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Ontario, The Provinces, And Ottawa On Climate Change: Enough To Change Canada's Reputation?

Now that the First Ministers have met and some provinces have put forward climate change initiatives, is Canada bringing enough to the table at the Paris climate conference? Richard Mahoney, Blair McCreadie and Tom Parkin on that in the ONW Salon.


Blair McCreadie:

No it's not bringing enough, especially given the raised bar of expectations that the Liberals set for themselves on climate change during the campaign.

Let’s put the announcement coming out of the First Ministers meeting in context. Climate change is supposed to be a signature issue for the Trudeau government. The Liberals also used it as a key point of differentiation between themselves and the Conservatives during the campaign.

Given how important this signature issue is for the Liberals, I expected the Prime Minister to have something more concrete to announce in advance of Paris. Instead, it appears that Justin Trudeau is simply content to see where the provinces are headed, and then try to run out to the front of that parade. So now, Canada is going into Paris with an approach that one Toronto Star columnist on Tuesday called “a hybrid wrapped in a hodgepodge.” That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement of the Prime Minister’s leadership.

Now, politically speaking, this missed opportunity to demonstrate national leadership won’t hurt him much. It’s not like the Liberal Premiers of Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia are going to publicly criticize their federal cousins for trumpeting their provincial initiatives and then rebranding them as a “unified approach”. But Monday's announcement was not a strong start for the Prime Minister on an issue that is supposed to be right in his wheelhouse.


Richard Mahoney:

Blair is absolutely correct when he says that climate change and the environment was a key point of differentiation between the Liberals and the Conservatives during the recent campaign, and throughout the last ten years. No sooner had Harper won office in 2006 when he promptly ditched plans that former Liberal Environment Minister Dion had launched to put a price on carbon and reduce emissions, and he also abandoned the leadership role Canada was taking on the international stage at COP 11, the forerunner to the upcoming conference in Paris that Prime Minister Trudeau and the Premiers will attend.

So Blair would have us believe, I guess, that after 10 years of inaction, including at one point when Prime Minister Harper denied the existence of climate change as a threat, (yup, he did that) that Justin Trudeau would sweep into office and impose a price on carbon in advance of negotiations and with no consultation with the provinces, who have to actually implement our targets if those targets are to mean anything.

Many of those same provinces have, in the absence of any federal action or leadership and, in several cases, over the objections of the federal government, implemented various carbon pricing regimes. So now, just as he said he would do, Prime Minister Trudeau is consulting with the provinces, meeting with them, having all of them briefed on the science of climate change (how we got to the point in this country where that is an achievement and news is another story) before they go to Paris and before any plan is announced. That is simply good governance and the only sensible way to get this done.

Now if the Conservatives had lead on this issue, taken steps to meet the biggest challenge facing the planet, developed a price on carbon and an international consensus, or done any work on this at all, we might be having a different discussion.


Tom Parkin:

Blaming the past won't get us to a 2.0 Celcius maximum global increase. Past conferences committed themselves to this goal and we aren't reaching it. In May, all UN countries were to have filed national plans for mitigation of climate change. Canada and others did so. The UN has evaluated those plans and they, collectively, fail. They will not stop climate change from peaking at 2.0C increase.

The Canadian plan, by the way, was submitted by the Harper government. This is still the plan. Which is a shame.

It seems to me that this is a time for action, not photo ops and selfies. And that is what the Premiers' conferences on Monday was.

Several of the Premiers have targets and plans to reach those targets. Even Alberta - 40% of electricity from coal and the oilsands - rushed to have a consultative process in place and have a plan. Ontario, Quebec, BC and - sorta - Saskatachewan have a plan. Manitoba comes with a plan next week.

But Premiers do not sign treaties - that's what the PM does.  Justin Trudeau needs to provide national leadership for this process and so far has been content to not do that.


Blair McCreadie:

Tom raises some excellent points. Richard’s argument might hold water if the Liberals had actually moved the greenhouse gas goalposts since taking office. But Canada’s target of a 30% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 over 2005 levels was set by the Conservatives – and it has now been adopted by the Liberals.

Look, I acknowledge that the Prime Minister held a First Ministers meeting. But let’s not confuse activity with taking action.

Here is the challenge – the Trudeau government wants (and also badly needs) to demonstrate managerial competence in their early days. But instead of seizing an opportunity to show national leadership on what is supposed to be one of his party’s signature issues, the Prime Minister is content to say a few nice words and then leave the heavy lifting up to someone else. (I do give him kudos for his excellent socks, however, as shown on the front page of Tuesday’s Globe and Mail.)

Tom and I agree on this point - when the Prime Minister and his team go to Paris, they should become less focused on taking selfies and more focused on demonstrating real substance.


Richard Mahoney:

It is a little ridiculous for someone in power for 10 years of inaction, to try to fault a Prime Minister, now in office for all of three weeks, for taking insufficient action on climate change. The reality of the situation is that the past government had done virtually nothing concrete to help the country meet any of its targets on emissions and, by all credible accounts, we have no chance of meeting those targets without significant action and leadership.

The most significant action taken in Canada to date has come from the provinces. The McGuinty Liberal government in Ontario closed the coal plants - that was huge. BC, Quebec, Ontario and now Alberta have put a price on carbon. That is very significant.

There is an international conference coming up in Paris that Canada is getting ready for. In three weeks Prime Minister Trudeau has achieved impressive unity from his provincial counterparts on the need for action. He has shown a flexibility that will allow provinces to develop their own approaches and to fashion a made-in-Canada national consensus approach.

Next he goes to Paris and tries to lead, where Canada has been absent. It is a bit rich for anyone to say he is not doing the heavy lifting - the heavy lifting has only begun. It will continue after Paris when, having exercised leadership nationally and internationally, the government of Canada will negotiate a national approach, with provincial governments being part of the solution. That is the sensible way to meet what is an enormous challenge, and certainly more credible than any idea on offer from either the Conservatives or the NDP.  


Tom Parkin:

Richard, that the previous government did little to address climate change does not relieve the new government of duties. In fact, it makes them more urgent.

The global plan is a collection of national plans. Our national plan is a collection of provincial and territorial plans. It is fantastic that some Premiers actually will do something about climate change targets and plans. Imagine the discussion we'd be having right now if Blair's party was still in charge in Alberta. Notley is a breath of fresh air.

But the PM signs treaties - and it is his job to ensure the sum of the provincial and territorial plans adds up to a national plan that makes our contribution to arresting climate change.

Some Premiers may yet try to be free loaders. Some Premiers' plans may fail to reach provincial targets. Who is assessing whether these provincial and territorial plans add up to our contribution? And who will ensure some Premiers don't try to play funny games. Absolutely - the ol' government of Canad is the arbiter on this.

The Conservatives may not have much credibility on climate change.  But you know the NDP (and the Greens) will beholding your feet to the fire. (And by the way, both of those parties, unlike yours, did campaign on specific national targets).

However, I think we have to look forward. The Premiers met and discussed. Undeliably good. Not enough, but good.

Positioning in Paris will be important. Trudeau has to show other countries that despite the weak plan we filed Canada is ready to play its full part. He needs to show that he's got something in reserve to make that happen. And after that, Mr. Trudeau needs a framework that will ensure the provincial and territorial efforts will continue, that there are no free riders, that the national goal will be met. It's going to get tougher for him.

Because remember, being PM of a country of premiers isn't like be head waiter to dinner guests!





Posted date : November 25, 2015 NEWSROOM
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