed have any real prospects of makeing reliable mass produced EV in anything other than token amounts(if that). As far as Canada G’vt goes, it have been indifferent to downright hostile to the EV. See-Zen’s experience with transport canada. As of right now, only 2 jusrisdictions in all of Canada even permit NEVs and I live about a 10 min drive from one of them. Now Vancouver is definately interested in looking at more advanced tranport option, no doubt there, but Vancouver is something of a special case. Most canadian cites are as 19th century as say, american ones are. Southern Ontario is to Canada like Detriot is to the USA. They dont want to see EV’s on the roads down there anymore than Shell-US Government-Chevron-GM does.

  • WopOnTour

    The Zenn? Seriously??

    You can’t just brush aside 50 years of cumulative automotive safety standards just to get an electric car on the road. Cars like the Zenn are a joke. Basically an electric go-cart. If the OEM can’t build them to meet or exceed the current standards for vehicle safety that exist, then they dont belong on public roadways…

  • tw8s

    Misleading headline – Important distinction.
    *Canada* has not taken the lead – one city has passed an ordinance and one province has promised graduated rebates. Let the howling by condo developers, hybrid auto marketeers, big oil, etc. begin.
    I think the true *incentive* price for gasoline is more like $5 to $6 per gallon. I just received a flyer from my local Ford dealer about Cash-for-Clunkers incentives offering an array of 20 (quote) fuel efficient vehicles including Taurus, Ranger, Flex and Super-Duty trucks along with Ford’s notable hybrid models. If buyers think that doing good for the world is a Lincoln MKT, we are a long way from advocacy for electric vehicle infrastructure.

  • David

    Easy for a Prius owner in Baltimore to say “I want a $3-$4 floor for gasoline”. You don’t live in the middle of Nowhere, Indiana like my mother does. You aren’t retired like she is. You don’t own cars until they literally won’t run anymore to save money. You didn’t have to drive a minimum of 30 minutes on country back roads to get to work or up to a couple of hours to make farm calls, all while earning about $5/hour towards the end of her ‘career’. For me, living in Southern NH with a decent job, it’s different. I can look forward to buying a Volt if the car can actually do the job. Just remember – not everyone lives in the city.

  • DJB

    If you are willing to give away $10,000 to people who buy plug-in hybrids, you should first be willing to give away one bike to every person in the city and lower transit fares to zero. These would be cheaper and cleaner transportation solutions.

  • brendan

    Actually, the $3-4/gallon is the truer cost of the gasoline’s pollution and other costs. If your mother is poor, or is doing good rural work that the economy does not value, those are separate issues that should not, and cannot, be fixed by having an irrational energy policy–one that keeps fuel prices artificially low even if soldiers’ blood and billions from the treasury are wasted in wars to do so. If that sounds like communism or socialism to you, then consider that the U.S. is a quasi-socialist country now, but mainly just for the oil execs, investment bankers and — especially — auto companies.

  • Samie

    I agree in theory w/ commits about raising Federal taxes on gasoline, I would. But the real world sinks in I’m a bit I worried about the fall out of say even raising taxes 50cents. Why? Historically raising any tax to pay for anything gets nut jobs out their sheds & all hell breaks lose for politicians that support a increase on anything even if it’s a temp. tax to keep teachers in schools. A better example is when Clinton/Gore fought to raise fed. gas tax & had a hard time from Congress getting even a little bit of their plan in place w/c by the way, among other things helped Newt & the Republicans gain back a majority in the 90’s.
    One more example last yr. remember when John McCain & Hillary Clinton wanted to suspend the federal gas tax to “help consumers at the pump” Funny b/c it would have hurt funding for our roads. So my point is if say we get a gas spike again you will have the same kind of dumb short-term solutions from some politicians.

    So where does that leave us? I don’t know. I agree w/ others in creating some tax rebate program or incentive that would go towards people in rural areas & middle to low income familes. I also would not increase the tax on diesel as a way not to mess w/ our freight system & give those V8 truck lovers an option to either choose a V6 or diesel engine.

    The way I look at this problem is creating things like cap & trade, though some additional costs to reduce pollution or say petroleum use would be passed down to consumers. I would go soft on “clean coal” until more alt. energy & the grid is updated, that is to not shock folks who see energy bills increase due to harsh winters & give early converts to plug-ins & EV’s a good cost savings compared to gasoline prices. Also in ten years update CAFE as well as the guzzler tax to reflect, I hope more production capacity, & cost savings of batteries/EV’s.

    Unfortunately politically the way to move to more fuel efficiency means going through producers not to say putting more burden on consumers would be more productive & create the best incentives….

  • Austintatious

    Americans will make the commitment only when they are convinced that they cannot afford, monetarily, any other way and/or when the Earth’s atmoshere is so hostile that they become genuinely concerned. At present, they are convinced of neither.

    Americans, in general, are intellectually lazy, relatively ignorant, and uniquely self focused. While some will, the majority wiill not rush to EV’s or anything other green technologies simply because doing so is responsible, prudent, or even shown to be less expensive in the long run.

    BTW, DC, above, hit the nail on the head by mentioning China. Like it on not, the Chinese are on the verge of busting things wide open regarding certain green technologies, including the mass production of affordable and practical EV’s. Unlike most other major economies of the world, their economy is still in high gear.

    What’s more, they’ve already made great strides in the development, production and marketing of solar technologies and, while you wouldn’t know it from listening to the morons in our Congress or our media, the Chinese are starting to make genuine progress in the area of mitigating human induced climate change there. While they clearly have a long way to go, they are starting to come to grips with their own climate crisis staring them squarely in the face.

    All this is because their government, unlike ours, is generally capable of getting things done once they decide what to do, which is also no problem for them. Totalitarian, yes, but effective. Their government has concluded that, from a financial perspective, if nothing else, the status quo is unacceptable and that, if they get the jump on the rest of the world, they will come out far ahead. We’re looking at their tail lights, as we speak.

    Meanwhile, back at the ranch, our government is, well, you know.

  • Cindy

    David, I understand what you are saying…….is there ANY chance that if the prices were to go up that you would be able to help mom buy a hybrid? If not, what about a used hybrid? My mother is 88 and still driving, we bought her a 4 cylinder about 10 years ago……she has about 44k miles on it. LOL doesn’t drive much, but your mother is out in no where, perhaps buying her something more efficient would help her out and she can trade up. What about the 4500 clunker thingy Mr. Obama taunts us all with?
    I hope it works out for you all. Personally, I think we should all go towards hybrids / electric cars and stop feeding the arabs and iranians all our money. Think lower gas mileage instead of BIG bruiser cars/trucks. If we do that……….the gas market will come down dramatically because NO ONE IS BUYING THEIR GAS! I wish we would actually go to natrual gas cars. We got lots of that in america! We produce tons of it a day!!

  • N.G

    I am currently looking for a car to buy…
    I am interested in Honda Fit Hybrid, but as I read the article from other site. Honda has decided that we don’t have enough demand in our country. Other words, they just won’t be able to make ENOUGH MONEY to sell this kind of car… I am quite dissapointed in the company’s decision.
    Even though, people talk about “Saving the planet” In the end, all they care is how much money company can make… Hopefully, Canada will inniciate the act of reducing CO2, and encourage car companies to sell hybrid cards…

    I might just wait till 2012 to see if VW will sell smaller hybrid cars… Really wanted to get Honda, but I no longer have hope in this company.

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