Trudeau touts Canada's role in reducing climate change

Joanna Smith

But the prime minister said that can’t mean abandoning the oil and gas sector — including plans to build more pipelines.

VANCOUVER—Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wants Canada to play a lead role in the global fight against climate change, but said that cannot mean abandoning the oil and gas sector — including plans to build more pipelines.

“The choice between pipelines and wind turbines is a false one. We need both to reach our goal, and as we continue to ensure there is a market for our natural resources, our deepening commitment to a cleaner future will be a valuable advantage,” Trudeau said Wednesday in Vancouver as he delivered an address to the opening plenary of Globe 2016, a conference on clean technology.

It was not the most popular line in a speech otherwise devoted to the goal of accelerating the transition into a low-carbon economy — the announcement of $125 million in clean-technology funding was greeted more warmly by the friendly crowd — but it displayed the fine balancing act Trudeau must perform as he headed into tough negotiations with the 13 provincial and territorial premiers.

The goal of the first ministers meeting is to hammer out how Canada can live up to the commitment, and the hype, of the COP21 United Nations climate conference in Paris last December.

“All the provinces made a commitment in Paris to be part of the solution. I know Canadians are united in their desire to see concrete and positive action in the area of the environment and clean energy. We will work together,” Trudeau said.

That was in response to a question about whether the Liberal government would impose a carbon-pricing regime on provinces that are resisting the idea — Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, who is running for re-election, the most vocal among them — a major sticking point heading into the meeting.

It is highly unlikely, though, that a pan-Canadian carbon price would be decided this week.

“What we want first and foremost is the flexibility to determine within each and every jurisdiction, the way that we see fit to best reduce the carbon footprint in our provinces and keeping our economies competitive,” Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball told reporters Wednesday after the premiers wrapped up their own meeting without Trudeau.

Even Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, who believes carbon-pricing is the way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and drive innovation and will implement a cap-and-trade system for her province next year, said she does not support the federal government imposing anything on the provinces.

“We’ve operated in this country on a different basis — finding agreement — and I think we can continue to do that,” Wynne told reporters Wednesday morning.

A senior Ontario government source said the fact that the Liberals are now aiming to have premiers commit to a working group to further discuss the option of a national carbon-pricing plan suggests their focus is on setting up a process, rather than any top-down solutions.

Even Wall said he would want to be part of that group.

Much has been made of the fact that former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper had not met the premiers as a group since 2009, and while the provinces and territories welcome the renewed federal involvement, these are some of its growing pains.

The Ontario source noted provinces want to be recognized for the work they have done in the absence of federal leadership.

“It’s important to acknowledge our partners in Canada’s provincial legislatures . . . premiers who have led the push to phase out coal power in Ontario and Alberta and put a price on carbon in Quebec and here in British Columbia,” Trudeau said in his speech Wednesday.

“These are politicians of different stripes and different beliefs, but they come together on this issue, because the environment ought not to be a partisan issue,” he said.