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One of Justin Trudeau's first major tasks once he's sworn in as Prime Minister will be to face leaders from around the world and convince them Canada is taking a new path on climate change. The United Nations Climate Change Conference taking place in Paris in late November poses considerable challenges to Trudeau, who has invited Premiers and mayors from across the country to accompany him. Can he convince the world Canada is serious about solving this massive global problem? Richard Mahoney, John Capobianco and Marit Stiles discuss that and more.


Marit Stiles:

Justin Trudeau's invite to other party leaders and Premiers to join him at the United Nations' Paris climate summit is an early attempt to indicate the "change" that presumably he was elected to enact. It's a contrast, certainly, with the approach of the Harper Conservative government with its outright exclusion of Opposition parties, critics and any organization not toeing their particular line. It's a return to the way things could and should be done. It's proper and not entirely surprising in that regard.

But what's yet to be seen is whether Trudeau will be ready to made any decision on climate change targets heading into the summit. It's worth noting that environmental groups have already been quick to jump on the Liberal's lack of emission reduction targets. This, along with the party's support for oil pipelines like Keystone XL, will be a thorn in Trudeau's side, even in the midst of what I expect will be a pretty lengthy honeymoon for his leadership and government.

There's a fine line between being inclusive and being indecisive. At some point leaders have to show they are ready to lead. Heading into the summit without targets is going to be a real problem for Trudeau — although, as stated above, he might dodge some of the harsher criticism that would come if this summit was occurring later in his mandate.


John Capobianco:

The Prime Minister-designate and his transition team have been busy since election night (and well before I'm sure) to get not only his team/cabinet and office up and running, but also to start looking at which of the many promises made during the campaign are going to be top priority in year one of his mandate. This will be crucial, and as we know from past governments-elect, the hard lifting is done at the first half of the term so the second half can be devoted to issues that will have a more favourable outlook as they near election time.

So the fact that PM-designate Trudeau has made going to the international scientific conference on climate change in Paris a priority is important, but what is more telling is that he has decided to invite the Premiers and mayors. This is quite significant. It speaks to a very key issue that helped PM-designate Trudeau win the election — he is not Stephen Harper and will govern differently.

By going to the conference and by inviting the Premiers et al to join him, he sends that message to his supporters — those who have always voted Liberal and, more importantly, those new voters who wanted change.


Richard Mahoney:

Justin Trudeau's historic election win presents an opportunity for the country to deal with a list of big issues that the Harper government chose to ignore. Dealing with the challenge of climate change and the upcoming Paris conference is at the top of that list. The Harper government ignored the reality that we are running out of time to deal with this existential threat to the planet.  

I think Marit is being a little unfair in suggesting Mr. Trudeau is not decisive enough — he has not even been sworn in as our Prime Minister yet! That said, Trudeau has already indicated some crucially important things about how he will lead on climate change. He intends to establish a price on carbon. He will work with the provinces collaboratively to establish national targets and a to allow for different approaches in various provinces, many of which have already moved to establish their own carbon pricing regimes in the absence of any federal action.  And he has invited the Premiers and mayors to accompany him to the Paris conference so that they are part of the discussion.  

This is a refreshing approach that should allow for the kind of broad action across the country that will be necessary to meet the challenge of reducing emissions here at home and regaining some role as a global leader on addressing climate change.


Marit Stiles:

John is correct that the incoming government has a lot on its plate, and it’s unfortunate for them that the summit is coming at them so quickly after the election. But the government and the leaders need to seize opportunities like this. The environmental community and many of the voters who helped elect this government are tired of missed opportunities. They are also talking very openly, already, about their doubts regarding Trudeau’s commitment to the kind of change that will turn the climate change train around.

Foremost among environmentalists I've spoken with (and whose views have been reported in the media as well) are concerns with Trudeau's CBC interview in which he told the broadcaster that Canada no immediate need for fixed national targets to address climate change.

Lucky for Trudeau there's a lot of good, solid research and policy they can lean on to dig themselves out of that hole.  For example, the Broadbent Institute has released a report arguing that the federal government has a critical role to play in driving down greenhouse gas emissions beyond carbon pricing alone. The Institute is presenting a package of seven policy measures outlined in the report that they argue will signal to the international community the seriousness of Canada’s commitment to take action to tackle the climate crisis and transition toward a low-carbon economy.

So, there ya go. No more excuses. The time is now and the table is set. All Trudeau has to do is make the decision to move forward.

John Capobianco:

Marit is right, if the Liberal government is going to do this and make it a top priority, as it was in their campaign platform, then the real work will happen when they all come back from Paris, and each leader will have ideas for each of their respective jurisdictions. The balancing act of having to create jobs and keep the national economy humming whilst some provinces are doing better than others will create certain headaches for the PM-designate, especially with this file.

Not to mention to whole challenge around the various pipelines and the jurisdictional challenges facing that issue. We just saw a glimpse of what the new government will have to face when trying to deal with environmental issues as well as ensuring that the provinces have what they want — nay, what they need — to keep their respective economies working.

As was mentioned, the PM-designate will have a much deserved honeymoon period and will be able to make adjustments within this period. But this is an issue that many will be watching as to how it is handled, including by the very Premiers he is inviting along to Paris.


Richard Mahoney:

I think John is right to say the real hard work here will be after the Paris conference.  Think about it: shortly after becoming Prime MInister, Justin Trudeau will have to completely re-orient the federal government's approach from going to the Paris conference as a laggard on climate change, as the Harper government made Canada, to a position of global leadership.  And then, having done that, Trudeau will have to drive consensus on exactly how each province can put a price on carbon and how we can work together to reduce emissions.  This will not be easy but it all has to be done if we want to deal with the issue properly.  

Demonstrating leadership is more than just announcing a Canadian position.  It can be complicated, it takes effort and means compromise.  There is no better illustration of that than the challenge of fashioning a responsible national approach to reducing emissions and dealing with the biggest challenge the world faces. Even before he is sworn in, he is off to the right start.



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