How can Canada Deploy an Equitable and Reliable EV Charging Network?

Transportation accounts for 24% of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Canada – the most significant source after the oil and gas sector.(1) Decarbonization of the transportation sector will be a key component of Canada’s transition to a low-carbon economy. As part of this path to decarbonization, the federal government has recently announced the proposed details of its mandatory zero-emission vehicle sales target. The proposal requires that 100% of all light-duty passenger vehicles be zero-emission by 2035, with interim targets as early as 2026. While these vehicles may use alternative fuel sources such as hydrogen, battery electric vehicles (EVs) currently appear to hold the most potential in this transition.

Canada, in general, is behind its global counterparts when it comes to “EV-readiness”. In its annual study taking stock of EV supply, demand, and policies in place around the world, Ernst and Young Global ranked Canada second last (13th out of 14 countries) in the 2022 EY Electric Vehicle Country Readiness Index.(2) Charging infrastructure is a particular challenge, cited as one of the key factors in why Canada fell five spots on the index from the previous year.(3) Depending on access to home charging options, studies show that Canada will need as many as 53,000 new public charging points by 2025, and 914,000 by 2050.(4)

Federal, provincial, and municipal governments across Canada are showing significant commitment to enable this transition, and specifically in supporting the deployment of EV charging infrastructure. The federal government, for example, has committed $680 million through its Zero Emission Vehicle Infrastructure Program, which will be complemented by a new $500 million program launched by the Canada Infrastructure Bank.(5) The goal of these programs is to provide financing and cost-sharing agreements to de-risk investments and initiate a business case for the private sector to build the necessary EV charging infrastructure across the country.

It will be important that these long-term investments are made thoughtfully and strategically to ensure that no one is left behind in the low-carbon transition. If the future of mobility is electric, it is crucial that governments, charging network operators, and utilities work together to build a Canada-wide EV charging network that is equitable and reliable. 

There are some key issues around the location, physical design, reliability, and payment of EV charging that must be considered in building a system that works for everyone. For example, most charging currently occurs at home, but there are significant challenges associated with providing charging in multi-unit residential buildings (MURBs). As a result, there has been limited uptake in condos in apartment buildings, where approximately a third of the Canadian population resides.(6) This also raises concerns regarding equitable access as MURB residents, particularly renters, are more likely to be low-income, racialized, and recent immigrants.(7) There are also concerns that existing public charging infrastructure is not universally accessible – drivers who use wheelchairs often face barriers such as charge points that are not installed at grade and charging cables that are placed too high.(8)

Drivers often face other barriers at charging points such as a lack of reliability and limited payment options. While data has not been comprehensively collected across Canada, preliminary analysis and public opinion research shows that charging points may not be operational when a driver arrives, either because of the hardware, software, or upstream electricity issues.(9) In addition, charging network operators often require subscriptions and smartphone applications to process payment rather than credit or debit cards. While roaming agreements between charging network operators can allow drivers to access charging across networks, drivers otherwise need to register with multiple networks to have sufficient access to public charging options.(10)

A recent report from the CSA Public Policy Centre, Charging Ahead: Ensuring Equity and Reliability in Canada’s Electric Vehicle Network, explores these challenges and offers policy considerations for the federal government in their efforts to support the deployment of a national EV charging network:

Deploy EV charging infrastructure through an equity lens

More comprehensive support to MURB property owners is required to overcome technical, financial, and regulatory barriers. The CleanBC EV Ready Retrofit Program is a great example of how this can be done.(11) In neighbourhoods with a density of housing in which barriers are extensive and uptake remains limited, publicly accessible fast-charging should be prioritized, with earmarked funds and increased contributions for underserved communities.

Incorporate accessible design practices at the outset

Universal, barrier-free design should be included as a key criterion for government funding in the near term. Moving forward, technical guidance and standards should be developed and applied to all EV charging infrastructure to enable consistent access for drivers.

Ensure reliability for drivers 

The federal government should closely monitor developments in the US and UK, both of which are creating national regulations for “uptime” requirements (i.e., minimum standards for how often a charge point is operational). However, policymakers must work with industry to better understand reliability issues and coordinate a specific response that is relevant for the Canadian context.

Promote inclusive payment options

Governments should consider strategies that promote open access for payment. This could take the form of mandating universal payment options (e.g., requiring that credit, debit, mobile and telephone options are available), and/or a prohibition on subscription requirements for public chargers. California, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire have taken similar approaches.

Electric mobility stands to benefit all Canadians, and governments have a critical role to play in ensuring that these benefits are shared equitably. By learning from other jurisdictions, making purposeful investments, and collaborating with all levels of government as well as industry and community partners, Canada can make an inclusive transition to low-carbon transportation possible.

© 2023 Canadian Standards Association | ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

About the Author: 

Jordann Thirgood, Manager, Public Policy, CSA Group.

Jordann joined the CSA Public Policy Centre from the City of Toronto, where she advised on policy priorities including the regulation of emerging technologies, COVID-19 economic recovery planning, and a number of housing initiatives. Prior to that, she served as a Policy Associate at the Mowat Centre, where she led research on government transformation and the impact of economic transitions on Canadians’ ability to access social supports. Jordann has had work published through academic journals, media outlets and various research institutions. She holds a Master’s degree in Public Policy from the University of Toronto.

About CSA Group

For over 100 years, CSA Group has been working to make Canada safer and more sustainable. With a mandate of holding the future to a higher standard, we have an interest in the social, economic, and environmental challenges that policymakers face when addressing the evolving needs of Canadians. The CSA Public Policy Centre raises critical questions, provides thoughtful analysis, and produces new ideas and policy pathways to address Canada’s most pressing policy challenges. Building on the organization’s long history of consensus building, we facilitate conversations, raise awareness of emerging issues, and promote collaborative, evidence-based solutions.


 (1) Government of Canada. (2022, May 26). Greenhouse gas emissions.

(2) Ernst & Young Global Ltd. (2022, September 6). Press Release. China, Norway and Sweden lead the pack on electric vehicle readiness – EY study. 

(3) Karim, N. (2022, September 6). Canada comes second last in global ranking on electric vehicle ‘readiness’, Financial Post.

(4) Dunsky Energy + Climate. (2022, March 31) Canada’s Public Charging Infrastructure Needs: Updated Projections, Prepared for Natural Resources Canada.

(5) Government of Canada. (2022, August 10). Zero Emission Vehicle Infrastructure Program. https://www.nrcan.; Canada Infrastructure Bank. (2022, September 28) “CIB Launches $500 Million Charging and Hydrogen Refuelling Infrastructure Initiative” 

(6) Pollution Probe and The Delphi Group. (2019). Zero emission vehicle charging in multi-unit residential buildings and for garage orphans. Page 54. 

(7) Statistics Canada (2021, November 22). Housing Experiences in Canada. 

(8) Wallcraft, S. (2022, April 20). The next frontier for public EV charging: accessibility. Electric Autonomy Canada.

(9) Mogile Technologies Inc. (2022, March 31). Biennial Snapshot of Canada’s Electric Charging Network and Hydrogen Refuelling Stations for Light-duty Vehicles.

(10) Pollution Probe. (2022, April). Assessment of The Consumer Electric Vehicle Charging Experience in Canada: Final Project Report.

(11) BC Hydro. EV charging rebates for apartment and condo buildings.

CGLR’s business and sustainability network programming is supported by the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation.

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