OTTAWA—The Harper government is moving to embrace provincial climate change actions even as it distances itself from carbon-pricing policies that will soon cover much of the country.
The tortuous, election-year dance was in full evidence as Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford delivered the Conservative energy gospel to a business audience in New York while provincial and territorial leaders talked climate policy in Quebec City.
In a speech to an energy conference, Rickford asserted that his government’s energy policies are growing the economy “while enhancing our already exemplary record of environmental performance.”
Canada, however, is nowhere close to meeting its 2020 carbon-reduction targets under the 2009 Copenhagen accord and Ottawa recently implored provincial governments to provide it with more information on their climate plans as it prepares to negotiate a post-2020 international climate treaty later this year.
No provincial actions were mentioned in Rickford’s speech, although he did tout Canada’s sixth-place global ranking in renewable energy investment last year—a success that the recent international report’s authors largely attributed to provincial policy measures.
And he reprised a long-standing, unfulfilled Conservative climate policy promise, stating, “We are ready and willing to work with the U.S. to harmonize environmental standards in other areas as well, such as oil and gas.”
The Harper government has been promising to regulate Canada’s oil and gas sector since 2007.
In a conference call after his address, Rickford claimed his government is working with the provinces and territories on climate measures.
“First of all, we are a partner,” he said.
Some 800 kilometres to the north, premiers emerged from the Quebec City summit to implore the federal government to get “actively involved” with them immediately on a climate plan.
“One order of government cannot ask the other to do the job,” said Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, the host of the summit. “It must be done together.”
The disconnect didn’t end there.
In 2012 the government asked the roundtable for a report on provincial actions, the first time they had sought such information.
What the roundtable determined was that three quarters of all carbon emission reductions were coming from provincial actions, with about a quarter from federal actions, a proportion that McLaughlin said still holds true.
It was the last report the roundtable delivered before the government pulled the plug on the federally funded advisory body.
“At one level, we are seeing more engagement—even if it’s a little bumpy—between the two levels of government. That’s essential because we’re a federation,” said McLaughlin, a one-time chief of staff to Brian Mulroney.
“What they are not acknowledging is that the provinces are making the most contribution to actual emission reductions.”